1955, Missouri: Josephine DeLune, a disaster in the kitchen, can't compete with her mama's spellbinding culinary skills.
Disenchanted, she works as a carhop until the granddaddy of all voodoo spirits starts hunting her, and only cooking magic can save her soul.
Kids' note: "The one about a cool witch who can't cook, until she stars trying in secret." Curator note: "It can't be more timely than now, when human rights for some Americans are being trampled on, regressed to what they were as far back as the 50's. And here, Delicious takes us to the 1950's themselves, in all their racist, us-against-them, but also warmhearted, and naive, and hopeful glory. Karen Kincy's 12-year old witch fights her society's class-based system, what she thinks as her nonexistent magical talent, and an insatiable Voodoo beast that has been after the women in her family for generations already. But then, who ever thought growing up biracial in the Old South was easy?" – Alisa Gus, Curiosity Quills Press
I bend over the coffee-dark creek, looking real hard for any magic. The sun slides over the water like a pat of butter on a hot skillet. Supposed to be something extra special underwater, but I'm not seeing anything unusual.
"Conjure's thick here, Josephine." Grandma Lula dabs her sweaty forehead with her handkerchief. "Keep your eyes peeled."
I breathe in slow, in case I can sniff it out. Where the sun hits the thick crust of leaves on mud, a sweet, root-beer smell rises up.
"Grandma? What is it we're looking for, again?"
She glances sideways at me. "I suppose you're old enough to know. Somewhere in this swamp, my own grandma lost her grimoire."
"Child, you know what a grimoire is. A magic cookbook, full of all her secret recipes for whipping up conjure. The best witches alive today have got nothing on my grandma. She didn't settle for no small-fry spells."
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As I sit on a gnarled old log, my toes squish the muck. "So why'd she lose her grimoire?" Grandma Lula's nostrils flare. "She tangled with a powerful voodoo spirit by the name of Shaula. Prettier than anything, and twice as deadly. The two of them near killed each other, and the grimoire got lost in this very swamp."
I stare into the water. If there's a book down there, it's got to be rotten mush.
"Josephine, you're going to be the one to find it. You've got some of the strongest conjure I've felt in ages."
I sigh. Grandma Lula keeps on saying this, no matter how many times I prove her wrong.
She clamps my shoulder with her fingers. "Go on. Use your gift."
"Sure thing." I wade up to my waist in the creek. "But only if you watch out for gators."
Sparkling sun and fluttering leaves fill my mind with commotion, so I shut my eyes to help me think clearer. My palms spread flat against the water, I feel for any undercurrents of magic. "Deeper than that," Grandma Lula says, "no doubt about it."
I scrunch up my nose. "It's slimy in here."
"Just a little farther."
I slide my bare feet forward against the cool mud, praying I won't accidentally kick an angry crawdad's claws—or worse, a gator just waiting to chomp up a girl like me. My skin prickles. Are there electric eels in Louisiana?
"Grandma?" My voice wavers. "I—"
Like a bomb went off, a ripple of magic surges through the water, stealing my breath away and knocking me off my feet. I topple backwards into the creek, snorting water up my nose. Darkness closes over my head, and my thrashing stirs up so much mud, I can't tell up from down. I kick hard, and my head pops into the air.
"You ain't going to drown." Grandma Lula's so matter-of-fact, it's almost insulting. Why doesn't she sound worried?
She marches into the creek, latches onto my hand, and drags me out. Coughing, I slump on the bank while she whacks me on the back, knocking water out of my lungs. Stinky mud cakes me head-to-toe.
Grandma Lula bends in front of me, her eyes fierce. "What happened, child?"
"Tripped," I mutter. "Can we go home now?"
She nods and hauls me to my feet. "That's a crying shame."
If I tell her about the magic, she's going to send me back in after the grimoire. "I'm not sure it's worth fishing out trouble."
"What makes you think it's trouble?"
I widen my eyes. "When isn't it?"
"Jo-Jo." She clucks her tongue. "You can't be scared of conjure forever."
"I'm not scared, I'm smart."
"You're only eight. One of these days..."
She says it like I can't escape, which makes me walk away faster.