“I’m watching my best friend get pinned down by a ghost. Maybe if Mom had listened to me, this wouldn’t be happening.
But we can’t just start here, can we?”
I’m watching my best friend get pinned down by a ghost. Maybe if Mom had listened to me, this wouldn’t be happening.
But we can’t just start here, can we?
My name is Miriam. I’m thirteen years old, and my mom is a witch.
A witch, you ask?
Well, just take a peek at my basement and you’ll be sure. It’s chock-full of glass bottles, magic powders, random dangerous liquids, and a witch’s ensemble — hat, broomstick, purple robes, etc. And to top it all off, her black cat Coco who weaves around my legs.
I’ve been begging her to teach me her witchcraft since I was 5 and discovered her secret, but she refuses to teach me. And she won’t tell me why.
Am I not good enough to be a witch? I always try to shake these thoughts from my head.
But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
It was the middle of June. I was excited to be staying over at my friend Tat’s place for an hour. I biked over to her house, which was only a few blocks away. It was a very bright yellow color.
We talked for a few minutes, and then pulled out our art supplies: a big sheet of blank paper, wide paintbrushes, and paints in every color.
“Oh, Rayne,” I sighed when I used a brown I had mistaken for orange. It messed up my rainbow.
“What does that mean, anyway?” asked Tat curiously. “I’ve heard you say it before.”
I grinned guiltily. “I’m not sure. I’ve just heard Mom use it so much that I say it without thinking. She’s never told me to stop, anyway.”
We eventually finished the painting and hung it up in Tat’s room. The walls were already covered in art that we had made together, but this filled up the last blank wall. Her room was a riot of color, with a rainbow blanket on her bed and a fish tank full of iridescent sea snails.
We then played games, and before I knew it, it was time to go home. I waved goodbye to Tat and then biked home.
When I opened the door to my house, my eyes widened. The living room looked like someone had been playing ping-pong, but the balls were dripping paint. Everything was covered in color.
“Mom?!” I called.
“Yeah?” said my mom from the basement.
“You better come see this,” I called.
“In a moment, Miri,” she said absently, using her nickname for me.
“No, seriously! The living room is messed up!”
She walked up the basement stairs and then stopped in surprise. “What in the name of Rayne happened?” she asked when she saw the mess.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just got back!”
“I know, Miri,” she said. Her eyes seemed to glow. “Are you okay? Is Nessie okay?”
“I’ll go check on her,” I said. “I’m fine.”
Coco followed me up the stairs, and I opened the door to my little sister’s room. “Hey, Ness — Oh Rayne!” I couldn’t believe it. My sister Nessie’s room was covered in paint as well! I checked her bed. She wasn’t there.
“She’s not here,” I called. “Ness, you little rascal! Did you paint all of this?”
“Miriam, please come down here,” Mom called.
“Why?” I asked. “What about my room — gah!”
Coco pushed me down the stairs. My arms pinwheeled as I tried to keep my balance, but in the end, I tumbled down the steps. I rolled onto the paint-covered floor, groaning.
“Ugh… Bad kitty,” I grumbled. Coco carefully stepped around me, heading over to my mom. I carefully stood up, and then looked down at my clothes and arms. I was absolutely covered in paint.
“Rayne!” I yelled to the sky. Then I turned to the culprit. “Coco! Now I have to clean my shirt up!”
“No, Miri,” said Mom. “There’s no time for that. Besides, it will protect you.”
“What do you mean?! What in Rayne is this mess, anyway?!” I yelled, looking at the bucket’s worth of paint covering our living room.
“A ghost’s mark, Mir.”
I stopped cold. “A… A what?”
I laughed nervously. “Um… You know ghosts aren’t real, right?”
Mom sighed. “Neither are witches, Mir. Neither are witches.” She seemed to be losing focus.
The room seemed to be getting colder as well. “Where’s Ness?” I asked with a strange sense of dread.
Mom snapped back into awareness with a jerk of her head. The room suddenly seemed warm and cozy again. “Right. Nessie. I’ll track her.” Her eyes glowed violet. “This way.” She stepped out the door, Coco following behind her. I hurriedly put on my shoes and half jogged, half walked over to her.
“Mom,” I said, “where are we going?”
She glanced at me. “To find the ghost who took Nessie, of course. She’s not in any immediate danger, but it is critical to find her as soon as possible.”
“The ghost took Nessie?” This was getting more far-fetched by the moment. “Are you sure?”
“Miri,” said Mom. “Who do you think knows more about ghosts? You or me?”
“Well… you, I suppose,” I grumbled. Then, in a sudden outburst, I said, “But maybe if you had just taught me to be a witch, I would know a little something about ghosts too!”
She glanced at me, her eyes cold. “For the thousandth time, you are not ready to be a witch, Miriam.” The comment stung. Was I really not ready? Then she looked ahead. “The ghost is in here.”
We had stopped in front of a very familiar yellow house. “Mom,” I warned, “this is Tat’s house.”
Her eyes glowed crimson, and she reached into the pocket of her coat. From her pocket, she pulled out perhaps 100 small metal spheres. They seemed to be linked to each other somehow. She handed them to me, and I peered down at them.
At a closer look, it was a net. Tiny metal threads connected every sphere in a 10 by 10 grid. The threads seemed to have a golden sheen. “What is it?” I asked, tearing my gaze away from the net. “Why are we here? Can you tell me anything about what we’re doing or what a ghost is?”
“Of course, Miri,” said Mom. “To start, you need to know that witchcraft is not a culture. It is a race, a birthright. Even if you turn away from the path of witching, you will still have the magic in you.” She stroked Coco. “Everyone in the world has a little bit of witch magic, but in most people, it’s very weak. The families with the most potent magic all trace back to Rayne and her daughters.”
“Who’s Rayne?” I pulled myself up and sat on the mailbox.
“The goddess of witchcraft. She had eight mortal daughters, seven of them good and one of them evil. We are descended from Beryl, the eldest good daughter. We have strong witch blood.”
“Okay…” I was getting a little lost.
“However, one can only start using their witch magic when they unlock the true potential of their creativity. This is why most people never manage it. Roald Dahl and Mozart unlocked theirs, as did Picasso.” She traced shapes in the air. “Of course, most people who unlocked their magic never actually knew they had it — it was just infused into everything they did.”
“How do I unlock my witch magic?” I asked, hopping off the mailbox.
Mom sighed wearily. “Everyone does it differently. But it always happens through their passion. Music. Architecture. Scientific discoveries. Anything, really. But you have to fully recognize it.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You’ll understand once it happens to you. I can’t tell you how to understand your magic, though, because for everyone it’s unique.”
“Oh…” I said, somewhat crestfallen. Now I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to unlock my magic. “Well, tell me more about the ghost.”
“Ghosts are spirits. People who pass away can still stay anchored to this world by something called a talisman. It is a magical item. If you destroy the talisman, the ghost will leave this world and pass on to the next. Most ghosts aren’t malignant, however. I would bet that the ghost who kidnapped Nessie had a child in life, and they wanted to recreate that memory.”
I was still a little uncertain. “Wouldn’t it be… mean? To destroy a ghost? Isn’t that like destroying a person?”
“We are not destroying a talisman, just as we are not destroying the ghost.”
“What are we doing, then?” I was under the assumption that we would banish them somewhere… magic. I was reminded of how little I knew about the witch world.
“We are sending the ghost to the afterlife so that they can be released. We are freeing them.”
“Okay!” I glanced at the house, and my energy faded. “But this is Tat’s house. We can’t just… sneak in here, or whatever.”
Mom snorted. “There is no we. I’m going in, you are staying out.”
“What?!” I cried. “Then why did you give me this?!” I shook the golden net in front of her face.
“To defend yourself if the ghost decides to leave,” said Mom. “Why don’t you play with Tat for a few minutes while I deal with the ghost.”
“Okay!” I said, a little incredulously. “I am going to be having a playdate with Tat while you track down a ghost in the same house. That’s just great.” I looked up, and to my dismay, Mom was already ringing the doorbell. “Wait!” I yelled, just as the door opened. Tat’s mom was at the door.
Tat’s mom ushered me in.
“This is so cool!” said Tat, who was inside. “Let’s play a game!” I followed her, feeling sick and useless.
We went up to her room, where she pulled out some cards. I was focusing on what Mom had told me so much that I was barely paying attention to the game. After I had lost four times in a row, Tat frowned.
“You okay, Miri?” she asked. “You seem a little distracted. Are you cold?” She shivered. “I gotta ask mom to turn up the heater. It’s absolutely freezing here.”
“Now that you mention it…” It was really cold. “Um… Tat?”
“Yeah,” she asked absently.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
“No,” she said, looking up. “They’re just stories invented to make children go to bed.”
The lights flickered on and off. I looked up nervously. “Well, maybe you should start believing in them.”
The room seemed to be darkening. My hands were shaking a little as I pulled out my net, looking around the room anxiously. My fear seemed to transfer to Tat, who looked a little nervous.
“What do you mean?” she asked. She was glancing back and forth, and then looked at my net. “What’s that?”
The lights turned off. The window, which should have been letting sunlight into the room, seemed almost muffled. It was nearly completely black.
Light, I thought. I need light. I wasn’t sure how to make light, though. I looked around the room, noticing Tat’s glow-in-the-dark paints.
“Mind if I spill these?” I asked before opening the cap.
“I can’t see you, Miri,” Tat said, sounding scared. “Where are you?”
The green paint inside the bottle glowed faintly. In the dim light, I could see Tat to my left. “Here,” I said, throwing the paint over her. I had remembered Mom saying that if we were covered in paint, it would protect us.
“Gyah!” she yelled. She spat some glowing green paint out of her mouth. “Miri, what was that for?!”
“Do you want to be attacked by a ghost, or what?” Despite the tone of command in my voice, I was terrified. “Look, just don’t move.”
The ghost was here, I knew it. I held up the net, which I realized was glowing dimly. As I watched, some of the darkness seemed to solidify, taking shape as a person, almost. I shivered.
As I looked closer, I realized that it was a woman. She looked at me for a moment, and then turned away, seeming to lose interest. Tat stared at it, and I got the feeling that she could see it too.
I stood there for what seemed like hours. Tat stood as still as she could, shivering and covered in paint. I stood with my net in my hand, trying to pretend I was invisible. The ghost kept going back to the paintings we had put on the walls. It peeled the one we had done that morning from the wall, staring at it. Then, after a moment, the paper disintegrated in its hands.
I exchanged a terrified glance with Tat.
I saw the ghost glide up above Tat’s bed, and then it picked up Tat’s favorite, one that she had framed. The painting depicted shades of blue and pink, brushed almost carelessly all over the page. In the middle, there was a golden owl.
The painting disintegrated. Tiny colorful pieces floated down to the floor.
The sound had come from Tat. She was shaking in anger. I shook my head at her, but she clenched her paint-covered fists and…
“Why did you do that?!” she yelled at the ghost. “That was my favorite. I worked really hard on it!”
The ghost stopped. It slowly turned around to face Tat.
I heard it talk, but it sounded muffled. The single word seemed to echo around the room.
Suddenly, the ghost sprang forward. Tat let out a little yelp and then was bowled over by the ghost. Mine, it said again, Mine!
And… that’s where I am now.
Maybe if Mom had listened to me, this wouldn’t be happening, I think bitterly. Then reality takes hold. My best friend is being attacked by a ghost, and I’m standing here blaming my mom for not wanting me to get hurt. I have to do something.
What can I do? I look around the room. My eye falls upon the glow-in-the-dark paint again. There are still three bottles left. I grab them, screw open one of the caps, and toss the pink paint over the ghost. Then I repeat it with the yellow. The ghost keeps running its fingers over the glowing ooze — who knew ghosts were interested in glow paint? I try to open the orange, but the cap is stuck.
I toss it aside and hoist my golden net. I hurl it at the ghost, and… it passes right through! What? Mom said this was a weapon!
My eyes widen as it passes right through Tat, too. It hits the glowing paint on the floor and glows a little stronger.
I snatch it out from under them, and an idea hits me. If it got stronger when it touched the paint, then maybe…
I brush it across the paint-covered walls, but nothing happens. In a desperate attempt, I grab my paintbrush and cover it in gold paint.
Golden light flares up all over it. I almost drop it in surprise and then blink a few times to get used to the light. However, a few seconds later, it goes dim again.
I splash more paint on it, every color of the rainbow. The ghost turns its attention to me.
I need a distraction, I realize. Maybe… I picture the golden owl that was the centerpiece of the disintegrated painting, and a similar golden owl flies out of the net. It seems to be made of golden sparkles, somehow. It flies at the ghost and pecks at it furiously. The ghost tries to shoo it away, and when that doesn’t work, it tackles the owl.
I cover the net in more paint, and the ghost shies away from its light. Then, it turns around abruptly, and I realize that Tat is whacking it with a blue-covered paintbrush.
“Stall!” I yell at her. Because, in the end, we’re just stalling for Mom to destroy the talisman. She had said that it would take no more than fifteen minutes. How long has it been? I try to run the minutes through my head as I brandish the net. Thirteen? Fourteen?
I throw the glowing net. Once again it passes through the ghost, and it shies away from the light.
“Rayne!” I yell as I watch my weapon fall to the floor. I need more things like the owl. More distractions. I dive for the net, and everything seems to slow down.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Tat dump her glitter paint all over the ghost and jump for the net. I see the net about to make contact with my hand, and the ghost about to jump on me.
Just as its shadowy fingers reach my back, Tat and I touch the net and an explosion of glittery rainbow moths flit out of the glowing weapon.
The ghost falls back, confronted by the moths. It then stops. The paint, magic, liquid light, and darkness covering it seem to melt away, leaving only the faint silvery form of a woman. She looks at us as tiny sterling flecks float off of her body. She seems a little puzzled as she dissolves into thin air. The lights turn back on. The room gets warm again. I look around. We’re both covered in paint, two paintings are missing, and there are paintbrushes and paint all over the floor.
“Mom!” we both call.
Both of our moms rush up the stairs to Tat’s room. “I destroyed the talisman,” says Mom, who is carrying Nessie and is quite breathless. “But I didn’t find…” She stops in shock. “Did you guys fight the ghost?”
I run over to her. “Yeah,” I sob. “Scariest thing ever.”
“There’s a good explanation for all this,” moans Tat, before looking her mom up and down. “What are you wearing?” Her mom is in yellow robes with a pointed hat and shoes.
Mom smiles. “Both Juliette and I are witches.” Both Tat and I look at her mom with new respect.
“Witches?” breathes Tat.
“I’m sure you and Tat will be, too. After all, Tat and Juliette are descended from Lazuli, the youngest good daughter of Rayne.”
“Mom, the net was weird. It glowed and moths and an owl came out,” I say while hugging her.
Mom looks at me. “That’s not the net, Miri. That’s your magic.”
“Magic?” I’m excited despite my ordeal. “But… I thought that I wasn’t gonna get to be a witch!”
“Why would you think that?” asks Mom.
“Well,” I say, looking down a little. “You always said that I wasn’t ready to be a witch, but…” I don’t say what I am thinking: I’m not good enough to be a witch. It seems embarrassing to admit.
Luckily, Mom seems to read my mind. “Miri,” she says, “You are going to be the best witch ever.”
I stand in the basement, staring at the assortment of broomsticks in front of me. There are long ones, child-size ones, fluffy ones, and straw-tipped ones.
I glance over at a dark hickory broom with a horsehair tip. It seems right. I smile as I run my hand down the staff and then yelp as it lets off a small shock.
“That’s the one?” asks Mom, who is standing to my right.
I shake my hand out, wincing a little. “Well, it just shocked me. Is that good or bad?”
A small smile touches my mom’s face. “Looks like that’s the one.”
I pick up the broomstick, smiling as I realized it looks like a giant paintbrush. Then I look at the hand mirror my mom is holding up to me. I am glowing gold a little, I realize. I hold my net in one hand and the broom in the other, and finally feet like a real witch in my tye-dye shirt and black pants. The golden owl swoops around me, landing on my shoulder.
This is it, I think. I’m a witch now. I realize I am beaming with pride and pleasure.
“Well,” says my mom, grinning just as widely. “Let’s get witching!”