By MARTI DUMAS
This piece is excerpted from Wildseed Witch by Marti Dumas, a guest at Amherst College’s 2023 LitFest. Register for this exciting celebration of Amherst’s literary life.
The next day, a woman with a little pink umbrella showed up at my house at the crack of dawn. My mother always gets up that freakishly early, and I was up because something kept dinging even though my phone was on silent. It took me a few minutes to figure out that the sound was coming from my computer. I must have left YouTube open when I collapsed after my rant. The dinging was notifications for MakeupontheCheapCheap. I had 81 new followers and 147 new likes, and the count kept climbing.
Pretty much all the likes were on the rant video, but my eyeliner tutorial had exactly one new like and comment from a user named _AnnieOaky_.
“New subbie here! Love your stuff. I did a vid of me doing your tutorial.”
I picked up my phone and replied to _AnnieOaky_ with the link to the hug gif I had been saving. I was so happy I could have cried.
Another ding. My follower count went up by one, and I ran into the living room shouting, “Triple digits! I broke into the triple digits,” only to realize that my mom was not sitting alone in her pajamas with a cup of tea and her journal. She was fully dressed, sitting next to a plump lady with dark brown skin and straight black hair. The lady was wearing a pink suit with a matching hat, and a pink flowered umbrella rested against one knee.
My mother had even put out an arrangement of purple flowers and put saucers under their mugs on the coffee table. It looked nice. I, on the other hand, was still wearing the same jeans and t-shirt I had worn to my dad’s house, my hair was all stiff and smushy because I fell asleep without a satin scarf, and I was pretty sure the right side of my face was plastered with drool.
“Sorry. I didn’t know you had company,” I said.
The two of them stood up, the pink lady rising so gracefully that she didn’t disturb her umbrella.
My mom gestured toward the guest. “Actually, she came to see you, Hasani. I wasn’t going to wake you, but since you’re up, this is Aimee Lafleur. She’s from Les Belles Demoiselles: Pensionnat des Sorcières in Vacherie.”
I raised an eyebrow. My mom spoke French?
“Belles Demoiselles is a finishing school for talented young ladies like you,” Miss Lafleur said. “I came to offer you a position in our program this summer.”
I blinked. Even in English it didn’t make sense. Me? Talented? I was good at a lot of stuff–math, comics, finding my mom’s keys–but nothing you would call a talent except…
“Like, for makeup?” I blurted out. She had seen my eyeliner video.
“For magic,” my mom said. She said it gently, like maybe I might be afraid or something, but legit, I was thinking what a shame it was that she wasn’t there because of my Dollar Store Eyeliner 101 video. Miss Lafleur’s makeup was perfect, but she was probably using really expensive products. It’s hard to get perfectly smooth lines when you’re working with stuff from the dollar store, and I can do it pretty much every time. Skillz, yo. The trick is you have to kind of roll it around in your hand to warm it up, but leave the cap on until–
“Hasani,” my mom’s voice popped me out of my eyeliner reverie. “I just want to make sure you understand that Miss Lafleur isn’t talking about pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Belles Demoiselles isn’t like circus camp for stage magicians.”
“I beg to differ,” Miss Lafleur said smoothly. “Our girls can do anything they choose to. If Hassani wants to be a stage artist or street performer, that would be entirely up to her.”
“Yes,” my mom said, “but my point is that Miss Lafleur isn’t talking about slight of hand. She says you can do real magic.”
My mom was holding my hands, looking into my eyes. I was looking back at her, but I wasn’t.
I shook my head. Separately those word made sense, but together? Nothing.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, too, but Miss Lafleur showed me some videos and you should see them, too.”
Miss Lafleur pulled an iPad out of a purse that looked too small to hold it, tapped the screen and showed it to me. “Yesterday, our satellites picked up an impressive display on St. Claude Avenue.”
I looked down at the screen the fancy pink lady was holding in front of me. It was a bird’s-eye view of a bunch of cars driving. The footage was good. Better than Google Earth. But it didn’t look like it had anything to do with me. Then I spotted my dad’s convertible rolling up to the St. Claude bridge. With the top down, I could see both of us as clear as if I was sitting there.
“Your school has drones?” I said, mostly to stop myself from getting mad at my dad all over again.
“No, but our satellite images are quite sophisticated. Take a look again with these.”
She handed me a pair of rose-colored glasses and played the video back again. Everything in the video looked black and white except for a bright purple spot in my dad’s car, and another one on the bridge.
“The amethyst aura you see is your magic at work. Our satellite imagery clearly shows your magic acting on a bridge that is still quite a distance ahead. There is no mistaking it. Hasani, you are a witch.”
I stared back at the screen, dumbstruck. The purple spot in the car was me.
Miss Lafleur kept going like what she was saying was the most normal thing ever. “We were quite surprised as well. You must be quite a powerful little witch for your aura to be so bright without algorithmic enhancement. There are many magic users in the area, of course. Most of whom don’t know they’re using magic at all. It creates a lot of noise in the system, so we’ve been training our technology to differentiate between incidental low level magic users and witches.”
“What’s the difference?” I asked.
“We call low-level magic users kismets. While it is technically magic, a kismet’s is essentially good luck. Unlike witches, they can’t use it intentionally to change the world around them. Mind you, even witches can’t do the impossible. I like to call witchcraft the art of the improbable.” Miss Lafleur laughed. I guess she had made a joke? I didn’t get it, but her laughter was the kind that makes you laugh along with her. “Apparently, it took several hours to clear all the flowers and vines and get the bridge back in working order, so I’d certainly say that you can affect the world around you. Had you ingested anything? Herbal tea, perhaps?”
I pulled out my phone and googled the St. Claude Bridge. It was all over the news. Tiktok. YouTube. Instagram. Honestly, I might have even thought that was fake if I hadn’t also had a text from Luz.
Yo!!! Did you see the vine thing? New Orleans summer is NO JOKE. Good thing you didn’t get stuck at your dad’s.
Luz sent a link, too, to some kids who went live on the levee watching the workers pull the vines out of the bridge. Even on the video Luz sent, the vines glowed when I looked at it through the pink glasses. That’s when I knew something was up.
“How do you know it was me?” I asked. I was looking at Miss Lafleur, trying to see if I could see a glow on her, but there was nothing besides the hint of sparkle in her foundation.
Miss Lafleur smiled. “We were fairly certain from the satellite images, but this clinched it.”
A few taps later Miss Lafleur had pulled up my YouTube rant. Had my mom already watched this? I felt the heat rising in my cheeks, but that time it wasn’t magic, it was just plain old embarrassment. I purposefully kept my eyes glued to the screen and off my mom’s face. Thankfully, the volume was turned off.
“Pay careful attention to the plant on the table to your left.”
It was hard to look away from myself yelling. Did I really look like that? I looked bad, even through the rose-colored glasses that added a magic glow on my skin. But when I tore away from the horror that was my face, I saw the plant Miss Lafleur was talking about. It was the rosemary plant my mom kept sneaking into my room to “cleanse the air.” I must have bumped the camera when I sat down because it shouldn’t have been in the shot, but it was and it was glowing, too. And growing. Like, a lot. When the video started it was about the size of my hand. By the end it was the size of my head and covered in flowers. Purple flowers.
I looked down at the coffee table. My mom hadn’t made a flower arrangement at the crack of dawn to make our coffee table fancy enough for this fancy lady. She had gotten it from my room to check Miss Lafleur’s story.
I looked at the plant, rubbing the stiff leaves between my fingers. Same pot, and the flowers didn’t budge, but there was no mistaking the rosemary smell on my fingertips, or the faint trace of amethyst aura. It was on the flowers and leaves, and on my hands, too. I pulled the glasses off. The glow on my hands disappeared, but the weird feeling in my stomach didn’t.
“You’re saying I did this?”
Miss Lafleur nodded.
“And I stopped a bridge? With magic?”
“Yes. The art of the improbable in action. And you are capable of much more. I understand it may come as a shock, Hasani. It was quite surprising to us as well. It is unusual for such a strong display to come from a child whose family has no real witching legacy, but that is precisely why we felt it was so imperative that we step in. Without someone in your immediate family to guide you, in some ways a school is even more important for you than it is for any of the other girls who will attend.”
I looked at my mom. She looked almost as confused as I did. Like she had a thousand questions, a thousand things on her mind that needed answering.
Then my phone dinged. It must not have been the first time, but it was the first time I heard it. The notification banner said I had 87 new likes and 47 new followers just since I had been standing there. It was unreal. No. It was magic.
Excerpted from Wildseed Witch by Marti Dumas. Reproduced with permission of the author.
Marti Dumas ’98 is a mom, teacher, and creative entrepreneur. She is passionate about childhood literacy, and for the past 15 years she’s worked with children and teachers across the country to encourage an early love of reading both in and out of the classroom. Her stories combine humor, family, and magic, while adding much-needed diversity to the children’s book landscape.