Scarlett’s Kitchen

It’s her kitchen. She can do what she wants. A MagicLand Chronicles story.

Scarlett’s an old Black lady who ain’t never worn a stitch of red clothing in her life, far as I know. She don’t even like that color. Red.

I know this because I’m her husband. I’m an old white man, Scarlett’s age, been with her these fifty-five years now. When people ask, we like to joke that we are both about eighty years old but we ain’t sure. We is sure, but we like to say we ain’t.

Original Image licensed through Shutterstock. Titling by author.

And her kitchen, well, it’s always been her kitchen. Even now that we’re just two old farts hunkered downstairs in our basement apartment while tenants use her kitchen on the ground floor and the world goes all to hell. Still her kitchen.

You’d think that with six tenants in five bedrooms in our big house in midtown Atlanta, that kitchen up there would not be hers anymore but it ain’t true. No sir. It’s her kitchen and no one else’s.

“Does she have something against our water?” I ask Scarlett.

“Why you askin’ that?” she asks crossly because she’s playing bridge on her phone and don’t like it much when I bother her while she’s playin’ her games.

“She always filling up that water filter pitcher a hers or whatever those thingamajigs are called. She don’t like our water. Nothin’ wrong with our water. I been to other cities. With bad water. This Atlanta tap water just fine.”

“Maybe she worried about them biogerms or whatever the government using to smoke people,” Scarlett chuckles.

“That ain’t what’s happenin’. We talked about that a dozen times.”

She shrugs while she taps her phone.

“I think they makin’ roasted veggies,” I say.

“Why you say that?”

“They gots some taters and brussels sprouts out, a bowl, and look there a bottle a oil. Wonder what kind they use. Oh see there he goes turnin’ on the oven. Yep, roasted veggies.”

“They use that avocado oil,” says Scarlett. “I seen it.”

“Where they get that? Ain’t no stores got that kind a thing no more.”

“I dunno shugga, maybe they had it and brought it with ’em here.”

“They been here three months.”

“Can’t you zoom in with that thing?”

“Cain’t. You care that much about the kind a oil they got? Why you care that much? What’s wrong with you?”

“Well now I just gotta know. You brought it up.”

“Well I cain’t tell. Cain’t see it good enough.”

Scarlett puts her phone down and takes off her thick, pointy reading glasses. She squints. “Look. He put those big ole mushrooms as a first layer. I bet that is what he doin’.”

I watch the tenant place sliced portabellos on a big baking tray while the woman cuts up the vegetables and puts them in a bowl. “That’s a funny thing,” I say.

“It don’t make no sense. Just put it all together in one layer,” she says in a tone that says the man is a fool.

We can hear the tenants walking around up there while we watch them on the monitor. “Try a different camera,” says Scarlett. I tap my phone and switch to a different view. “No, not that one. The one closest to the stove.”

I switch again.

“Now watch this,” she says. Just like that, all six burners on the stovetop light up to their maximum level. The woman lets out a short, high-pitched screech. “That was fun,” says Scarlett, chuckling.

“I don’t like that I cain’t do that,” I say.

“I can’t teach ya’. Barely know how to do it myself.”

The man grabs a fire extinguisher but the woman says, “Relax,” and quickly turns all the burners off.

“What the hell was that?” asks the man.

“I don’t really like them people,” says Scarlett. “Remind me of them people doin’ all the killin’.”

“Ain’t nobody doin’ no killin’. I told you that. Stop readin’ the Internet.”

“All fancy and stuff. Internet down half the day anyway every day,” mumbles Scarlett, still squinting. “Can’t read diddly. Anyway they privileged is what they be. Damn rich Yankees. Bet they from Connecticut or someplace.”

“I told you already they from San Francisco.”

“Good God. No wonder I hate them.”

“You never said you hated them ‘fore.”

“Well I just did. Did just now.”

I hear a loud crash coming through the speakers and the floor upstairs. I look at Scarlett. “That you?”

She nods mischievously. “Uh-huh.” And chuckles.

The woman curses and motions to the man but the man just stands there watching. That’s because the crash was impossible if you look at it like physics. The crash came from a glass vase tucked deep in a shelf.

“Now look what you done you crazy woman,” I say. “Got glass all over the floor.”

“She’ll clean it up,” says Scarlett confidently.

“She gonna call the POlice is what she gonna do.”

“Why on earth would she do that? She gonna report a broken vase and some burners lightin’ up? They’ll just say, ‘Bitch, you in a kitchen. Whutch you ‘xpect?’”

“Naw prolly not.”

“How about this?” says Scarlett. I watch the big monitor our son hung up on the wall for us a year ago. A large butcher knife whizzes by the woman’s head.

“That could get her thinkin’,” I say, chuckling. “Do it again.”

“You know it gives me headaches.”

“Ya can’t just start in on me and then stop. Be like startin’ a movie and stoppin’ it halfway through.”

The knife flies past the man’s head and impales a wall.

“Damn girl, that was impressive.”

“I’m getting outta here,” says the man.

The woman is quiet but shaking. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” she says.

“Well what else could it be?” asks the man. “You got your phone? I left mine upstairs.”

The woman reaches into the back pocket of her skinny jeans. After that, it looks like she is recording a video. “I’m Facebooking it,” she says.

“People will just say it’s faked,” says the man.

“No they won’t,” says Scarlett with a deliciously malevolent grin.

The six burners light up again, but this time the flames stretch nearly to the ceiling.

“Woman,” I say, “You gonna burn down the house and me in it.”

Next, the water from the sink faucet turns on. We had one of those fancy things installed a couple of years back, the kind with the coiled connection. I don’t know what them things are called. Now, it’s coming out at an impossible pressure, filling up the sink faster than the drain can handle.

“That should help,” laughs Scarlett.

“Girl, you mental. Now we gonna flood,” I laugh. I have to admit, it can be fun to watch Scarlett do her thing.

The old house was creepy but that was part of what made it cool. It was an old Edwardian, with wood framing on each side of a gable that bore beautiful wood etchings under its angled roof.

But inside, it was clear that the home hadn’t been well maintained for several decades.

The owners said they were refugees from Hurricane Katrina and had lived here ever since, moving to the basement about five years ago to accommodate tenants to help finish off the mortgage.

They were old, so I assumed that was why the house was in such disrepair. But as the knife flew past Rafe’s head, I knew that age had nothing to do with whatever governed the spirits of these people.

I can’t say exactly why I knew this wasn’t ghosts. It wasn’t quite that I didn’t believe in them. It’s just that I didn’t think they had any corporeal power.

“Facebook is down again,” I said to Rafe.

“Try Twitch,” he replied, so I did.

Twitch was up, so I started streaming. When I did, the water in the sink turned on, then a pile of pots and pans started flying around the kitchen.

Things were hard enough, and people were turning on each other? Why were they doing this?

Rafe and I were also refugees. San Francisco had essentially quarantined itself during the eradications, and small groups of rich people seized control of the city. Everyone everywhere was calling it an eradication, except for those who were calling it extermination or genocide. And except for the people doing the eradicating.

But the truth was that nobody knew exactly what was going on. The general consensus had been that elites had developed a highly specialized pathogen that could target specific people or groups of people. San Francisco had been a staging area of sorts. A testbed.

Rafe had inherited some money after his folks passed, but we didn’t have much money even after both of us worked as online marketers for awhile. But we had enough to get out of town.

We were renting an upstairs condo in the Haight when it started. Everyone on the street died one day. The news reports said that a pathogen had done the equivalent of boiling their blood. I didn’t understand the science but I did understand the part that said that the pathogen could only live about five minutes once outside the human body.

The pathogen had been distributed by drones, first at crowds of people. But only some in the crowds got sick. Others were completely unaffected. This began to happen in some other places, but San Francisco was the worst.

Soon, drones, like automated crop dusters, began spraying entire neighborhoods.

The government said it was left-wing climate change terrorists who had created germ weapons using gene-editing tools and CRISPR technology.

People believed them until someone noticed that absolutely no rich people were getting hit. No well-known politicians, either.

So we got out of San Francisco about three months ago, but it’s happening in Atlanta now, too.

There’s nothing special about the Merricks, the landlords who own this house. They’ll be targeted eventually, and so will we. So why were they doing this?

Rafe and I didn’t have time to discuss theories. The kitchen was literally blowing up. Pots and pans were flying around, and the stove burners were shooting flames to the ceiling, which was high up compared to inside a lot of homes.

The Twitch comment stream looked something like this:

“😂😂😂😂😂Be happenin' at the kitch! 😂 😂😂😂😂😂”

“😶‍🌫😶‍🌫️😶‍🌫️😶‍🌫️😶‍🌫️😶‍🌫️️Dive bombin’!😶‍🌫️”

“😬 Amityville 😱”

After a few dozen comments like that, somebody wrote this:

“Bitch you need 🔮 a dispel magic spell 🪄”

“Send it,” I said out loud. My phone transcribed my speech correctly.

“Get out of there,” was the response. Then, “Tonight, get a candle, and you write from bottom to top what you are trying to get rid of. Good luck.”

That would take some doing, I thought, as I motioned to Rafe that we needed to leave.

There were people in San Francisco who were saying just before we left that people were fighting back with magic. That magic was even suddenly becoming more powerful, almost like some new tech or something.

Some pretty crazy stories.

If any of it was true, the owners of this house were pretty powerful. What a waste to be using their power in this way when we had a common enemy.

We ran out of the house, out of breath, and I thought that if I was going to use a candle to dispel magic, I’d want to have a better idea of what I was doing.

Did I even believe in this stuff? Like I said, I’d heard stories. From people I knew and trusted.

I looked at Rafe. He seemed okay after all this. I was so glad for this that I took his hand and kissed it. He gave me a sweet smile and shrugged his shoulders.

“You know what?” he said.

I shook my head.

“None of the other tenants are there, right?”

“Latonya went home to visit her parents. Bill and Jen are at work. Thomson is never there. In Athens or something.”

“The one in Greece? Or here in Georgia.”

I shrugged.

“Okay, yeah,” he said. “So — why does he even rent a room there?”

“He’s got a lot of money. Travels around buying and flipping homes. Thinks the market is gonna turn when this is all over.”

“Never gonna be over,” whispered Rafe. “Come on, across the street, K?”

I shrugged and we ran across the street, which was covered, like most Atlanta neighborhoods, by a canopy of tall trees.

Rafe turned me around and kissed my forehead. “It’s weird. This feeling I have. It’s just a hunch, but it’s like it comes from somewhere else.”

I just stared at him, not knowing how to reply.

Then he squinted and closed his eyes so hard that tears squeezed out of them as he said, “I’m just imagining that whole house going up in flames.” He kept his eyes closed like that for about thirty seconds before opening them again.

A massive explosion then knocked us off our feet. I flew down to the ground, my chin hitting the edge of a wide tree stump before I rolled against Rafe, who was on his back.

I scrambled to my feet. “Rafe!” I looked at him as I knelt down.

“I’m ok,” he said with a deep, halting breath instead of his voice. “Your chin…”

I touched my chin and a long streak of blood found its way to my palm. I helped Rafe up and we looked at the old house in flames.

“That’s crazy,” I said as he took off his flannel shirt and gently patted my chin with it. “What did you do?”

“I dunno,” he said. “I don’t think I did it.”

“So we leave the house and it just so happens their furnace or something explodes?”

Cinders were blowing in the wind and into the trees in the twilight. I heard a siren.

“I dunno, I mean, I really don’t.”

This was how it all started. It’s how everything started, I think.

Somehow, San Francisco had become like a land of magic and resistance.

And we brought some of it with us.

But we didn’t know how to use it.

It seemed more like it was using us.

I watched flames lick the edges of trees as fire trucks appeared up the street at the top of the hill. I wondered what the magic wanted from us.

An unnaturally deep black smoke began to pour out from near the foundation of the house and run itself like a snake around the home’s circumference. The smoke seemed to be trying to strangle the house. It was almost as if it was trying to tighten its grip around the bottom floor.

Then Rafe and I could clearly hear a deep whispering voice emerge from the direction of the smoke. “Fight,” it said.

Suddenly, inexplicably, the fire was snuffed out and the house disappeared as if it had never been there.

“Fight,” said the whisper.

Night fell at that, and I stretched my hand out towards where the house once stood.

As I stood watching the smoke clear, I saw that there was something left from the house after all. A stove, with a woman bent over it stirring something in a ridiculously tall pot. She turned around to look at me with a grin that was biologically impossible, stretching, literally, from ear to ear, revealing large teeth through heavily wrinkled brown skin.

“You go on now,” she said in a voice I recognized. “You go on now and you do your fightin’. And don’t you never give up.”

This story is part of The MagicLand Chronicles: Short stories related to my debut novel, MagicLand, but with different characters and stories.