Jezi stretched her aching muscles, scenting homemade soup in the air. She always forgot how big this place was, until it came time to clean it. The aroma drew her to the parlor, where a steaming bowl awaited her on the bar. Desi stood behind it, a smile on her face.
"I thought that would get you to take a break," she teased.
Jezi slid onto the barstool and inhaled the contents of the bowl. "Our little lambs are going a long way aren't they?" she asked. "We've gotten almost two weeks of meals out of just the two of them.”
She rocked lightly on the barstool, letting the soup warm her from the inside out. Jezi looked around, taking a mental note of everything that still needed to be done.
"Have you seen Liam?" Jezi sighed. "I haven't seen him all evening, and there's a lot of things I need for him to do.”
Desi inspected her fingernails. "Hmm... I wonder where he could be…"
Jezi continued distractedly, shifting on the barstool once again. "I don't know. Biggun said he hadn't seen him either..." She tried and failed to get comfortable, causing her to finally readjust once again.
Jezi wiggled slightly, noticing it's unevenness. "What's the matter with this barstool?" she asked.
Desi's face looked unnaturally innocent. "Hmm... is something wrong with it…?"
Jezi looked into Desi's wide eyes and narrowed her own. Finally, recognition dawned and she leapt off of the stool. "Desi!" she shouted.
"Hmm?" Desi smiled.
"You change him back this instant!" Jezi commanded, "We don't have time for this!”
Desi flicked her wrist with a giggle and Liam sprawled out onto the floor with a thud.
"You... crazy... witch!" he sputtered, "You... You…"
Jezi helped him to his feet. "Alright Liam, that's enough. Why don't you go to the kitchen and get something to eat?”
Liam shook a finger at Desi, "You don't treat people this way!" he shuffled away with a grumble. He turned, pointing at Jezi. "And you, if you're going to sit on someone, you might want to…"
"You might want to not finish that sentence..." Jezi warned.
Liam quickly decided to agree with her and ran away in complete silence.
Jezi spread a hand across her stomach with a pout.
"Stop it, you look lovely," Desi assured her.
Jezi sighed and pulled up another barstool. "This isn't Biggun, is it?" she asked.
Desi smiled. "If it was, I'd be sitting on it.”
Jezi resumed eating her soup, glancing at the wall of portraits. "Are you excited to see your great-great-great-great grandmother again?" she asked.
Desi smiled. "Yeah. What about you? Are you excited to see…"
"We've got much still to accomplish," Jezi interrupted, "but, I think we're in a good place.”
Desi smiled at her abrupt change of topic. "You worry too much," she said. "Every year, you worry and freak out, and every year, it turns out fine.”
"It turns out fine because I worry and freak out, and make sure of it," Jezi replied. She finished her soup, then returned to work. As she floated down the hall, she stopped to look at each individual portrait.
There were so many memories, so many good times. There were so many people she loved in those paintings.
She closed her eyes for a moment, and let the past wash over her. In an instant, the Black Flower took on its former glory. She heard the music, saw the familiar faces. She could practically feel the leather booths and smell...
Jezi's head whipped around, her eyes widened in panic. She felt a pounding where her heart should be, and for a second, felt as though she couldn't breathe. Retracing her steps, she returned to the parlor.
"Desi, are you smoking in here?" she asked.
Desi glanced at her, thoroughly confused. "Uh, I don't smoke. You know that, Jezi.”
Yes, she knew that, but she was hoping that Desi had suddenly decided to take it up. "Liam!" she yelled.
Liam peeked around the corner, afraid to fully enter. "What?" he snapped.
"Are you smoking?" Jezi asked abruptly.
"No smoking inside the premises, Liam!" he mocked. "You think I wanna give that maniac over there any reason to turn me into an armoire?!" he scurried away. "Not that she ever needs a reason..." he mumbled.
Jezi turned her nose up to the air and sniffed frantically, her steps ambling.
"Jezi, are you okay?" Desi asked.
Just like that, it was gone. Jezi blinked a few times, trying to shake the feeling, but something seemed off. "Yeah... I'm fine. I just thought..." She shook her head, pasting a smile on her face. “Nevermind."
She once again made her way down the hall, trying to ignore the goosebumps that made their way down her spine and across her arms. She distinctly smelled a faint waft of cigar smoke, and if she closed her eyes, she was certain that was the aftertaste of fine scotch on her tongue.
Jezi took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders. She was overworked and overtired. She worried too much about making sure everything was perfect. She was always on edge when it was close to the time to bring them back.
Once a year, the Black Flower lived, and every soul tied to it could roam free. It was enough to make anyone imagine things. Jezi chuckled to herself, choosing to believe the sound was genuine, and not laced with fear.
She looked up, realizing she'd stopped in front of the portrait of James Bartholomew. Her hand went to the place just above her ribs, an involuntary motion that led her to the place that still bore the scar of that night so many decades ago. She was one of the souls tied to this place, and had vowed to do anything to protect it.
A knock resounded throughout the building, snapping Jezi back to the present. She mentally rolled her eyes and groaned. She really didn't feel like entertaining any more curious children. She made her way towards the door. "What fresh hell is this?”
Jezi squared her shoulders and walked briskly towards the door. Annoyed, she threw the door open. "... Yes?”
Three young men looked silently back at her, taking in her old world attire.
Jezi arched a single eyebrow, in no mood to prolong the proceedings.
"Uh," the soft spoken young man before her began, "I'm sorry if we disturbed you. We were hired to perform on Halloween, and were just wondering if we could get a look at the stage…"
"Hired? ... By whom?”
The trio sent uneasy glances at each other. "Uh, we were contacted by a ... Desi?”
Jezi rolled her eyes and stifled a groan. She was going to kill her.
"And... you are?" she asked.
The young man removed his sunglasses and took her hand in his, leaning into a slight bow. "We're The Great American Witch Hunt." He placed a swift kiss across her knuckles with a smile.
Jezi nearly laughed out loud at the irony. "Are you, really?" She looked at each of them in turn, an enigmatic smile spreading over her face. Finally, she backed away from the entrance. "By all means... come in," she invited.
As they entered the Black Flower, self proclaimed witch hunters, all other thoughts and concerns were forgotten. Jezi closed the door, bolting it, sealing them all inside.
"Gentlemen, if you take that hall to the salon at the end, you may put your instruments down and I'll be along shortly," she said.
Looking around, they made their way down the hall, taking in everything about the place, as Jezi watched their procession.
Squeaking overhead drew her attention, and Jezi flinched at the bat that seemed to have trouble flying. "Desi!" she screamed, "Change him back!”
"Whaaat?!" came the reply with a giggle.
Jezi shook her head as she followed the trio, Liam's body falling heavily behind her.
"This ought to be fun," she mused.