“What are you doing in my shop?”
I couldn’t help it; I took a step away from the anger radiating out from Milagros’ ample form. “I –”
“What, girl? You what? Your family has made it very clear what you think of anything that isn’t in your precious field notes. I didn’t think I’d catch you in here again.”
And that’s why I hadn’t wanted to come. Okay, deep breath. I braced for the coming storm. “I came because I need your help.”
Milagros jerked her chin pointedly toward the shattered glass and scattered coins on the floor. “You have a funny way of showing it, chica.”
“There was a haunted coin in that jar.”
Mama Milagros rocked back, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Was there, now?” She drew the words out in a sing-song drawl, a deliberate attempt to provoke.
I bristled anyway. “Yes, there was,” I snapped. I pointed toward the shelf under which the coin had rolled. I could still feel it; despite my thick sweater and scarf there were goosebumps all down my arms. “Under there.”
Milagros raised her eyebrows. “Oh?” she said, but she skirted the glass and knelt, bracing one hand on the shelf to help herself down to the floor. She peered under the shelf for a moment, then all of a sudden jerked upright, blinking back tears. “Madre mia.”
I told you so.
She stood again, puffing a bit, and glared at me. “So you’re not completely stupid.”
“Don’t you use that sarcasm with me, chica, if you want my help. And before you get too smug, that isn’t a haunted object. It’s maldito.”
Maybe it’s hypocritical for a girl who sees ghosts to say there’s no such thing as magic, but there’s no such thing as magic. Well. Nothing is inherently magical, anyway. It’s all about how you apply your will. If you believe it, you can make it happen, and ritual is a way to strengthen and codify that. Annnd now I’m starting to sound like one of Mom’s lectures.
The point is, you can use ritually significant chalk shapes to shape your will into a protective pentagram (good), or you can use a latin incantation to banish a ghost (good, usually), or you can sacrifice a chicken to make a cursed coin (bad).
Mama Milagros went behind the counter and rummaged around in a drawer. A grunt was the only warning I got, and then a pair of leather gloves was flying at my face.
I snatched them out of the air — Devon used to like to throw things at me when I wasn’t paying attention; “Think fast!” was the catchphrase of my childhood — and nearly dropped them again as my fingers tingled. Someone had embroidered protective sigils all over the gloves.
“Stop gawking. Put those on and get the coin,” Milagros said. As I obeyed, she bustled around behind me. I could hear drawers rattling and glass clinking as she moved through the store.
The coin was still unpleasant to touch, but with the gloves the overwhelming nausea was reduced to a mild distaste. I fished it out from beneath the shelf and turned.
Milagros had taken a bowl and filled it with…holy water, probably. Salt and herbs were scattered around it, and four votive candles marked the cardinal directions. She struck a match and lit them, chanting an Ave Maria under her breath. I approached as she lit the final candle and dropped the coin into the bowl.
There was a feeling of immediate relief, like when your ears finally pop on a plane’s descent.
“Okay,” I said, “now can I explain why I need your help?”
Mama Milagros eyed me warily. She had the kind of gaze that looked right through you; the kind of gaze you couldn’t keep secrets from. I tried to hold my ground against it.
“Marisol!” she called abruptly. There was a pause, then the sound of footsteps approaching, and then a girl who looked remarkably like a young Milagros appeared in the doorway to the back of the shop.
Milagros gestured to the mess on the floor. “Clean this up. Leave the things on the counter alone. And then make tea — Elizabeth and I will be in the back room.”