I spent this whole weekend mucking out stables and weeding plants and generally exhausting myself, and like, I don’t exactly want to ALWAYS live like that, like I really appreciate spending my time engaged in tasks that aren’t directly related to my sustained survival, but damn if it hasn’t been nice to turn off my brain and let someone else make my decisions for me for a while.
Plus, it’s awesome to see the ways this place supports the fuck out of everyone who comes through. Everyone gets therapy, yes, even me, even though I’ve only been here 4 days. Everyone leaves with a GED, and opportunities for other education. Kim says that when they got here, they were struggling with addiction, and Terra helped them get clean, and has supported them every step of the way. I mean, the structure is super rigid, the tasks are demanding. But also, it’s a damn pleasure. It’s fun. Everyone is energetic. They’re all friends.
I didn’t see the magic from the inside. I’m pretty sure none of them do. Which is absolutely batshit insane, considering the three-faced owls that casually fly around the farm all day and night.
I don’t know much for certain about the owls, but this is what I’ve observed.
1. They have three faces which they swivel around to consider you with each different set of eyes
2. They come in a wide spectrum of dusty pastel colors
3. I’ve seen them awake during the day and at night, so I don’t even really know if they’re nocturnal or what
4. According to legend, they know when it’s going to rain, but like… I mean I feel like that’s a hard thing for us to know for certain, so jury’s still out on whether that’s true
4. They’re absolutely unafraid of us.
Kim treats them roughly the same as they treat the chickens, shooing them out of the way, hollering at them, calling them over to offer them snacks. And the owls are totally chill about it. There’s one, a pretty, dusty purple one, that is partial enough to them that it’ll come and sit on their shoulder, and preen it’s beak through their hair.
When I asked how they managed to make friends, they said, “No idea, really. I was eating a sandwich and it just approached me, so I gave it some sandwich and we’ve been buds ever since.”
Utterly not magical. I mean, it’s sort of magical in the I-would-like-the-woodland-creatures-to-befriend-me way. But not in any way that’s solidly, undeniably, magical, you know?
Nothing about this place seems magical on the surface. I don’t think I would have seen it at all, if it hadn’t been for last night.
We were all sitting down to dinner. Kim had spent the day trying to teach me how to work with the goats, and those sons of bitches wanted my ass dead, I swear to god, so I was exhausted and looking forward to spreading some goat cheese on some bread, when there was a knock on the door.
Everyone froze. We had been in high spirits, passing around the roasted pumpkin, but just one unexpected knock at the door and it was like a total tone change.
I don’t think I realized until that exact moment how fragile and hard-won the peace is there.
Terra got up. “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” she assured everyone. “I’ll go see what’s going on.”
But before she could even leave the room, a voice fucking BOOMED through the house. Like, shook the frame of the house, rattled the shutters, boomed through this house.
“LOWER YOUR WARDS, OR I’LL LOWER THEM FOR YOU. I’M HERE FOR THE GIRL.”
I froze, fork halfway to my mouth. I don’t know Celeste that well, but I know her well enough to recognize it when her voice comes EXPLODING into a room at like the voice of god.
Everyone sorta freaked out. I mean, fair enough. It wasn’t subtle. They had no idea what was going on. And neither did I, though I have to admit, I did have the sinking feeling that I knew at least the general direction we were headed in.
The receptions like… not that good out here. I’ve been texting the boys all weekend, and they’ve been texting me back. But I haven’t actually spoken to them with my voice since last week. Also the texts sorta come in whenever they feel like it, and in whatever order, so it’s not like we’re having super in depth conversations.
Terra steeled herself. She told Annie, her right-hand woman, to call the police, and that’s when I unfroze.
“It’s okay,” I said over the mounting panic. “It’s just Celeste she’s a uhhhhhh friend of mine.”
And because fate loves to laugh at me, it was at that exact moment that Celeste had enough of waiting.
There was a huge bang, a bang that I didn’t only hear but also sort of felt against my skin, and the door burst open, and there on the porch was Celeste, her clothes and braids swirling around her in some mysterious, highly localized, wind.
“WHERE IS SHILOH TAMBLYN?” she said. The words were just a little out of sync with her lips moving, which was the least obvious tip that the Big Voice was a magic thing.
I’ve never seen Celeste use magic like that before. It was terrifying, and also, fucking awesome.
Or it would have been, if this whole house full of brave, vulnerable people, who had fought like hell to get their lives back to a place of safety and security, weren’t staring at me like I was the arbiter of their doom.
I raised a hand and waved awkwardly. 👉🏻👈🏻😬
Immediately the wind dropped. Celeste just stood on the porch, a totally normal (if super hot) woman.
“You’re fine,” she realized. “Neal, she’s fine, look at her.”
Which was when the Hawthornes came into view from behind her, striding up the the steps towards the door.
The house gave a long, creaking groan.
“Wait!” I said, lurching forward. No men in the house. “What’s the matter?” I didn’t add the with you but it was implied.
The boys stared at me, bewildered to the point of outrage.
“Is that a joke?” Neal said.
“We’ve been trying to get you out of there since Wednesday,” Julian said, more calmly, but not that much more calmly. “Didn’t you get our texts?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been responding.”
They stared at me for a long moment. Then Julian got out his phone and gave it to me.
The texts on his phone were from the correct number — mine, not the burner that was confiscated — but they were not the texts on my phone.
They all said
“I didn’t send these,” I said.
“WE KNOW,” Neal said. He was fried, totally fried. Hahahaha I was having a whole farm girl fantasy week and meanwhile they’re getting that over and over again hahahahaha OOPS.
“I’m okay,” I said, bewildered by the force of their stress. And then because my brain was short circuiting and I’m also an asshole, I added, “Trust that I’m doing well, I’m taking good care of myself, and I’ll contact you as soon as I’m ready—”
I didn’t even make it all the way through it before Neal cracked, tackled me, and slung me over his shoulder. I was shrieking with laughter when Terra cleared her throat.
“You’re back,” she said, ice cold.
Neal put me down.
“And they brought backup,” Celeste replied.
They had to call CELESTE to come get me. I found out later that the wards around the house were so powerful they couldn’t get within a mile of us.
“What witch cast these wards?” Celeste demanded.
“What are you talking about?” Terra said, flustered. I’d never seen her flustered before. “Witches? Are you insane?”
“Are YOU insane?” Neal said, incredulous. “Controlling the messages she sends out? What if there had been an emergency?”
Terra blinked. “I have never spoken for any of the people in my charge without their permission.”
I could tell from Neal’s confounded expression that she was telling the truth.
“Then what magic do you have here?” he asked.
Terra was starting to huff, getting ready to argue, which was not ideal because I could see on Neal’s face that he was couldn’t wait to fight.
Celeste cut across both of them: “she didn’t mean to. This magic is wild.”
She was looking up at the house. Everyone who had been at dinner was clustered on the porch, watching. The owls watched from the roof.
“How could they not mean to?” Julian asked. “Doesn’t witchcraft require intention?”
And when he said that, everything clicked together. Because we DO set intentions, every night. Remember? For our safety and healing etc?
I had a whole weird tunnel moment where I saw the events of the whole week through a new lens: the scraped knee, carefully tended with an herby balm, healed almost completely overnight. The soft whisper of the owls in the trees, watching us. The size and gumption of the plants in the garden.
It didn’t feel like magic, but now looking back, I think it must have been.
Celeste closed her eyes, took a deep long breath.
“This should be impossible,” she said softly, almost to herself. And then to Terra: “how long has this been here?”
“This establishment? Since the 1890s.”
“And you live a regimented lifestyle here?”
YEAH, literally every moment is minutely, agonizingly planned for you.
“Structure helps people in transition to regain their health,” Terra said, slightly defensive.
“And they do regain their health, don’t they?” Celeste said. “You work miracles here, right?”
Terra hesitated. There was an uncomfortable shuffle in the gathered audience.
Celeste reached into her back pocket and pulled out her wallet. From her wallet, she pulled it little pressed clay coin.
“This is a summons,” she said. “It’s time for a summit.”
I had no idea what that meant, and neither did Terra. But we could all feel the strange shift, as if gravity had shivered.
“You’ll be receiving more information from a more qualified witch than me. Come, Shiloh,” she added. “Time to go.”
And I felt a weird resistance. I think I covered it pretty well, but man, for a second there the thought of leaving my little real life Stardew Valley simulation was rough.
I was wearing mud boots, and one of Kim’s sweaters, so I had to run upstairs and grab my things.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Kim asked.
“Of course,” I promised them. “I’m not on the run from them, I promise.”
Poor Kim was uncertain. “Terra doesn’t usually let people just walk out, especially not with people ordering them around.”
Which, yeah I believe it. But Terra’s never had to face off with the likes of Celeste.
“Trust me,” I said, putting a hand on their shoulder. “They’re my people.”
“She said said she’s a witch,” Kim said.
I wasn’t really sure what to say to that, because from what I’d gathered, Kim is also potentially a witch. “She is,” I told them. Then I gave them my number, and, with as little feet dragging as I could muster, I rejoined the Hawthornes and Celeste on the porch.
I think Neal caught me hesitating though, because after I’d run upstairs and gathered my things, he was giving me a really funny look as we headed back for the car.
He didn’t say anything, for which I’m grateful. I didn’t need to confront that weird instinct. And anyways, my mild desire not to leave my woods cottage life sim was the least of our worries.
The moment we made it back to the car Celeste started pacing and shaking out her hands.
“…everything okay?” Julian asked as she took forced deep breaths. I know those deep breaths. They’re the Lamaze but the only thing I’m giving birth to is panic breaths.
“What the fuck did I just do?” Celeste asked. Celeste is so cool I never in my life thought I’d see the day she actually panicked, but here she was, cool utterly lost.
“Literally, no idea,” Neal replied. He sat on the hood of the car, knees braced on his elbows, smiling benignly, apparently enjoying the meltdown.
“I just called a summit,” she said. “Oh fuck.”
“It sounded like a summit needed calling,” Julian offered, because none of us had any idea how to interact.
Celeste gave him a scornful look.
“It has been 200 years since witches have summitted,” she said. “And I called the summit.” She put a hand over her face. “My mom’s going to kill me.”
Neal rolled his eyes. “Your moms going to be supportive. She’s always supportive. This is a new coven, accidentally gaining magic when that should have been impossible. You made the right call.”
But being reassured by Neal only seemed to piss Celeste off more because she just got into the car and slammed the door.
“Come on,” she called. “We’re going to Hedgewood.”
And what is Hedgewood? A hospital apparently. You’ll know more when I do.
When I twisted around for a last look at Haven. Dozens of owls watched us go from the trees.