A widely believed myth among humans is that only witches and wizards practice alchemy, when in fact any supernatural creature with a proclivity for chemistry or botany can become a master of the craft. Take, for instance, Antony Maleficent. As a human, he was a respected pharmacologist who worked in a lab with medicines and chemicals. He also loved to cook, and as such, maintained a thriving herb and vegetable garden in his backyard. After the unfortunate lab explosion that turned him into a ghost, Ant took his skills with plants and chemicals and applied them to alchemy.
Ant traveled all around the world to learn everything he could, and then he settled in Peculiar, Pennsylvania, to start a family and open up his own apothecary—or pharmacy, according to the humans. He mixes, measures, and concocts all the potions and prescriptions himself while his partner, Ron, takes care of the finances. His twin daughters, the young witches Bella and Donna Maleficent, sometimes help out by unpacking inventory or stocking shelves.
It’s a brisk fall afternoon on a Monday in Peculiar when one of the twins is doing just that.
Gray clouds hang low over the little black storefront at the end of Main Street, just past the Manor movie theater and across from Bethesda’s Broom Shoppe. A neon sign that reads ANT & RON’S hangs proudly over the door, enchanted with a blue light that will never burn out. Inside, the front room resembles a regular pharmacy, complete with aisles of human products, a cash register, and a counter where customers pick up their prescriptions. There’s a small waiting area in the corner, where Bella currently sits on a lounge chair, listening to music and scrolling through her eyephone. She still hasn’t changed out of her scream team uniform from practice after school.
In the back room, where monsters shop, Donna is unpacking new shipments of both the human and supernatural variety. She’s wearing her own black lab coat, a mini version of her dad Ant’s work uniform. So far she has catalogued antibiotic ointment, eye of newt, sunscreen, and Sunscream, and she still has four more boxes to go.
Dee tucks her curls behind her ear and looks up at her cat, Cornelius. He’s stretched out on his back on a top shelf, batting a green dust bunny back and forth between his paws. “Can I get a little help here?” she asks him. “You could use your claws to cut the rest of the boxes open.”
Cornelius looks at her upside down, blinks once, and then returns his full attention to the dust bunny.
Dee sighs. The whole reason she has extra shifts at the pharmacy this week is because Cornelius scratched up one of the paintings in the foyer, the one with the weird-looking elephants. It had been given to Ant as a gift by an old friend named Salvador, and apparently was sort of priceless.
Dee rips open a new box and removes the packing tissue to find it stuffed with snakeskins. She jumps back and wrinkles her nose. “Why couldn’t it have been cough drops?” she mutters.
Dee hears a bell chime in the distance, meaning a customer has come into the store. She moves to the door that connects the front and back rooms and looks through the small window there. She sees Bella on her phone, scrolling with her thumb and swaying her head to whatever music is coming through her earbuds, but Dee doesn’t see anybody else.
“Dad,” she calls out. “The bell rang. I think we have a customer.”
When Ant doesn’t reply, Dee leans back and peers through the doorway into his office. He has the phone perched between his chin and shoulder, and he’s scribbling something down on a notepad. From this distance the makeup he applied to make his translucent skin appear less see-through almost makes him look human.
Dee turns to Cornelius. “I’m going to see if there’s a customer who needs help. Be right back, okay?” She pauses by the door. “And don’t break anything. If you do, I’m taking away your red ribbon for a week.”
Cornelius gives her a startled look as she pushes open the door.
At first the store seems empty. Dee considers that maybe there’s a ghost somewhere. They tend to make themselves completely invisible around humans to avoid any scrutiny. She stands still at the end of aisle two, listening, but hearing nothing except faint jazz music coming through the speakers on the ceiling. It’s the “Smooth Jazz” playlist, Ant’s favorite. If her pop, Ron, were managing the store today, they’d be listening to the Grateful Dead or Fleetwood Mac instead.
Dee is about to return to the back when she hears something coming from aisle four. She peeks around the corner and discovers a tall, gangly boy with dark brown skin flipping through a magazine. His curly hair pokes out from beneath his baseball cap, which features a logo of the Peculiar Porcupines, the mascot of the town’s human public school.
Her eyes go wide as she realizes two things at once: the boy is the mayor’s son, who almost caught her with Cornelius the night Bella zapped the cat back to life, and the magazine he’s flipping through is Haunted Housekeeping, which was definitely not supposed to be in the front room, where humans could see it. She must have shelved it there by mistake.
Dee freezes behind the sunglasses display, unsure what to do next. Bella keeps insisting that nobody saw them that night, but what if Bella is wrong? What if the boy came here to tell them he knows exactly who they are and what they did?
She watches his expression as he flips through the magazine. He doesn’t look scared or angry, or confused about the contents of the magazine. Actually, he looks interested. Then he laughs at something, and the sight of his smile makes every single bat in Dee’s stomach take flight.
“What are you doing?”
Dee jumps and turns to find Bella standing behind her with only one earbud in her ear. Faintly Dee can hear the chorus of the Michael Jackson song “Thriller.”
“Shh!” Dee switches places with Bella and then motions for her to look around the corner. “It’s the mayor’s son.”
When she sees him, Bella’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “What is he doing here?” She grabs a heart-shaped pair of sunglasses from the display case and puts them on. A crease of concern forms between her eyebrows. “Do you think it has something to do with Cornelius? What if he recognizes us?”
Dee bites her lip. She’s thinking about the camera on the mayor’s porch. Could there have been others in the bushes that they didn’t see? She picks up a pair of rainbow sunglasses and puts them on like Bella.
“Well,” Bella says. “There’s only one way to know for sure.” She looks back at Dee. “We’ll have to wipe his memory from that night.”
Dee nearly exposes their position by laughing out loud, but Bella claps a hand over Dee’s mouth just in time. “You can’t be serious,” Dee mumbles from behind Bella’s hand. She pushes the hand away and lowers her voice to a whisper. “You know doing magic on a human without the approval of the Creepy Council is, like, way forbidden. And even if it weren’t, that’s an advanced spell. It’s not like we can just flip open the handbook to find it.”
“I’m sure we could find it in one of Dad’s and Pop’s old books,” Bella says. Her voice is calm, but even through sunglasses, Dee can see how Bella’s eyes spark with trouble. “Eugene could help us pick the lock on the cabinet.”
Ant and Ron’s second-floor study contains a number of odds and ends that are strictly off-limits to the twins, but nothing is more untouchable than the dark purple cabinet behind Ant’s desk. Protected with three different magic-proof dead bolts, this cabinet is known to the twins as the Cabinet of Doom, because their dads have always told them that if they ever dare to break the locks and venture inside, doom is what awaits them. Bella suspects the threat is just a scare tactic to keep them away from some really powerful spell books Ant collected while traveling the world to study alchemy, but Dee is slightly less certain. What if the cabinet contains an orb that conjures her worst fears, or a black hole that zaps her somewhere terrible? Either way, spiders would surely be involved.
Dee crosses her arms and sneaks another peek at the human. “He could get hurt.”
“He won’t,” Bella says. “At least, not if we do the spell correctly.”
“Have a heart, Bella,” Dee says, shaking her head. “He just lost his cat! Don’t you think he’s been through enough?”
“Why do you care?” Bella takes off her sunglasses. She knows Dee has always been a softie when it comes to humans, but Dee has never taken such a keen interest in the well-being of one before. “He’s just some random human.”
The twins turn their heads in unison. Standing in front of them is the mayor’s son, holding the issue of Haunted Housekeeping and looking right at Dee.