Three Witches and a Zombie

By: Maggie Shayne




Prologue





Midnight, Aurora’s First Halloween





A little Witch is born.

"Her name will be Aurora," Merriwether said firmly, staring down at the cradle she'd bought for her brand-new charge. The baby's mother, Merriwether's niece, had never embraced the secret ways of the Sortilege women. She'd rejected her heritage, turned her back on the ways of magick. Even claimed she didn't believe in it. Then she'd run away with a leather-bearing beast on a motorbike, shouting over her shoulder that her three aunts were completely insane, and ought to be committed because everyone knew there were no such things as Witches. Almost as an afterthought, she'd added that her aunts had best not be casting any spells to make her come back, or she'd hate them forever.

Nine months later, Melinda had the good sense to send her newborn daughter home to her three aunts, delivered to the front door by a social worker with the message that Melinda was "just not mother material."

Merriwether had known the child would end up in her care. She hadn't known how it would happen, but she'd never doubted it would, because she'd seen it in the stars. Aurora Sortilege was a special child, a child of destiny. And her aunts were here to see that she fulfilled it.

"Oh, yes, Aurora. It's perfect!" Fauna clapped her plump hands together near her rounded middle and gave a good belly laugh. Her face quivered with mirth, and her outrageous orange hair—frizzed from too many colorings and perms—bobbed and bounced as if it were laughing, too. "It brings our little fairy tale full circle, don't you think?" she asked, still grinning.

"Our dear mother knew what she was doing when she named us after three benevolent—if fictional—fairies who care for a special little girl," Merriwether said, and she frowned a little at her younger sister's laughter. This was a serious matter—a great responsibility had been entrusted to them. But as she glanced at the child again, even her own stern expression softened. "Mother truly was gifted at divination."

Fauna smiled, and it dimpled her cheeks. "And so are we," she declared with a slap of her hand against one ample thigh. "Our Aurora will be blessed with an abundance of magick."

"Magick even more powerful than our own," Flora added in her gentle, timid voice. Her tiny frame bent over the cradle, she was tickling Aurora's chubby chin and eliciting a smile. "And a healing gift beyond measure."

"Oh, yes, indeed," Merriwether agreed. "But even then, it won't be as powerful as her daughter's will be."

"Only if we're successful." Flora frowned then, her small face puckering, and paced away from the cradle in small, agitated steps. Leaning over the round pedestal table nearby, she peered into the misty depths of a crystal ball that reflected her face and snowy white puffs of hair. "Oh, so much hinges on this. What if we fail?"

"We won't," Merri assured her youngest sister in her firmest take-charge tone. "We can't. We all saw the prophecy at the same time. You in the crystal, I in the stars, and Fauna in the cards of the sacred Tarot. We've been entrusted by our ancestors with a great responsibility, sisters, and we cannot fail." She was putting on her drill-sergeant persona, and it fit, she knew, with her regal stature and steely gray hair. Her sisters called her imposing. But always with love in their voices. And someone had to be in charge, after all. As the oldest, it had simply always been her.

But when she looked down at the baby, she deliberately gentled her tone. "Aurora is going to become the mother of the greatest Witch our family has ever produced. But it can only happen if we follow the instructions we've been given to the letter."

"Yes," Fauna said. She, too, had come to the table, and she'd already begun shuffling her Tarot cards. She did that when she was nervous. Shuffled and shuffled. "The child has to be fathered by little Nathan McBride, Daniel's boy, from Mulberry Street. And you're a lucky one, little Aurora, 'cause that boy's gonna grow up to be a looker." She shook her head and stifled a chuckle. Then she frowned. "How we'll arrange that, I'll never know. Merciful Goddess, the McBrides don't even know about the traditional magick of their ancestors, or the power of their bloodlines. They don't practice the ancient ways. They live like...like normal folk." She grimaced after she said it, as if the words left a bad taste in her mouth.