Jan. 9, 2019
Today, I am I one day closer to fulfilling my dream. Today, I have chosen to put myself in the eyes of the public, and subject my writing to your scrutiny. This post contains the unedited first draft of Chapter One of my first novel, Black Magnolias, for you to read and judge as you will. I hope you enjoy it and I would love to hear your feedback, good or bad. I just ask that you be kind.
For mature readers only. MA 18+ for language, violence, and future sexual content
Gigi Grayson is a young witch from New Orleans with a power only a monster would want to possess. Wary of the world and desperate to rid herself of the nightmares that plague her, she takes comfort in a young man named Jack Huxley. Little does she know that their meeting will trigger events centuries in the making.
When strange things start happening, Gigi goes looking for answers in her past, and finds a history of pain, heartbreak, mental illness, and a supernatural force like she’s never encountered before. With her life and his on the line, could her curse be what saves them both?
Side note: Any and all text in this post belong to me, Alexa McGlothlin, and are subject to copyright laws. Any use or reproduction of any of the concepts, ideas, or written text without my written permission will be persecuted to the full extent of the law.
Her screams had echoed down the hospital hallway, as one might expect from a woman going through natural labor. Only most women give birth in a birthing center, not a psych ward. There were moments when she’d run out of the air, or she’d choke on the blood in her throat that I could hear the priest praying.
No one knew if she was crazy or possessed. The medications hadn’t helped, and the Vatican had refused an exorcism months ago because of her condition. The priest was only there now because either way, no one expected her to make it through the night.
All we could do was wait. I sat in the hall with my grandfather standing across from me, staring down at blurry, laced together fingers that didn’t belong to me as the woman prayed to God ‘the thing’ in her womb would be stillborn. Again and again, she screamed and my head pounded harder with every agonized shriek and ugly word, but I couldn’t get up. I was stuck on that bench. Trapped in a memory that didn’t belong to me.
I watched her tears hit the tile like they were my own, trying to decipher what little Latin I could hear beneath the woman’s wailing. He had already said her last rites, and I struggled to make out much after that. Even though I had experienced this a thousand times before I got lost in her howling, and I wasn’t prepared for the sudden shift in perspective. My stomach turned and I found myself looking down the hall as a team of bloody nurses rushed from the room and a new team rushed in. Words like hemorrhaging, losing her, and c-section erupted from the chaos over her screaming, and my heart clenched as my aunt’s had.
Something soft and warm brushed against my cheek, coaxing me back to reality. Slowly the sterile, white hallway faded into the void and the sounds of the city replaced the screaming. Still my head pounded, and I could feel the sweat and tears sticking to my face.
Blindly, I reached for the bottle of Tylenol on my nightstand. The creature that had woke me settled beside me; the weight of it comforting and familiar as my fingers made contact with and wrapped around the bottle. I cracked an eye open to peek down at the cloud of black fur curled against my chest as I opened it. Orange eyes stared back at me, bright even in the dimly lit room and Hollow meowed. “Morning,” I whispered in reply, and then I popped two of the little white pills into my mouth.
I didn’t need any liquid assistance to get them down. They slid down my throat almost too easily, and like most mornings I thought about the damage I was doing to my liver. I hadn’t always had this unhealthy dependency on headache medications. That was something that had just developed over the past few years.
After graduation, I had taken a job in the French Quarter working at Reverend Decay’s House of Hexes. I had convinced myself that it was a practical thing to do. After all, what better place for a witch to work in New Orleans than a voodoo shop? But if I were really trying to be practical, I would’ve gone to work in a library or a cubicle. The truth was that I had hoped that Mr. Saintclaire (aka the Reverend) could stop the visions, or at the very least get rid of the nightmares.
We tried every spell imaginable with no success. The magic that was bound to me was much older and stronger than anything we could conjure, and it seemed the nightmares were as much a part of my curse as the visions. I should’ve quit after the first month. That would’ve been the smart thing to do, but I continued to ignore the consequences of my exposure to the public in the hope that we could find a solution.
Every day I met another victim, another thief, another liar, another rapist. As careful as I tried to be it seemed inevitable. They would slide against me as I stocked the narrow aisles or their fingers would brush mine as I handed them their change, and for a moment I would get lost in the ugliest parts of their lives – all their fears and their shame and their sins like they were my own, just to relive the worst of it again that night. Steadily my dreams had become nightmares until nightmares were all I had, and as they continued to get ever more violent and emotional draining my only two options were to either lay in bed until the pounding stopped or to take the pills and function like a halfway normal human being. At least try to.
With that decision already made (at least for the day), I looked to the oak desk across the room. Plants grew in little pots in the back corners, and various shades and sizes of blue, green, and purple candles were scattered amongst pieces of amethyst and citrine across its surface. In the center of everything was a metal plate full of ash surrounded by a circle of dried flower petals. The ashes shifted as a soft breeze you more heard than felt ignited the blue candles from one end of the desk to the other, and Hollows ears perked as the flames drew his attention.
He leaped from the bed with a swish of his tail and went to investigate like he’d never seen a flame before. His lanky body seemed to move like water around the candles, but I still worried his fur would catch fire. I followed him, wrapping my mossy green blanket around my naked body against the air-conditioned chill in my bedroom.
He meowed in protest and his body went limp as I lifted him up and over the candles, setting him in my lap as I sat down in the chair. I could feel the crackle of unused energy in the air as I retrieved my notebook and pen from the top draw. I’d never been very good at writing spells. Putting my feelings into articulate sentences had never been my forte, but I opened the book to a blank sheet of paper. Only a single sentence made it onto the page.
I just want a single, normal day.
I didn’t dwell too long on what I’d written. That was how I felt – as pure and simple as that. I folded the paper, taking my time with each crease as I imagined a mundane day and a quiet evening with a cup of hot chocolate. Just one day without a vision. Then I held the note above the tallest of the lit candles. It caught fire with a flare and I dropped it onto the metal plate to burn. When it burnt out so would the candles.
It took me less than thirty minutes to get ready. I threw on a mustard yellow tee shirt and a pair of overalls, tamed my black curls into a ponytail, and tried my best to cover the circles beneath my eyes. Hollow was stretched out on the dining room table, basking in the sunlight pouring through the bay window as he watched me apply my mascara. Music poured from the stereo in the living room, and I emerged from the bathroom into the long white room that made up the rest of my home feeling halfway human.
Breakfast was a quick affair: scrambled eggs for the both of us, and before I realized what little time I had left was gone. The alarm on my phone chimed with the arrival of nine twenty-five, but I didn’t immediately make a move to leave. For a second, I just stood there, leaning against the kitchen island with my empty plate, contemplating how much easier it would be to go curl up on my teal sectional and stay there, like a dragon guarding its keep of candles and house plants. My second alarm brought with it the reality that doing so would leave me without a keep to guard.
Phone in hand and music silenced, I rounded the island to put my plate in the sink and grabbed my keys and the little teal pouch that housed my rosary from the table by the door and then wrestled my bike out of the corner of the entryway. Heat rolled in as the door swung open, and I jerked the bike around in the small space and out the door. Magic pulsed from my fingers as I ran them over the gold painted runes surrounding the door frame as I left, like always, pausing in the doorway to watch them shimmer around the doors and through the turquoise curtains. Then I stepped out onto the porch, locking the door behind me.
Two seconds outside and I knew my hair had already frizzed. The shade didn’t help with the humidity, and I could feel the sweat starting to bead on my neck before I made it down the front steps. There would be no reprieve from the heat. Blue skies spanned for miles without a single speck of white, and carpenter bees drifted in the thick air like giant puffs of pollen between the shotgun houses.
Each house was painted an odd combination of colors: orange and teal, yellow and purple, red and aqua, and then there was mine. On the corner of Clouet and Burgundy was my navy blue and white home, complete with an L-shaped porch and magnolias painted on the door. Wisteria grew around the lattice hiding the porch swing, and ferns lined the short stone path from the stairs to the sidewalk. Hollow watched from the corner of the living room window, his body half hidden behind a cluster of little purple flowers as I hurried down the path and mounted my bike on the pavement.
I rode Burgundy all the way to the Quarter, like I did most days. Traffic was light, but the further I rode into the city the more people crowded the sidewalks. The wildly colored homes of the Bywater became Spanish buildings with plant covered balconies surrounded by wrought iron lace, and even so early in the day, music came soft and soothing from passing streets and store windows.
Reverend Decay’s House of Hexes was just down from the corner of Barracks and Burgundy Street in a shabby little building with mint colored paint peeling from its stucco walls and two sets of distressed dark green double doors. Both sets of doors were already wide open, the Haunted History Tours sign already sitting on the sidewalk.
Inside, the shop was busy. Not in the sense that there were a lot of customers (not so early in the day anyway), but in the sense that that is the best way to describe the clutter. The smell of incense hung heavy in the air. Masks and voodoo dolls hung from the walls, ribbons and beads from the ceiling, and candles and trinkets covered the shelves. The Reverend was leaning against the cigar case when I shuffled inside, walking my bike beside me. “Morning, Reverend.”
His eyes disappeared and the lines around them doubled with his gap-toothed smile. “Good-mornin’, Doll, ” he called, his accent thick the way only a Cajuns can be. Voodoo Doll (Doll for short) was the nickname he had given me my first week here. Everyone in the shop had one, and he had his reasons for each. He had given me mine because of my eyes – big, round, and so dark they were almost black, like big, black buttons he had said.
The Reverend was a scrawny man, short and bent with skin the color of cocoa powder and teeth three shades more yellow than his scraggly off-white beard. No one was sure exactly how old he was, but I was sure he had been on this Earth at least a lifetime longer than he should’ve been. On nights it was just the two of us he would talk about the roaring twenties like they were his prime, but if you were to ask about his glory days he’d talk about a woman named Trisha that he hadn’t seen in “over a century”.
When I returned from stowing my bike in the stock room and clocking in using the Reverend’s ancient punch card system, he was still where I had left him. “So, what’s today’s agenda?” I asked, sliding behind the counter.
“You’re goin’ to be watchin’ the shop while I show the tourists around.” He took a cheap cigar from the case and lit it.
“I can go if you need me to.” He frowned and arched a furry eyebrow at me, exhaling a cloud of smoke out the door. I had never done a tour before. He had never asked me to, but as I much younger individual, I felt obligated to offer.
“I’m old, cher, not cripple.” The cherry flashed red hot as he puffed on his cigar. “It’s just one tour, then I’ll be back. We’ll not be busy today.”
I smiled and shrugged. “I hope.”
Hours passed without incident. Besides the small crowd that gathered around the doors at two o’clock to take the Reverend’s tour only two other people had wondered inside, neither of which bought anything. I had spent most of the morning wondering the shop and trying to bring some order to the chaos, which was in all reality just shuffling the clutter around.
I was organizing the incense along the back wall when I heard a group of young men wander inside. They were laughing and talking and judging from their accents definitely from the south but definitely not from Louisiana. From what I could hear of their very public conversation, they seemed slightly more mature than the frat boys that sometimes stumbled inside, but only slightly.
They were standing at the cigar case, debating on which brands smoked best, when I made it to the front of the shop. “I think we should stick with what we know and get a White Owl, ” a lanky blonde was saying. His velvet red short-sleeve button-up had immediately drawn my attention. Maybe it was just the shirt and his black, thick-framed glasses, but he seemed intelligent. Maybe I was just thinking stereotypically.
A man nearly a foot shorter than him, but with much more definition to his arms and a well-kept beard chimed in as he scanned the case. “But this is a celebration. We should try something new.” The tenor of his voice and his drawl were charming, and he looked approachable in his dark blue jeans and tee shirt.
He looks like trouble, I thought. Not in any meaningful sense of the word. Just the kind of trouble that would leave me feeling a little like a slut when I woke up alone the next morning. Touching him would probably be like watching an awkward, amateur POV porn compilation.
A dark haired man, a little heavier than the others, stood by quietly with his arms crossed, content to listen to the two of them discuss brands and flavors. When I approached them, he would probably be the one I spoke to. He looked the most laid back with his easy smile and cargo shorts, but then I noticed a fourth inspecting the shelves.
His hair was the same dirty blonde as the other boy’s, but his was shaggy where the other boy’s was short. Twins, only he seemed to have a little more muscle than his brother. His eyes scanned over the oils and tokens curiously but with an obvious unfamiliarity, like a child trying to piece together a puzzle.
His aura was a lot like a child’s: guiltless and unburdened. Sadly uncommon in anyone over the age of twelve. It was endearing.“You look a little lost,” I whispered. He jumped and his green eyes shot to mine, but then he smiled and his cheeks turned red.
“Yeah.” He shrugged awkwardly, setting whatever he’d been looking at back on the shelf. “This isn’t usually my scene, ” he murmured, taking a few quick steps closer to continue our hushed conversation, “but my friends wanted to meet a witch.” His eyebrows shot up dramatically, and his smile turned indulgent as he glanced at the group by the cigar case.
The black haired man that had been standing to the side had finally decided to offer a solution that I was sure he had come up with not thirty seconds after the debate began. One arm still across his chest, he raised his other hand to his chin, and said, “Just a thought, but why not get a few?” It didn’t look like his friends appreciated it, but I did. I smiled.
“You’re in the right place. My names Gigi. Gigi Grayson.”
His smile stretched into a grin, and he stood up a little straighter as he offered me his hand. “Jack Huxley.” The way my heart hit my rib cage you’d have thought he’d stuck a gun in my face. My breath caught in my throat, and I blinked at his hand. My fingers twitched by my side, but as if by fate, or magic, one of his companions came to my rescue.
“Jack, why don’t you come have a look?”
He turned to the sound of his name and his hand subconsciously recoiled, and I remembered how to breath. A smirk curled his brother’s lips, and he pushed his glasses a little further up his nose. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
All three of them turned to look at him, and upon seeing me all three made the same knowing and mischievous face. It was enough to make me fidget, but not uncomfortably. Relief made it impossible to be uncomfortable. The knot of immediate panic that had risen in my throat was passed, and I fought the urge to thank his brother for his timely interruption.
“Oh, uh…” Jack turned to look at me with an uncertain pucker between his eyes and a questioning smile.
“You can introduce me if you like.”
Again, his eyes glittered and his smile returned. He took a few steps toward the case and stopped to make sure I was going to follow. “Guys, this is Gigi. Gigi, this is Landon,” he said, pointing to his husky, dark haired friend, “Collin,” he nodded to Trouble who smirked, “And my brother, Jace.”
“Nice to meet all of you. Around here they call me Doll.”
Jack smiled. “Oh, you work here?”
“Well then, maybe you can help us,” Collin purred. He was looking at me the way I imagined he looked at most women, like a dog looking at a steak. I rounded the counter on instinct, using the case as a barrier between us.
“So, why do they call you Doll?” Jace asked.
Landon leaned in with his head cocked and looked at me through his lashes. “Is it because you’re so pretty?”
I felt the blood rush to my cheeks and dropped my eyes, but my lips still quirked. “Something like that,” I said, flattening my palms against the counter. “So, what can I get for you boys?”
Collin’s mouth opened like he was about to was something, but Landon cut him off. “We need three White Owls: mango, white peach, and strawberry-kiwi.” Pause. “Please,” he added. He didn’t seem to be aware of Collin’s stare borrowing into his face, smile still firmly in place. Collin waited for him to finish, then a heart beat after just to make a point.
He still didn’t look at me as he made his request. “And whatever you’d recommend.” I didn’t know anything about cigars beyond where they sat on the shelves, so I grabbed one of the Reverend’s and tossed it onto the counter with the rest of them. Then, there was a pause in which they watched me retrieve a small paper bag from under the counter and open it. One of them coughed, and then Jace asked the question that I had been waiting for. “So, are you a witch?” It was something that I got asked on a daily basis in the shop. Jack had even said that’s why they were there, so I wasn’t surprised. But I was feeling mischievous.
“If I said yes, what would you say?”
“I’d say prove it,” Landon answered.
I shouldn’t have, but I grabbed another pack of the mango White Owls from the case. With their smokes already bagged up, I held up the extra for them to see. “This packs on me,” I said, tearing off the top. The sweet smell of mangos wafted up from the pack, followed by the much more mellow smell of tobacco as I shook out one the cigars into my hand and put it between my lips. Then, I pulled like it was lit. My eyes locked onto Landon’s baby blues as the end sparked and started to burn.
Collin deadpanned. “No fucking way.”
I only hit it long enough to prove my point and immediately exhaled up and out the door. Their jaws all went slack, and I handed the lit cigar to Jace. Slowly his mouth closed and his full lips stretched into a closed lipped grin. “Well, I’ll be damned.” I dropped the extra pack into their bag.
He raised the cigar to me in kudos and then took a drag of it himself.
Landon was all teeth behind him, leaning back on his heels with his arms back across his chest. “I don’t know how you did that, but it was sweet.” Jack was the only one who didn’t have anything to say. He just smiled and watched me in wide eyed fascination as Jace handed back the cigar, and I snubbed out it in the Reverend’s ashtray while the others tried to figure out how I had performed my “party trick”.
“Can you read my fortune?” Collin asked.
“I can, but I don’t do palm reading. Just tarot cards.”
“Alright, alright. That’s enough.” Jack laughed and clapped Landon on the back. “You’ve met a witch, now y’all leave the lady alone.”
“Jack, you’re not afraid of a little voodoo, are you?” I teased as I rang up their cigars.
He puffed out his chest and his brows furrowed like he was insulted, but he couldn’t quite keep a straight face. His lips twitched up at the corners. “No, ma’am.”
“But yeah, kinda,” Landon said from behind him.
Jack shot him a look over his shoulder, and I couldn’t help but laugh. “Nothing to be afraid of here. At least in this shop. It’s gonna be $4.87, boys.”
Jack went to reach into the back pocket of his jeans for his wallet, but Jace stopped him, pulling out his own. “No, I’ve got it. This weeks on us. You’ll be down here all by your lonesome soon,” he said, handing me a five.
“Oh, are you moving here?” I shouldn’t have cared, but part of me genuinely wanted to know. I wanted to know him. Aunt Lacie had always said even good men do bad things. I didn’t know what secrets Jack was hiding yet, but he seemed like a good man.
“Yes, ma’am, from Shelby, North Carolina,” Jack said.
I handed Jace his change and the cigars. “We just came down to help him unpack and settle in,” he said.
“Well, welcome to the Crescent City, and I hope you guys enjoy it while you’re here.”
“I’m sure we’ll be seeing you again,” Jace said. He made no move to be discreet as he looked pointedly at Jack. Landon waved goodbye as the three of them headed out the door, leaving Jack to hover by the register. I watched him scan over the stickers and paper signs taped to the counter and his mouth open and close, and then he looked out the door at something I couldn’t see.
I leaned forward across the counter, just enough to see them waiting for him outside. “It was sweet of them to help you move,” I said, hoping to break the ice as I eased back off the counter.
“You’d think so, but it’s really just an excuse for them to drink, smoke, and cruise Bourbon Street for girls.” I could tell he didn’t mean that. He hadn’t stopped smiling and it grew a little wider as a hand appeared in the doorway with its middle finger in the air.
“Careful with that. They might catch more than they’re fishing for.” He laughed, but he continued rubbing his palms together nervously. “So, which part of the city are you in?” I asked.
“The Bywater, over by the canal, but I guess that’s why they call it the Bywater.” His smile slipped slightly and his hand came up to rub awkwardly at the back of his neck.
His eyes finally met mine and he took a deep breath. “Maybe you could show me around sometime.”
My heart pounded in my chest as blood flooded my cheeks, and I tucked a stray curl behind my ear. “I’d like that.”
His smile stretched into a toothy grin wide enough to rival the Cheshire cat’s. “Alright,” he beamed. I grabbed a pen from beside the register and wrote my number down on a piece of a receipt. The way he took was like I had handed him a gift rather than a scrap of paper. “I’ll text you.”
He walked out still wearing the same goofy grin, and I heard his companions explode into congratulations the moment both his feet hit the sidewalk, like I suddenly wouldn’t be able to hear them. It gave me butterflies like I hadn’t had since high school, since before all I had was nightmares. Maybe he could be a distraction.