Monday, July 22, 2013

Highway Hexes

I commute to work three days a week on I 89 - Vermont's main east-west artery.  It has not been a good summer for trying to drive on I 89 - washouts, accidents, and paving projects have made it a misery - it made me wonder if there wasn't something more going on...

Ottanta Sette threw a pinch of powdered oak bark into the teapot, gave it a swirl, and dropped the whole business with a rattle onto her sister’s kitchen table.  Overhead another 18-wheeler passed, causing the bunches of dried herbs tied to rafters to sway.
“Oh God,” Sette said as she collapsed into a kitchen chair.  “You know Nove, It’s not as relaxing in Vermont as advertised. I mean, that calendar you sent me for winter solstice? It’s all autumn leaves and cows on green hills, then you get here and it’s all the same old traffic. I might as well have stayed in New York.  Between my stomach and my tooth… I am at my limit.  I mean the limit.”
            Ottanta Nove furrowed her brow as she poured the potion. The note of exasperation in her big sister’s voice was new, and alarming.  “I could arrange an accident,” she suggested brightly. “You’ve always enjoyed those, and it would quiet things down for awhile.” 
Nove’s den, like that of all her sister Interstate witches, was magically hidden just beneath an overpass on the highway to which she had been assigned and for which she had been named.  (The great Strega di Autostrada had deplored English as dull and unromantic.  She had decreed that all her followers must have Italian names). “How’s about another Jack-knifed tractor trailer?”
            Sette waved her gnarled hand dismissively. “I’m not in the mood.”
            What was this?
For Sette to lose enthusiasm for car crashes was like losing the moon from the sky.  Nove tried again. “Maybe some more rain? A good deluge might just knock out some bridge pilings.” She hopped up from the table and grabbed the apothecary jar marked “PLUVIA”. Even in the murk, she could see that it was nearly empty.
“Uhm. You didn’t bring some Pluvia along by any chance?”
            Sette gazed at her younger sister in disbelief. The girl had never been the brightest torch in the forest and she was not improving with age. “I’m on vacation, Nove? Remember. I’m supposed to be on my Vermont vacation.”
            The note of disgust in Sette’s voice stung. Nove had been having one of the most brilliant seasons of her career. OK. Maybe she’d been a little free with the Pluvia.  But look at the results!  Nothing short of mayhem. Accidents, tie-ups, Vermont driver vexation unsurpassed in half a generation. Nove had expected praise and enthusiasm from her famous older sister. Instead, Sette was a picture of unutterable weariness.
“Honestly – and this is not to get back to headquarters, you understand?” Sette continued, “but closed lanes don’t do for me what they once did.”
            Nove practically stumbled. “You don’t mean that.”
            “I do.”
            “Why, you were the one who taught me the late merging spell - even before I knew the alphabet! The snarls you caused on I 87! Even Boston Coven...”
            “I said this wasn’t to get back to headquarters!” Sette banged the table, and then rubbed her forehead in a gesture of exhaustion.
            Nove made a motion to indicate that she was zipping her lips. She’d heard of this, witches losing their edge.  But Sette? What could it mean?
            As the question skittered across Nove’s mind, Re-tread, her raven and familiar, banged three times, urgently, on his hemlock perch by the chimney.  Nove caught his beady brown eye and read his meaning. Opportunity knocking?
            Even Boston had taken notice of Nove’s successes this summer.  If Sette were really headed for retirement?  I 87 had New York City drivers at its south end and the Adirondacks in the north. Oh, the opportunities for accidents! Oh the freezing rain!  She blew across the top of her cup and pondered.  She didn’t want to leave Vermont, but maybe she wouldn’t have to.  Maybe she was strong enough now… Hadn’t she shown what she could do?