tea and witchery
PATRICK JOGGED PAST his house and turned to head back to the inn. He wrinkled his nose. Smoke. Not charcoal or a cigarette but a stronger smell. He looked up. A dark cloud rose ahead of him. Please, not the inn. He shouldn't have gone jogging and left it empty. But everyone was off meditating, and he'd checked to make sure Lisle hadn't left any candles burning in her room.
He sprinted past the church. Now he could see that the smoke wasn't coming from the inn but billowing out of a window in the building across the street. Not the bookstore side, but the meeting room. Right where Lisle, George and Wallingford always meditated. Lisle's candles! He dashed toward the building. Rafe had told her to be careful in the old, wooden buildings. He yelled everyone's names as he pounded up the steps.
He paused just outside the door. He didn't hear anything. Not even the smoke alarms. Probably because no one had checked the batteries. He yelled everyone's names again, but they didn't answer. Maybe they were unconscious. He opened the door and peered into the smoke-filled hallway. The doors to the bookstore and the meeting room were both closed. He took a deep breath, and rushed in.
The bookstore was locked. Either Myra had closed early or she was meditating, too. He reached the second door. Feel to see if it's hot. He remembered that from somewhere. He pressed his palm against the wood. It wasn't hot.
Thick smoke crowded the room and veiled shadowy shapes on the floor. He groped his way toward the first--a cardboard box. His eyes were stinging when he reached the next. Another box. He checked a third, coughing as he stumbled across the floor. Boxes not people ... He ran for the door, and hit a wall. He gasped and smoke burned his lungs. Stretching out his arms, he felt along the wall. No door.
It's okay. The door is here. Just keep moving. He coughed. Low. He was supposed to stay low. That was a rule. That and call 911. And don't run into a burning building like an idiot. He dropped to his knees. Breathing hurt, and something was screaming in his ears.
* * * *
LYNNE SCREECHED TO a stop in the middle of the road and stared at the sign. It welcomed her to Cassadaga and told her that authorized psychics were located on the right side of the street. She looked down at the directions her aunt had emailed. Yes, they clearly stated that she was to turn right when she reached the inn. She looked at the sign again. When Anthea had suggested she spend the summer in Florida, Lynn had imagined beaches and theme parks. Not the "True Cassadaga Unified Psychic Society."
She wasn't likely to reach the inn. A dark cloud of smoke filled the sky ahead of her and fire trucks blocked the road. She pulled forward. Firefighters were hosing down a wooden building on the right side of the street. Smoke hung heavily in the air, but the damage didn't look as bad as she might have expected given the age of the building. A little psychic intervention? Did the authorized psychics call nine-one-one in advance? Her smile at the imagined conversation faded when she saw the body on the ground.
She closed her eyes. This is not a repeat of the accident scene with Mark. She wouldn't know the person on the ground. Still, she climbed out of the car and edged closer.
The body, a young, blond male, was struggling to push off the oxygen mask the paramedics held over his mouth. He's alive. Lynn let herself breathe again.
"Y'all got off pretty lucky."
Lynn looked up. A firefighter stripped off his oxygen tank and handed it to another firefighter. He surveyed the group standing around on the grass. Lynn stepped back and tried to look like an innocent bystander. The firefighter's gaze moved over her. He addressed his comments to the main cluster of watchers.
"Mostly smoke damage. We'll have to investigate before we give a complete report, but it looks like someone might have left a coffee pot on. You'll need to repair a couple of walls."
"How much is that going to cost us?" a woman with long blond hair demanded.
"Can't rightly say, ma'am. Your insurance should cover it."
She frowned at the firefighter, then looked back to her group. "If Patrick started this fire, I think the inn's insurance should pay for it."
When the young male on the ground made a protesting sound and started coughing, Lynn suspected he was the accused Patrick. The paramedics pushed the oxygen mask back down and gave him official sounding orders to breathe. He did, while glaring at the group.
An older man with graying hair stepped forward, working his way between Patrick and his accuser. "I don't see how we can blame this on Patrick. He doesn't drink coffee."
"If he didn't start it, what was he doing in there?" asked the woman.
Like everyone else, Lynn looked at Patrick. He pushed the mask away from his face. "I thought they were inside. Meditating." He pointed to a trio of watchers.
Lynn looked at the watchers and blinked. That couldn't be George. No, it would be. George had known every New Age bookstore within a hundred miles of Virginia Commonwealth University, when they'd been in college. Apparently he'd widened his range. If five years hadn't dimmed his interest, they'd thickened his already stocky build and thinned his sparse red hair. George had always reminded her of a pumpkin, plump and round. Now he made her think of a pumpkin with fringe.
"We decided to meditate outside tonight," he was saying. "I sensed something wrong around the hall."
A man wearing a long-sleeved shirt and gray slacks frowned. "I believe I was the one who suggested we meditate outside."
The third member of the trio shook back her waist-length copper hair and looked skyward. "The angels told me that we should walk to the lake tonight."
George glared. "I sensed it first."
"I'm sure I did. Patrick will remember." The girl smiled down at the blond man, who shook his head. "Now, Patrick, remember. I told you when we were alone in my room."
Patrick's eyes widened.
Gray Slacks snorted. "That story's no more convincing than the one about the angels. Lisle, he doesn't remember you saying it because you didn't."
"Enough." The older man waved them to silence. "I doubt Patrick would have run into a burning building to rescue you if he'd known you were already outside. I am not going to support the authentication of any sign that warns you to go meditate elsewhere while Society property is destroyed and a young man nearly loses his life."
"Can he do that?" George asked.
"The board is supposed to vote," the woman with long blond hair said. "Joshua knows that."
"Vote on what, Myra? That all three of them received signs to go meditate at the lake, but the spirits didn't think of mentioning that someone should turn off the coffee pot?"
Lynn watched Patrick push the oxygen mask off again. He pointed toward the smoldering building "If they meditated in there," he said, his voice rough with smoke, "then they could have turned off the coffee pot, and we wouldn't have a fire."
Myra, George, Lisle, and Gray Slacks glared at him. Joshua chuckled. Then Lynn heard the squeal of tires and a car door slammed. The others fell silent as a man with a dark ponytail rushed past her and dropped to the ground beside the blond.
"Patrick? Are you hurt?"
"I'm okay," Patrick mumbled, pushing to his elbows.
"There was a fire," Myra said. "And for some reason he was inside the building."
"Rafe, I couldn't get out."
Lynn watched as Rafe's gaze went to the burned building, then to the ambulance. Ignoring Myra, he turned to the paramedics. "Does Patrick need to go to the hospital?"
"He seems to be recovering," one said, putting away the oxygen mask. "But keep an eye on him."
"Myra thinks I started it," Patrick blurted.
Rafe gave Myra a glare that Lynn wouldn't have wanted directed at her. "I am sure she does not think so."
Myra huffed. "Fine, Rafael. Then explain why he was in the building."
"I already said why." Glaring, Patrick pushed into a sitting position. "The only person who would use that stupid, old pot in the meeting room is you. You probably forgot to turn it off when you closed the bookstore. So stop trying to blame it on everyone else."
"Yes, you seem to have recovered. I am sure Myra is not trying to blame you." Rafael's attention was on Patrick, but Lynn felt certain the words were directed to Myra. Then he wrapped an arm around Patrick's shoulders and lifted him to his feet. "You will feel better after you've cleaned up and changed your clothes." Lynn saw him stop and take a second look at Patrick, who was wearing nothing but shorts and a pair of sneakers. "Or put some on."
"I was jogging."
"So I see." Rafael looked over his shoulder. "Joshua, will you come see me when you are done here?"
Myra stepped between them. "You'll get a report on the fire when the board issues it and not before."
Rafael didn't say anything, but Lynn noticed the look the two men exchanged over Myra's head. She had no doubt that Rafael would have a full report before the night was over. Myra huffed, but Joshua ignored her and stepped away with the firefighter. The other firefighters were stripping out of their protective suits, revealing simple T-shirts and dark slacks. One carried a large fan toward the building and set it up to vent the smoke.
Gray Slacks grabbed Myra's shoulder. "Can he keep the board from considering our signs?"
"Joshua is vice-president," Myra said.
"That's not an answer--"
"Lynn?" George's cheerful greeting brought everyone's gazes to her. "Did you come for a reading?"
All the way from Virginia? Lynn held her tongue as George rushed across the grass with Myra close behind.
The look Myra gave her was stern. "Do you have an appointment? I don't recall anything on my schedule."
"I'm not here for a reading," Lynn said.
"Some people just can't resist the scene of an accident, can they?" asked Myra, her voice snide.
Lynn felt her cheeks grow hot. "I'm visiting my aunt."
George stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. "Myra, this is Gwendolyn McElven."
Myra's eyebrows shot up. "Anthea is your aunt?"
Lynn nodded, trying not to grimace at George's use of her full first name. "I go by Lynn. Lynn McElven Yates."
"So you married that guy who wanted to go into politics? Is he here, too?" George looked around.
"Mark," Lynn said. "He died in a car accident." She'd explained often enough to dull the feelings behind the words.
"I'm sorry. He was a nice guy," George said.
"Have you come here to contact him?" Myra asked.
Lynn stared at her in cold shock. She'd spent the first six months of widowhood dealing with pain, sorrow, and guilt. Now, nearly two years later, she still felt like she hadn't put her life back together, but she'd given up expecting anyone to bring Mark back. "No," she managed to say. "I'm sure he'd want me to move on with my life."
"I'm glad you made it down here to us," George said.
Myra nodded. "I'm sure your aunt will be pleased. Anthea is strong in the ways of the spirit."
"She's in harmony with her world." The young woman with the copper hair glided forward. "I'm Lisle, no last name. Last names bind you to others, and my abilities will not permit me to be bound."
"Yes, we've heard all about that," Gray Slacks said. He nodded at Lynn. "I want to know about her. Does she get special privileges because she's a member's niece? I thought we were all on equal ground here."
"Relationship to an established member has no bearing," Myra said.
"Yeah, right."
George turned to Lynn, his smile forced. "Lynn, this is E.D. Wallingford. He is experienced in past-life regression."
"I am more than experienced," Wallingford declared. "I am a certified hypnotist and an expert in the field of past-life research. A field that helps people." He shot Lisle and George scornful look. "I can't wait to see how you two feel when she's accepted into the Society, and we aren't even allowed to have our signs considered. I'm going to speak to Carl about it."
"Wonderful." Myra sighed as he stomped off. "Joshua needs to let the board vote on this situation. Especially when all three of you sensed something was wrong."

* * * *