Community Watch

Sunlight splashed off Tera’s long purple hair as she traipsed through the garden behind her house. Her white skirt swished from ample hips, tickling the bluebonnets that danced around her as she sought just the right combination of flowers. She only needed a few for the crystal vase resting on her dining room table; with a simple spell, even the limpest wildflowers would blossom into a robust bouquet.

Any good witch knows that the right floral arrangement can brighten even the darkest days.

She’d set her broom to work that morning, tugging at cobwebs that had taken root in the corners at her father’s whim, messy adornments that were as stubborn as he was. Though she tried to fit in with the other women in the neighborhood, somehow Pops always seemed to find a way to taint their new way of living with the worst of the old ways.

Like the time he turned the neighborhood kids into turnips when their baseball landed in the backyard. Or the night he reconfigured an unfamiliar car parked in front of the house, shrinking it into a tiny die-cast toy before he kicked it down the storm drain. Just last week, he’d sent a lone storm cloud over the local market when they ran out of his favorite bread, filling the shopping carts with snowball-sized hail.

Tera hoped enough time had passed since Pops’s most recent indiscretions; there was nothing she could do to change what had happened. Or at the very least, she hoped the Disremember spell she’d cast over the neighborhood was strong enough to be permanent. How she wished that when the women wriggled their fingers at her from behind their picket fences or when they smiled their tight-lipped smiles, they saw her as a Starbucks-drinking, yoga pants-wearing suburban mom who wasn’t much different than they were.

Even though she was.

Pops stomped into the parlor as Tera set the table with her finest china, the golden Raven crest in her family for hundreds of years.

“Those clucking hens coming here again?”

“Our neighbors are coming, yes.” Tera sighed. “Community Watch meeting, remember? It’s our turn to host.”

Pops grunted. “We don’t need anybody watching out for us, Tera. We’ve done fine on our own.”

Tera continued placing the plates. She frowned, summoning the sugar bowl from the kitchen. Floating, it rested on the table. “It’s not about the Watch, Pops. It’s about fitting in. The whole reason we moved here…”

“I know, I know. It’s a better life for my granddaughter.” He scowled. “Among the ranks of the mediocre.”

“Pops…”

“You’re a sorry excuse for a witch. You’ll have no problem becoming one of them.” He turned, throwing his hands up as he stormed through the front door. Tera saw him settle into his favorite chair on the porch, tufts of white hair blowing in the breeze as he rocked.

Two hours later, Tera sat in her dining room with five other women, whose pinched expressions tightened as their eyes scrutinized every aspect of the room. They wrinkled their noses at Tera’s spicy yarrow cake and grimaced as they sipped the wormwood tea she served. Meeting with the neighbors was uncomfortable, but Tera forced herself to smile.

At least the bluebonnets grinning in the vase seemed happy.

“Have you seen what’s happened to my lawn?” Sally Baker scowled as she tossed her bleached hair over her shoulder. “Inches of water where the grass used to be. And we haven’t had rain in days.”

“That’s strange,” Myra Jones said, clicking her press-on nails against each other. “Something odd’s been happening with my lawn, too. The grass is dying, and…” She leaned in. “It looks like blond hair is growing in its place.”

A collective “ooh” settled over them. Tera tapped the table, ruminating.

“Ella Martin’s husband thought he heard screaming when he went to get the lawnmower. It upset him so much he needed to take a Xanax.”

As the women stared at their plates, Tera glanced through the window to the porch, where Pops gesticulated wildly. His booming yell shook the house. Tera bolted from her chair and ran toward the door as the neighborhood watchwomen grabbed each other’s hands in terror.

“Pops!” she screamed.

A man and his Golden Retriever froze on the sidewalk at the edge of the lawn; the dog whimpered and tucked his tail between his legs.

“You no good scoundrel!” Pops yelled. “Letting your dog do his business on my property!” Lightning bolts shot from his fingertips. “I’ll show you what we do to trespassers where I come from!”

With a flick of Pop’s wrists, the man and his dog vanished; two turnips remained where they stood. “Stay the hell off my grass!”

Tera ran outside and grabbed Pops by the shoulders. “Stop!” she screamed, but not before he set every lawn in the neighborhood aflame.

Souse!” Tera yelled, waving her arms. A misty cloud thundered down the street, extinguishing the conflagration. A charred, smoky mess remained in its stead.

Pops returned to his chair, shaking with rage. Tera glowered at him and turned, slowly, toward the window, where ten eyes gaped wide and clear as crystal balls on the cusp of some grand divination.

Homebound,” Tera whispered. As if in a trance, the five women shuffled through the door and down the stairs, stepping over the turnips on the sidewalk to return to their respective residences.

“So much for fitting in.” Tera glanced toward Pops’s chair, empty and rocking in the wake of this small-town chaos. He’d vanished for the evening, presumably to thwart the lecture bubbling on Tera’s tongue. She trudged over to the pavement to retrieve the unwitting vegetables. “It’s always turnips.” Shaking her head, she plucked them from the ground.

“Off to the garden with you.”

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