I’ve always loved the character of older architecture. The history in old homes has a life of its own which led me to the creation of Hidden Magic.
You can get a copy of your own here
William Stamson never thought he’d fall in love with a lady.
After being a gay man for the first twenty-five years of his life, he met a tattered painted lady with three broken windows and a gap-toothed fence, and fell illogically, irrevocably in love.
“I’ll take the house,” he told the realtor who stood patiently waiting for him to finish examining the front of the mansion.
“B-but you haven’t seen the inside. The house needs a lot of work,” she sputtered. “There are several in much better shape if you like this neighborhood.”
He watched her wrestling between wanting an easy sale and her moral obligation not to sell a decrepit house to a client. He wondered if her reluctance stemmed from the magic pulsing through the property like a beating drum, pounding out a complicated rhythm. Hearing the underlying music wasn’t a common ability. Most days Will wished he were one of those talentless people. Although he could hear the power thrumming through the air and tingling the tips of his fingers, his strange immunity kept him from using any of the tantalizing magic. He wasn’t surprised no one could live in the house. The mansion all but seethed with energy, an uncomfortable experience for magic wielders, while giving non-magical people the eerie sensation of a haunted house. Electricity crackled in the air, arcs of energy dancing around him. The house’s magic reached out to him and invisible fingers ruffled his hair, like a human petting a favored child.
Closing his eyes, he opened his senses to the entity.
A soft gasp, a pleased hum, and then the pounding rhythm smoothed to a quiet whisper. A hush filled the air like the silence after a tornado, or maybe the eye of a storm.
The sensation sank into his bones, warm and loving like a mother’s hug. Well, maybe other people’s mothers. His didn’t give actual hugs. Physical contact might wrinkle her designer clothes.
“Are you sure you want to put in an offer?” The realtor’s anxious voice broke up the moment, the magic dissolving. Her tone wavered between hope and desperation. For the first time he noticed the worn cuffs on her green suit and the faded color of the shirt tucked underneath.
“Yes,” Will insisted. Despite the building’s odd power, the place screamed home. Besides, writing scary detective stories could only be easier living in a spooky mansion. He smiled when he thought about his relatives’ future reactions.
Will was the dreamer, the only exception in a family known for controlling powerful people across the globe. As a result of his carefree approach to life, everyone thought he needed someone to take care of him. Not a relation on either side of his family had forgotten to leave him a small inheritance when they died.
In Will’s family ‘small’ was a minimum of two million dollars. His great-uncle Frederick had been particularly generous, even as he’d addressed Will as his ‘idiot nephew’. Will had willingly overlooked the condemnation for the cool one hundred million his uncle had left in his account.
However, as much as he loved them, if he didn’t move out of town soon, he was going to go to jail for fratri-patri-matricide. Will longed to settle down with the Mr Average of his dreams. None of the doctors, stockbrokers or lawyers paraded in front of him by his hopeful mother and calculating father met his needs. After fucking them, they really served no purpose.
He knew his behavior made him a slut. But hell, he didn’t golf, and after humiliating his snobbish dates by comparing stock portfolios, there wasn’t anything left to talk about. His dates all ended with him cutting them loose and ignoring them when they called.
After having gone through most of the successful gay men in Seattle, Will had decided maybe he should try something different. Besides, the zombies were starting to creep him out. All cities had at least a few necromancers that could raise the undead but Seattle was starting to get more than its share. Will needed to leave before someone got the bright idea to drain his blood as a form of zombie pest control.
As a void—a person who could nullify magic—Will’s blood was the essential ingredient in unbinding spells that raised the undead. A few times lately, the hairs on his arms had stood on end from the sensation of something with a strong magical presence watching him. Another reason he’d searched for a new place to live. He needed to lure whatever was following him away from his family.
The search for a new location brought him to this small town east of Seattle. Unable to find a man, Will planned to settle down with an old painted lady needing a fortune in upgrades.
Luckily, he had a fortune.
“This house has been on the market for a while.” She quickly consulted her notes as if they would reveal the secret to Will’s desire to purchase the old mansion.
He gave her his pants-dropping smile, more than a little surprised when his charm worked and her cheeks turned an interesting shade of pink. “Then they should be happy to receive an offer. Let’s go back to your office and get the paperwork going.” He could feel vibes of anticipation coming from the house as if the building had sat waiting for him to save it from ruin.
“What’s the asking price?”
She mentioned a ridiculous amount, considering the condition of the house, but he figured the place must have sentimental value to someone, and this one time he didn’t feel the need to bargain. He wanted the house.
“I’ll take it.”
“There might be some delay. I’m not sure a bank will approve such a large amount for the place.” She gave the house a dubious look.
“No problem. I plan to pay cash.”
“Oh.” She looked surprisingly flustered. “Then let’s draw up the paperwork.”
* * * *
A week later, Will happily drank hot coffee in his freezing kitchen. Apparently the heater had died several years ago and no one had had the funds or interest in fixing it. He wasn’t much of a breakfast person, aside from the occasional cold cereal, but he would definitely go into town for a hot lunch. He needed to have the stove looked over professionally before he’d willingly trust the appliance with his favorite teakettle. Small-town diners were the perfect place to find out the latest gossip and help him discover whose second cousin twice removed had a son good at fixing stuff.
* * * *
The diner was everything he’d ever seen in the movies.
From the cracked retro fifties booths, to the ageing waitress with frizzy hair and attitude, the place appeared as if it were something out of a film.
The waitress gave him a slow once-over like she didn’t know what to make of him. He didn’t know why. He wore a plain pair of jeans and a red polo. He’d even left his handcrafted Italian leather shoes at home and wore his plain white Nikes.
He was the epitome of ordinary.
“Have a seat anywhere,” the waitress told him. As Will passed her, he caught the faint scent of cigarettes and chewing gum. She was a walking cliché and Will barely held in the laughter. He held onto his composure by a thread, hoping she didn’t snap a bubble at him. He didn’t want her to think he found her anything but delightful.
Will settled comfortably on a carefully duct-taped vinyl bench seat and accepted the faded menu. The table was the kind of molded plastic some inventor on crack must have thought resembled real wood.
Scanning the menu, he was almost certain it exceeded the abilities of any one cook. Eight pages long, the extensive volume listed everything from a thick steak to poached eggs. He couldn’t even imagine the cost of keeping so many ingredients on hand.
“Have you decided, hon?” the waitress asked. She pulled a cheap ballpoint pen out from behind her ear and a pad of paper from her apron pocket. Pinning him with a surprisingly clear gaze, she waited for his order as if he were going to reveal the secrets to the universe in six easy steps.
“I’ll have a burger, medium rare.”
Even an inept cook could make a decent burger.
She nodded, quietly applauding his choice as waiters sometimes did. “Potato salad or fries?”
“Are they thin or thick?”
“Steak fries.” Her tone implied disapproval of anything less.
Will reflectively nodded along with her like one of those bobble-headed dolls before he caught himself. “I’ll have those with ranch dressing.”
“Anything to drink? We make a nice milkshake.”
He shook his head. “Too heavy. I’ll have to jog at least ten miles to burn off the burger calories.”
The waitress looked him over again. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, hon.”
“Not if I jog,” Will agreed. Although he had a reputation in his family for laziness, he took care of his body with weights and running regularly. “I’ll take a diet soda.”
As she scribbled down his order, Will wondered if her mother had had a premonition at her birth. Why else would you look at your newborn infant and think I’ll name her Hazel?
As the waitress turned away, Will grabbed her wrist.
“Sorry,” he said, letting go at her surprised look. “Could you tell me who’s good at fixing things around here?” Every town had one. A Mr Fix-it who could drive by your house and tell you your water heater was set too high and your air conditioner would die next month.
“What kinds of things?” Her suspicious gaze made him sigh.
Thinking over the condition of his house, Will flashed a self-conscious smile. “Someone who’s good with plumbing, flooring, painting, drywall, roofing…that sort of thing.”
“Good lord, what house did you buy?”
“The painted lady on Mulberry Street.” Another reason he’d bought the house. Who could resist living on Mulberry Street? And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street had been his favorite Dr Seuss book as a child.
“You bought that!” The waitress’s voice scraped like rough sandpaper across his senses.
“Yes,” Will admitted.
“You are either the richest man I ever met, or the dumbest.”
He couldn’t help laughing. “I’m probably a mixture of the two.”
A considering look entered Hazel’s eyes. “Let me put in your order and I’ll be right back,” she said before hurrying off as quickly as her orthopedic sneakers could carry her.
Not five minutes later she returned, sliding into the seat across from him.
“I have a nephew who has a knack for fixing things,” Hazel stated in a low, confidential tone. “He’s been laid off, but he worked for a homebuilder before the housing crash. I know he’d do a good job for you.” She twisted her fingers together as she spoke. “If you could hire him to help around your house and let him rent one of your rooms, I’d be mighty grateful. His landlord just sold the place he was renting, and I live in a one-bedroom apartment.”
Will thought about the situation for a moment. Having another person in the enormous house would be comforting. “Is he likely to kill me in my sleep and steal my china set?”
Hazel laughed—a low, smoke-roughened sound. “No. He’s a good boy, but he’s big and some people find him scary.” She frowned for a moment, looking concerned. “That isn’t a problem for you, is it, mister?”
“Call me Will,” he said with a smile. “I’m sure everything will work out fine.” Will found the situation touching. With an aunt this sweet, how bad could the guy be? “Tell your nephew he can come see me. I’ll give him a few jobs around the house and see how things work out. What’s his name?” If the guy turned out to be a creep, Will could call a few of his cousins and have the jerk evicted.
“Cassius, but everyone calls him Cash.”
Of course they do.
“Order up,” the cook called from the pass-through window.
Hazel got to her feet. “Thank you, Will. I’ll tell Cash to come see you. When is a good time?”
“Whenever,” Will said, shrugging. “As long as it’s after noon.” He didn’t do mornings.
“Thanks. The burger is on me.”
He would’ve objected, but he could see her pride was on the line after she had all but begged a total stranger to hire her nephew.
“Thank you, Hazel.”
She gave him a nicotine-stained smile, even more charming for the faded dimples and the sparkle in her eyes.
Moments later she put a burger in front of him, and Will found a new respect for the little diner. After polishing off the entire thing, including the steak fries, he tossed a twenty on the table for her tip and waddled to the register.
Hazel looked up from counting the cash drawer. “What did you think?”
“I think your cook is a genius. That was the best damn burger I ever ate,” he said honestly.
Will wasn’t exaggerating either. The man was magic in the kitchen.
“Good. I’ll send Cash by your house later today.”
“Thanks, Hazel,” Will said, flashing her a smile. With a nod, he left the restaurant.