The Lesabre eventually pulled into the small driveway of an even smaller cottage. The house was nothing notable, it was the garden that took Theo’s breath away, just as the garden at Shady Acres had. He realized that many of the same plants grew here as did in the behavioral facilities gardens. He asked “did you do all this?” motioning towards the lush greenery.
“Yeah” Amy shrugged without any further explanation and continued to walk towards the small house.
“And the gardens at Shady Acres?” Theo asked, catching up to her.
“Uh huh” Amy stated, stopping abruptly in her tracks almost causing Theo to collide into her. She looked into his eyes, searching for something that made him feel uneasy. It was the first time that he’d really been able to look into her eyes, and he realized that her dark eyes weren’t a normal blue, brown, or even green. They were a very dark purple, almost indistinguishable from her pupils with brighter violet streaks that he could have sworn were slowly swirling around her irises. The streaks sped up, yep definitely moving. Theo couldn’t look away; it was as if he were looking into time. After a few moments that felt like decades, she seemed to decide something then blinked, releasing Theo from his trance. She waited a few seconds, then squaring her shoulders she confessed, “Theo, I’m a witch”.
“A.. what?” he replied, not knowing how to take this information. Was she pranking him, or maybe she was as crazy as the patients she cooked for at Shady Acres?
“A witch. You know, magic.. spells.. potions?” Rolling her eyes “Well, that’s what the humans of this world know about us anyway” Amy clarified.
Trying to stay calm next to this lady who’d just gone insane, Theo slowly explained “but... witches aren’t real”.
“Oh we’re real, we just don’t come to this world much, humans are kind of a bore.” Then once again realizing that she was being rude, she seemed to internally scold herself and added "not to offend or anything. I just needed to tell you because there are more clues inside that you might be able to see.” Theo gaped at her dumbfounded and at a loss for words.
“Come inside, you can let it all settle in the AC while I pack” then she walked into the cottage leaving the door open for him.
As he entered the house he had to stop to take in the eclectic decor. Nothing went together, there was no theme that he could identify, but that somehow made it all strangely work.
Above the small fireplace he saw a golden bust of a fox wearing a monocle next to what was definitely a voodoo doll purchased from a tourist shop in New Orleans and more candles than he had time to count. How did she have time to light them all, he puzzled. As the sun began setting, the house started to change personalities, during the day it seemed like an ordinary home with some strange decorations, but as the sky grew darker the decor changed into something that Theo had only imagined while reading fairy tales in his youth. A mix between the princesses room in the castle and the witch's cabin in the woods.
The hardwood floors were covered with colorful overlapping mismatched rugs, with only a few places to sit atop them, she obviously didn’t have company very often. He chose a comfortable looking chair, plopped down, and looked around in amazement still trying to take in the scene around him. It wasn’t messy or even cluttered, but no one would ever mistake her for a minimalist either.
An extensive amount of paintings and tapestries covered every inch of wall space in the living room, all of which looked like nothing he’d ever seen, classical portraits of monsters and landscapes of hot pink rolling hills. Every shelf, table, and available horizontal surface had stacks of books ranging from the history of the universe to Dungeons and Dragons fan fiction and everything imaginable in between.
He could see the small kitchen from his seat, worn in pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and a large black pot on the stove simmering something that smelled heavenly. Wait, that wasn’t a pot. It was large, rounded, and iron, was it a cauldron? Did witches really use cauldrons he wondered. Am I actually starting to believe her? That seemed a bit quick, but he’d seen enough to at least be open to the idea of magic and monsters, and it sure would explain a lot around here. Theo thought as he took in every hidden clue he could find.
Amy emerged from a hallway on the opposite side of the room from the kitchen with a small bag. It was the first time that Theo had seen her out of her cooks garb and tight bun, which wasn’t surprising since they had just met a few hours ago. But it looked like she was a different person. Her hair was still bright red, but instead of being heavily restricted, it looked like it had exploded into a colossal tangle of curls down to the middle of her back, emulating a bonfire. Her clothes had changed from a drab white uniform to tight black pants, and a simple black tank top exposing her pale arms.
On her arms were tattoos that looked like they were from a spell book in a video game. Black symbols that swirled around her upper arms cascading around colorful words that didn’t make any sense to Theo. Her figure had also changed, the bland uniform that covered up the few curves that Amy had was now gone and the pants that she’d donned showed that she was very small and frail looking, although Theo was sure that he was as wrong about her frailness as he was about how cookies should taste.
“You’re in my seat”
“Get up, find another chair. That one’s mine” She repeated as she made her way to the occupied chair.
Theo jumped out of the chair as if it was on fire and moved to the small couch closest to him and began to prop his feet up on the empty Ottoman across from the couch but was abruptly interrupted.
"Don't put your feet up there, you'll hurt Roger. So, are you done?” Amy asked.
“Is that a cauldron? Wait, whose Roger?” Theo blurted the questions before thinking.
“Yeah” Amy shrugged. “We actually don’t use them where I’m from, but then I heard your world's stories and thought, why wouldn’t I use the best tools available? So I made one. It’s pretty awesome.” She smiled as she admired her handy work. Oh, and Roger's my cat, you can't see him yet."
“That makes sense” Theo sat on the couch silently with his feet on the floor, not knowing what to say next.
“So you believe me?”
“I don’t see any reason you would be lying to me, and the cookies certainly make more sense. But this Roger..”
“Good, that will save us a lot of time, and don't worry about Roger, he's a little punk." she said as she stuck her tongue out at the empty ottoman. "You want some soup?”
“Uh… sure?” Theo mumbled as he followed Amy into the kitchen to grab a bowl.
As Amy ate her soup she studied Theo, her gut told her that he was a genuinely good person, and if there was one thing she always listened to, it was her intuition. However, his attire didn’t seem to match his personality. The tan suit that he couldn’t stop fidgeting with was worn with small stains that looked like they had been there for ages. His tie was loose around his neck and the top button of his shirt had been undone in a frenzy on their drive.
He was just over six feet tall, barrel chested, and had medium length messy light brown hair, blue-green eyes, and a square jaw covered in rough stubble that surrounded a smile that never seemed to cease. I bet everyone that meets this guy loves him Amy thought as she watched him inhale his soup ecstatically.
“Have you ever eaten food before?” Amy asked, unable to hide her amusement.
“Nothing like this!” Theo garbled over his mouth full of soup
Amy was used to these kinds of reactions to her food, however, not nearly as enthusiastically.. “You know, it’s just chicken noodle soup right?” she stared in bewilderment as Theo messily slurped noodles into his mouth.
“Yeah, with crack” he replied with a big chicken noodle grin. After Theo had finished his third bowl of soup, he leaned back in his chair, took a deep breath, completely satisfied.
“So are you ready to see?” Amy asked, she seemed more excited to show him than he was to see whatever this clue was. Although you wouldn’t know it looking at her, but he knew.
“Sure, do I need some fancy glasses or something?”
Amy thought for a moment, “in a way”. Then continued “Most people can’t see magic, and the ones who can are almost always children who no adult will listen to.”
“So I’m a child?”
“We’ll see if we’re lucky enough” she fired back. “Children are the most open minded humans, so they are the majority. However, there are a few adult humans who are open minded enough, and for some reason I think you’re one of them”
“What makes you say that?” Theo asked.
Amy looked to ottoman and said “I just have a feeling”.
“So how can I,” then lifting his hands to mimic Dorris’ quotations “see?”
“You just have to open your mind.”
“Well, that’s vague,” Theo murmured. Then he remembered a case a few years back. It was a ring of embezzlers. They ran their money through a meditation retreat in a nowhere town in Texas. In order to fully investigate the ring, Theo signed up for and participated in the retreats activities. While he did learn enough about the ring to have them arrested by the police, he also learned a lot about.. opening his mind.
Theo thought back to what he’d learned and sat back in the kitchen chair, he closed his eyes, and took three deep breaths. He kept his eyes closed for a few moments afterwards, then opened them. At first glance, Theo didn’t see anything different. The walls were the same color, there were still books on every available surface. He looked at Amy disappointed, “I don’t see anything.”
Amy smiled, “You don’t even know what to look for yet. You see, I believe that this case is connected to me. Which is why I invited myself along. Besides the calls I got at work, I also got messages here, but they were from my world.”
Theo looked around, still not seeing any kinds of notes or writing then drew his attention back to Amy.
Amy hesitated, “The reason I came to this world was because I didn’t like the person I had to be there. The messages all say ‘come back home’. If you look around now you’ll probably see them.”
Theo craned his neck around the room again, this time looking for COME BACK HOME. Then he saw the first one. On the spine of the book closest to him, he saw the letters moving to form COME BACK HOME. He quickly looked up and saw the wood grain that made up the small column of wall that wasn’t covered in paintings move to form COME BACK HOME vertically. He looked down at what was left of his chicken noodle soup and saw the noodles forming the words COME BACK HOME. Theo looked up at Amy in utter shock.
“Yeah” she said “that’s the first clue. The second was that the victim was the last person I killed before I fled to this world.”
Theo stared blankly, then fell backwards in his chair hitting his head against the window sill and passing out.
Theo awoke on something soft and velvety, he opened his eyes and saw wooden beams that seemed to be made of... vines? He looked around and realized that he was laying on a couch, Amy’s couch, then all of the memories came flooding back.
His eyes immediately raced around the room looking for any signs of what he’d witnessed and saw nothing. He slowly sat up, rubbing the back of his throbbing head. “What happened?”
Without turning from her cauldron in the kitchen, Amy dispassionately stated, “You saw magic for the first time. It can be a little overwhelming for some, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
“Magic? Get used to it?” Theo stammered.
“Yeah, you should practice a little more before we go so you can see it without passing out. I’ve got to finish this, it shouldn’t be long.”
Theo slowly rose from his makeshift bed and walked into the kitchen following his nose in the direction of an otherworldly smell. It smelled like a mixture of everything he loved.
“Whacha cookin good lookin?” his face immediately reddening, Theo apologized “I’m sorry. That came out before I could stop it”
Amy let out a light laugh, not looking away from the soup she was stirring.
Theo realized that he hadn’t heard her laugh before, and thought it divine.
“What does it smell like to you?”
Theo took a deep inhale “it smells like donuts topped with maple bacon and glazed brisket with a shot of whisky and a side of those cookies I ate at Shady Acres.”
Amy laughed harder, “Well that’s a first, a very specific first”
“Why, what does it smell like to you?”
“To me it smells like my garden.” She paused taking in a deep inhale, “ It’s a scrying spell, but a secondary effect is that it gives off your favorite smell.”
“That’s incredible!” Theo gaped, looking over her shoulder into the cauldron. “What’s scrying? Is it the same as in the stories?”
“Pretty much” Amy replied.
“What are you looking for?”
“You remember those calls I told you about? I’m trying to see if I can find who made them. I haven’t been successful yet since all I have is a memory and a phone number, but I thought I would try again anyway. Maybe you can bring me some luck this time,” she explained.
“Well they don’t call me Mr. Aide for nothin'” Theo quipped.
“Isn’t that your name?” Amy asked, the joke flying over her head like a Boeing 747 that was late for dinner.
“Well.. yeah.. It was a joke. Never mind.” Theo stammered, watching his pun flounder and die at his feet. He looked into the pot and saw many of the plants he saw he saw in her gardens. The purple flowers of the vines he saw hanging from the trees at Shady Acres danced across the surface and glitter radiated from concoction. “You find anything good?”
“Not yet, but it’s close to complete.” As she spoke a small mushroom cloud rose above the cauldron and burst into sparkles. In its place he saw an old antebellum house with colossal white columns spanning the front porch.
“Look for distinguishing characteristics It won’t last long!” Amy spurted hurridily.
Theo’s eyes narrowed as he examined each piece of the shimmering vision before him. “THERE!” Theo cried, a bit louder than he meant to, pointing to the front door of the mansion. “There is an address, 563” right as the image faded into nothing, glitter falling back into the cauldron.
Amy turned off the stove and made her way back to her chair, Theo followed and sat down on the couch beside her.”
She looked defeated, yet still hopeful. “563 is more than I had before, but I still don’t know how to find this woman.” she spoke, nearly defeated, “I’ve been at this for months, this is the only clue I’ve been able to get and I don’t know what to do with it.” Her gaze seemed a million miles away.
“563 isn’t the only clue we got” Theo responded, much more hopefully, “remember you have the best PI in the state here.”
Amy looked at Theo incredulously.
“No, seriously. We know that it is a huge mansion with white columns and many of the trees that you primarily find in the deep south, we know that a woman lives there and we know that the address begins with 563, that’s enough for a clever man, which I happen to be.” he boasted.
Theo pulled his phone out and began searching while mumbling to himself, after a few minutes he said he found a list of antebellum houses in Louisiana. Then began mumbling again “AH HA!” He trumpeted “563 Maple Ave, Golden Meadow Louisiana.” Theo turned his phone to show Amy his discovery, it was the exact house that emitted from the glitter cloud.
“That’s it!” She stood up in her excitement and jumped a little with her exclamation. “How far is Golden Meadow Louisiana?”
“If traffic is on our side, which it rarely is, we can get there in a little over three hours” He answered joining her in standing.
“Well then let’s go!”
“Didn’t you say you had to pack?”
“Oh, I’ve already done that” She said, pointing to the small clutch on the table.
He looked at the purse then back up at Amy, confused yet again.
“Best tools for the job and all.” Answering his unspoken question.
As Amy closed the door to her cottage, she pursed her lips and blew as if she was blowing out birthday candles and all the lights and candles went dark. Then she locked her door and walked towards Theo’s jalopy. .
As Theo waited for her to lock up, he allowed his vision to adjust to the twilight and noticed the plants in her garden emitting small lights. So small that they could have been mistaken for lightening bugs, but he knew the truth. He saw the streaks on the flowers lighting up like dim neon lights and small animals that he’d never imagined lounging on leaves or peeking around plant stalks and chuckled like someone who was in on an inside joke. As he laughed, a lightning bug flew straight up his nose bringing him back to reality at the speed of approximately 753 mph.
Theo snorted and coughed and, for some reason, slapped himself in the face until the bug had successfully escaped his nose cavity. He took a few breaths and saw the strange woman that he’d just met earlier that day, but who’d changed his life forever, towering over him. Her black garb, blending in with the night, illuminated by the flowers and strange creatures offering their light to only her.
“Are you going to sit there all day or are we going to solve a mystery?”
The two got back in the car and headed south.
The sun had just begun its climb as Amy opened her eyes and looked over to see Theo snoring with his mouth wide open in the seat next to her. From her reclined seat she saw a giant sign that promoted a live tiger roadside attraction. “Where the fuck are we?” Amy asked loud enough to wake Theo with a snort.
She was almost blinded by the bright shirt that he’d changed into while she slept. Some would call it a Hawaiian shirt, but Amy seriously doubted that any one in Hawaii would wear something so alarming. It was bright orange and covered in yellow and blue pineapples. He’d also changed into a pair of beat up khaki cargo shorts. As startling as the garments were, they suited him far better than the wardrobe from the previous day.
Groggily, Theo answered “We’re outside Grosse Tete, I was getting sleepy and I wanted to ask Dorris to look up some info on the lady who owns the house, but she gets irritated when I wake her up in the middle of the night, so I thought I’d catch a few winks.”
Blinking repeatedly to wake up, he inclined his seat and started the car again, then pulled out his cell phone and dialed the only number he had listed in his favorites.
“Hello there beautiful, how are you this fine morning!” Theo sang in an overly cheerful voice. Amy heard a scratchy irritated woman's voice on the other end of the phone, but couldn’t make out what she was saying.
“I’m doing great, we are on our way to a lead but I need as much information as you can find on the person who owns the house at 563 Maple Ave, Golden Meadow Louisiana, can you help me with that?”
After a raspy response, he hung up the phone and looked over at Amy, “You want some food? This place has some great tornadoes.”
“What in the hell is a tornado?” Amy asked disgustedly, looking at the rundown gas station, skeptical of what they considered breakfast.
“You’ll love ‘em” Theo replied, then went into the gas station to get some. He returned with two coffees and a full bag of the gas station's famous dish.
As Amy bit into one, she couldn’t figure out a single ingredient that went into making the disgusting , yet savory, treat. They looked like a taquito and were filled with something that resembled meat and cheese, but were no where close to actual meat and cheese.
“Is this the famous tiger?” Amy asked, pointing to the concoction in her hand.
Theo laughed, “No, that was Teddy, he died a few years ago, but I hear they’re about to get a tiger cub to replace him soon. I couldn’t tell you what was in these babies, but they’ve kept me going through the years.”
“No wonder you reacted the way you did when you ate my soup” Amy laughed and took another bite of the mysterious substance, as disgusted as she was, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from eating the entire thing.
About half way through his fifth Tornado, Theo’s phone rang. He answered it before he swallowed the bite he was working on with a muffled “Hello darlin.” As the woman on the other end of the phone spoke Theo furiously scrawled down as much as he could on the back of an empty check-book he found on the floorboard, then thanked the lady and hung up the phone.
“Ok, the woman’s name is Mrs. Walcott, she owns the house and is super rich.” You want to go meet her? I think we’re still a little ways off.
“All of that, and that is what you came up with?” Amy questioned.
“Well, there was more, but that was the important stuff” Theo grinned.
“Alright, let’s go meet Mrs. Walcott.” Amy agreed as she pulled her seatbelt over her and buckled in.