These Hollow Hearts has been out for two days, and we are so incredibly grateful for all your support of it, that Em Shotwell has got a little treat for you. Just her way of saying thank you.
But in case you’ve not already heard about These Hollow Hearts, first I’m going to take a moment to introduce you and then we’ll get to the story, because for a very limited time These Hollow Hearts is available at a discount, but it will be going back to its regular price tomorrow.
New Orleans social climber, Cheyanne Murphey has worked too hard to let her fiancé’s wandering eye drag her name through the gutter, and she has the perfect solution to make him stay: an incantation from her deceased Granny’s spell book. Family legend says the Murphey women’s magic is cursed, but that is a risk Cheyanne is willing to take.
When middle sister Marchland’s heart is also broken by a man who does her wrong, not even witnessing disastrous results of Cheyanne’s attempt at spellcasting will stop her from using her family’s powers to exact revenge. With the help of her sisters, Marchland casts a spell to teach the scumbag a lesson he won’t forget. Unfortunately, neither will she.
The youngest Murphey sister, Bradley, would be happy to never work a spell again but when she accidentally kills a man she has no choice but to turn to her family’s cursed magic for help. The wayward spell teaches Bradley the hard lesson that sometimes it’s best to let dead things rot.
With all three sisters in deep trouble, they seek help in the form of the Elder-Witch, a sorceress who claims she can fix their mistakes… but magic always comes with a price, and this one may be more than the Murphey sisters are willing to pay.
A Peculiar Old Lady Indeed
Agatha-Rosemary didn’t like door-to-door Rainbow Vacuum Cleaner salesman, but she did, however, like cats. This was how she came to own Bob. For the most part, Bob was okay with it.
Bob was a tall cat, with a round belly and rust-orange fur. He possessed a deep mew that sounded annoyed, even though Bob rarely was. His favorite thing to do was melt into a sun puddle on the kitchen floor and dream. Sometimes he dreamed he was a tall man with red hair who wore a suit, but usually he just dreamed of mice.
All in all, Bob was a mellow boy, who didn’t even get upset when Agatha-Rosemary vacuumed her floors. Instead of the terror felt by most cats, Bob felt a strange sense of pride when she plugged in and started her Rainbow D2 Blue, as if somehow he’d done a good job. This feeling started at the tip of his tail and tickled its way down his spine, until it settled between his ears, where it twitched around until something like a memory formed—almost in grasp—before flittering away. This was most annoying as it usually meant a nap was out of the question for the moment, leaving Bob filled with the need to chase something. When this happened, Bob went for the sparrows that frequented Agatha-Rosemary’s bird feeders. She didn’t like it when he killed her birds, but when he was agitated by the almost-memory, her disapproval made the winged meal even more satisfying.
It wasn’t floor-vacuuming-day, which meant the sparrows were safe, and Bob sat perched on the dining room table, watching as Agatha-Rosemary, who, he thought, looked a little worse for the wear, ran her gnarled fingers over the bottles shelved in her kitchen. The bottles were blue-tinted glass and each labeled with a different name and date, which Bob could read clear as day. This wasn’t strange to him because Bob didn’t know that he could read them, or that other cats couldn’t, or even what reading meant at all. He only knew that one bottle said Janice Bertie 1990, while another said Roberta Craine 1983.
The shelves housing the bottles ran from floor to ceiling and took up an entire wall in the kitchen. The ones near the top were dusty, and the first one on the very top row had such a thick layer that Bob could barely make out the name or date, Mary Smith 1943. Or maybe May Smith. Or perhaps Marly Smoot. Bob didn’t concern himself with the details. There were more important things to worry about, like his empty food bowl.
He could read the newest one near the bottom shelf easy as pie, however: Kayleigh Brenard 2016, and below Kayleigh there were two empty shelves waiting to be filled. Bob didn’t know what the names nor dates meant, and being a cat, he didn’t feel the need to find out. He only knew that if he batted one from the shelf and it broke, then he got dry kibble instead of whatever Agatha-Rosemary prepared on the stove, and he didn’t approve when that happened. Not at all.
“What do you say Bobbi-boy, hmm? I’m feeling every one of these wrinkles of mine. I think it is time for a pick me up.” Agatha-Rosemary looked over her shoulder at Bob and smiled, her lips so thin that if you didn’t know better, you might not recognize the expression as a smile at all.
“Reow,” Bob said, and licked his paw.
“Don’t give me that—I have not been dipping into the stash too much. It has been at least a year. And if I don’t start using some of these on top, they will expire soon and what good will that be?” She stood on her tip toes and squinted, searching for a particular bottle. When she found one that said Marilyn 1956, she plucked it from the shelf and unscrewed the lid.
She inhaled deeply from the container and her eyes narrowed into two slits. “Yes. Yes, that’s the stuff. Left over from my time in California. Lots of poor souls in the sunshine state willing to make deals for a little help, you know. Of course, I’m happy to oblige.” Her smile widened, showing two rows of impossibly sharp teeth.
Bob hopped from the table and twined himself through Agatha-Rosemary’s legs. When she was happy, she was more likely to cook a big meal. And Bob was always in the mood for a big meal.
“Reow,” he said. His stomach rumbled at the possibilities.
“I knew you’d understand, Bob. You are such a good kitty. I told you you’d like this better, didn’t I? Yes I did…So much better than your old life.” She hunched forward and scratched Bob’s ears with arthritic fingers.
Bob never knew what she meant when she said things like this, peculiar old lady that she was. He’d once tried to imagine this old life she often referred to, but in his memories there was only home and Agatha-Rosemary and his food bowl. And sometimes, oddly enough, vacuum cleaners. (But mostly not.)
“Now, let’s get this cooked up. Mama needs her youth, you know. I have to go fix something for some witchlings down in New Orleans this week.” Her lined face softened. “Don’t worry, Bob, I’ll be back in time for our shows and if you are good I’ll bring you back some beads. Or maybe a nutria. You’d like that, Bob. A nutria is a kind of rat that is as big as you, old boy.”
Bob’s eyes widened and he stood and paced in a tight circle. His peculiar old lady was right, he’d like that very much.
Agatha-Rosemary pulled a wooden spoon from her pocket, and like a mother doling out medicine, she carefully poured the thick, red droplets from the jar. Bob knew the droplets were blood. Like with the reading—he didn’t know how he knew, but something in his feline brain always recognized the tasty fluid. He licked his teeth and thought of the mice and sparrows riggeling in his jaws seconds before he bit down for the final time.
Methasda Lukreesh the old woman hissed. In the spoon, the blood fizzled and smoked and she opened her mouth wide and swallowed the liquid. What happened next was Bob’s favorite part. He scurried away and hopped back onto his perch on the table, so he could see clearly.
Agatha-Rosemary’s bones creaked and popped as her spine straightened. She squeezed her hands into fists, then opened and closed her fingers as the arthritic gnarls disappeared from her knuckles.
As this happened, she slid across the room twirling and singing, lithe as a woman a fourth of her age. Her wispy, mottled-gray hair thickened and lightened into a lush white blonde, and every part of her—skin, teeth, hair—all shown with an inner luminosity.
“Reow,” called out Bob in appreciation. He stood and spun in a circle three times before sitting back down. It was uncouth for a cat to show too much excitement, after all. He didn’t want Agatha-Rosemary to get too used to it. The old witch danced over to where Bob was sitting and picked him up with two hands. She lifted him overhead and spun and skipped and wiggled across the kitchen, before kissing Bob between his eyes.
Bob hissed until the witch dropped him, She erupted in a chorus of cackles as Bob scuttled underneath a bar stool, highly offended. Yes, he would have to tamp down his show of excitement in the future. Agatha-Rosemary was taking too many liberties. A kiss between the eyes! Not acceptable! He folded into himself and flattened his ears as he watched as his mistress continued to howl with laughter, her sallow complexion finding a color it hadn’t known in years, and her thin limps plumping into something resembling beauty.
Despite his annoyance, Bob smiled. Agatha-Rosemary was happy, and that meant a Bob would eat well at supper time.