This story is by Joshua Wilson and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mrs. Aguado’s bloodshot, puffy eyes itched as she focused on their living room wall at her son’s football photo. Seated on their couch, held firmly by her husband, she answered questions about their son Miguel, who’d been missing for thirty hours.
Detective Sanchez asked, “When did you last see your son?”
She shivered as she answered, “Yesterday. . . during his birthday party.” Her husband handed her a tissue. “He fought with his younger sister Sophia, stole her tablet, and smashed it against the ground. . . then he ran off like he usually does.”
“Like he usually does?”
“Miguel blows up if he’s not the center of attention, and he must have felt like Sophia stole the spotlight during his party.”
“Did anyone follow Miguel?”
“Yes, Sophia did.”
“I’ll need to talk to her.” Detective Sanchez said.
Mr. Aguado led the detective through the dining room, down the hallway to a door with a boy band poster.
“Sophia, honey, Detective Sanchez would like to speak to you.”
The door creaked open, and a shy girl around twelve with dimples and a button nose appeared. Her black hair gathered in a loose ponytail. Sophia shuffled backward, shielded her face, and desired to disappear from the detective’s view.
Detective Sanchez questioned Sophia about Miguel’s whereabouts.
Sophia nervously answered, “While he ran, he threw rocks at the cat lady’s house. . . I watched her drop her broom and chase him into the woods—”
“Who’s the cat lady?”
“Miss Ozuna, she’s our neighbor. She doesn’t like our kids or any other kids.” Mr. Aguado said.
Sophia scuttled and hid behind the rocking chair where her white-haired abuela sat as she viewed the sunset. Her grandmother squeezed and stroked Sophia’s hand for assurance.
“I felt frightened, but I followed them. Then, I saw a flash from the cat lady’s hand like a sparkler, and he fell to the ground. She lifted then carried him towards her house. I ran straight home and told dad.”
“I went directly to Miss Ozuna’s house and confronted her about Miguel. She denied Sophia’s story.” Mr. Aguado said.
The questions concluded, and the two men left the room.
“What were Miss Ozuna’s exact words?” Abuela asked Sophia.
Sophia felt Abuela’s third eye penetrate her soul. Sophia exhaled slowly, then answered, “‘Payment to my master, innocent soul.’ It was pretty hard to hear her. She didn’t even use her hands to raise Miguel.”
Abuela gripped the emerald green and turquoise amulet that hung around her neck.
“Those words aren’t white, nor gray, but black,” Abuela said as she removed the amulet and placed it around Sophia’s neck. “Wear this necklace until we find Miguel. It’s a good luck charm from Mother Earth. It will protect you from evil.”
While she slept, Sophia dreamt of a curious blue mushroom. She consumed a piece of the mushroom and heard a voice say, “To find your brother, you must press the blue button.”
Once Sophia awoke, she threw on a long-sleeved red pajama top and hurried into the living room. She grabbed the gray remote controller, plopped down in the power recliner, pressed the blue voice button, and asked, “Where’s my brother?”
A grainy photo appeared on the flatscreen. It revealed Miguel strapped to a wooden workbench pushed against a wall, all limbs restrained by nylon rope, a pentagram painted in the center of the concrete floor.
“Dad, look, it’s Miguel.” Sophia turned towards him and pointed to the photo on the screen.
He poured a cup of coffee, yawned, then roamed into the living room.
“He’s in the cat lady’s basement,” Sophia said.
Her father’s head and shoulders drooped in defeat as his back rested against the couch.
“Detective Sanchez interviewed Miss Ozuna last night. She let him inspect the entire house—basement included—He didn’t find Miguel.”
“But,” Sophia said shyly.
“The tv’s not even on. The screen’s black. There’s no photo, Sophia.” Her father hollered.
He banished Sophia to her room for the rest of the morning. She sobbed into her pillow and thought, why won’t he believe me?
An hour later, her abuela sat beside Sophia on the twin-sized mattress. She showed Sophia a small colored photo of the five of them and pulled out a frosted crystal the size of a hand grenade. Her abuela spoke a protection spell into the crystal.
“I believe you, Nieta, but you’ll have to confront her alone. I’m too frail, and my son doesn’t possess our gift, only females bound by blood do.” She handed Sophia the items.
“You must place the photo on Miguel’s chest with the crystal. Make sure you don’t remove the amulet.” Her abuela kissed Sophia on the forehead. “Now go. You don’t have much time.”
Sophia bounced out of bed, slid open the single-hung window, and leaped from the opening to the wet yellowish grass. As she dashed across the backyard, her thong sandals and feet became drenched from the morning dew. Sophia reached the pine fence gate at Miss Ozuna’s property and found it sealed. She held the amulet and said, “Unlock.” She heard a metallic click, and the lock fell against a brick paver. She took a deep breath to calm herself.
She hugged her body against the weathered gray metal siding until she found an exterior door. She turned the brass knob, pushed it open, entered the mud room, discovered the basement door directly to the left, and propped it open. Sophia froze atop the stairs and thought, I don’t know if I can do this.
Sophia tiptoed down the old creaky, splintered wooden steps into the blackness of the basement, feebly illuminated by wax candles. The smell of vinegar and bleach tickled her nose. Then, she found Miguel precisely as the image displayed.
Her heart raced as she placed the photo and crystal on Miguel’s chest. Sophia searched for a knife to cut the rope but overlooked Miss Ozuna, who stood in the corner, stalking her every move. She wore a black knee-high dress and black combat boots.
“Well, well, well. I knew you’d come,” said Miss Ozuna.
Sophia spun to face her, but Miss Ozuna shoved her against the workbench.
“Neither of you will be leaving.” Miss Ozuna pivoted and placed herself inside the pentagram.
Sophia gasped. Her lips quivered, and she clutched Miguel’s forearm.
“Awe, don’t look at me like that,” Miss Ozuna said, “after all. . . I’m a witch.”
The pentagram radiated a fiery red, and the void between her hands metamorphosed into an electric lime neon green. The energy force pulsated and flung forward toward Sophia, and the amulet absorbed the evil energy.
Still, the blow knocked Sophia from her feet and underneath the workbench. The remnants of the energy exploded like fireworks against the nails driven through the floorboards. Sophia used her palms to lift herself. She clenched her chest but felt no pain—the amulet, now broken into two, was black with the evil trapped inside.
The witch stepped forward from the pentagram, crouched, faced the workbench, and said, “Since you are immune to magic, I’ll have to kill you the old-fashioned way.” She pulled a four-inch dagger from a hidden thigh sheath. The witch lifted the dagger and thrust it toward Sophia’s heart.
The crystal on Miguel’s chest flashed a fierce arctic white, turned into a hemisphere, and created a protective barrier for the siblings. The dagger deflected and slit the witch’s throat, and she fell into the pentagram.
Sophia turned her head and closed her eyes as the witch bled out and died.
Sophia rose to her feet and plucked the photo, but the crystal had vanished. She raked her fingers across Miguel’s forearms and cupped his cheek. His brown eyes opened halfway, and Sophia asked, “Can you hear me?”
Miguel only had the strength to say, “I knew you’d come.”
A few days later, during Halloween, their father yelled, “You’re missing prime trick or’ treating time.”
“Coming, dad,” Sophia said. She felt a tap on her shoulder and swung around. Her cat tail hit the hall table.
“Here. Take these,” Miguel said and handed her a new tablet and the crystal.
“I felt bad for breaking your last one. So, I used my birthday money and promised mom I’d do lots of extra chores so I could buy this for you.”
A smile the size of San Antonio spread across Sophia’s cat-whiskered painted face.
“Thank you so much. . . I love it. I’m glad you kept the crystal.”
Miguel stared at his clown shoes and said, “Dad told me about what you did, looking for me. . . I just want to say—I’m glad you’re my sister, and I love you.”
Sophia placed the items on the hallway table and threw her arms around her big brother.
Miguel said, “It’s candy time!” They both ran through the hallway with empty canvas bags to their Abuela so she could take them trick ‘or treating.