Hunter never knocked when he came to the plantation, he just waltzed right in the front door. He had been a member of ‘the family’ for a very long time and while he chose to live outside of the house, Nico still accepted him as one of theirs.
“Good morning,” Hunter called up the stairs. He didn’t expect to see Nico, the man rarely graced the foyer with his presence. Hunter did, however, expect to see the others. The household was made up of Nico, Maya, Collin, Grace, Nolan, Gwen and Aleister. And now the little girl. Hunter appreciated Maya the most because of her protective nature of Nico. The head of the house wasn’t always smart about what he allowed the outside world to see and Maya had a way of smoothing things over with outsiders. She also was the only one who could talk sense into Nico. He listened to Maya. And, on occasion, Collin.
Collin headed down the stairs, wearing his usual bright, white smile. “Morning Hunter. What brings you to our humble house?”
“It’s Saturday,” Hunter reminded him with a gentle, yet affective smirk. Hunter came over every single Saturday and yet no one in the house seemed to even be aware of what day it was. “Where is Nico?”
Collin rolled his eyes playfully. “Well, I see. No time for the rest of us.” He was teasing Hunter. He knew the man long enough to know Hunter was always business first and casual conversation later. With a 100 watt smile, he conceded. “He’s outback with Etta.”
Out in the garden, Nico sat in the grass next to the little girl. Etta was six now. She never asked about her mother or father which was for the best. Nico knew that eventually she would come to realize they weren’t a normal family, but he’d cross that bridge when they came to it. He would never lie to her; he never lied to any of them.
He brushed a stray hair out of Etta’s face. “Now, watch little one,” he whispered as he cupped a flower bud with one hand. He let his own energy flow from his hand and soon the flower moved against his palm, blooming into a bright red rose. He lifted his hand and smiled warmly as Etta let out a giggle of delight.
“Do it again, Nico,” she said, grinning up at him.
He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Hello Hunter.”
Hunter was used to Nico welcoming him without even looking in his general direction. The man had a sixth sense beyond anything he’d ever seen. Nico taught them all he knew, but sometimes his gifts were not even understood by his ‘family’. “Good morning, Nico. Miss Etta.”
Etta shyly leaned into Nico. She had never quite warmed up to Hunter. From her perspective, when Hunter came, Nico usually seemed stressed. “Saturday already?” Nico asked. “Etta sweetheart, go find Maya and ask her if she needs help with dinner.”
Etta stood up and hurried past Hunter towards the house.
“It’s about the girl?” Nico asked plainly.
With a sigh, Hunter sat down on a nearby bench. While he respected nature, he didn’t want it on his suit. “Yes. I’d ask how you knew, but I gave up on that years ago. It’s not bad, just some questions. I attended the town hall meeting, as usual. You know the house came up, of course. The word ‘cult’ was thrown around, as usual. And again, I spoke up on your behalf. Being a lawyer gives me some pull, but you know… it’s only a matter of time before the cops come by and I think now will be that time. Someone brought up the fact a child of school age is living here and isn’t seen attending school.”
Nico sighed heavily. “Why do they care? I will not subject her to false history and a school curriculum based solely on the need to meet certain testing scores. Why do these people even care about us? If we were blood related or of another culture, no one would even question a group of people living together. Why are we considered different?”
Hunter wet his lips. “You know why, Nicodemus. You help people in unconventional ways. Ways considered to be against the regular concept of the Lord. Nico, I know you and I know what you do and teach. I believe in you, but some people are closed minded. Enroll the girl in home schooling and make regular reports. It will keep questions from being raised. If you don’t want to, task Maya with it. But do something.”
“Why should I?” Nico asked. He had means of distracting the public. He had ways to hide the truth… but that was the real meaning of his question was why should he be forced to distract the public or lie. Why couldn’t he just be who he was without question?
“I can find out the details of home schooling and enroll her for you,” Hunter offered. “Otherwise you will have the cops sniffing around here, and Nico, that will lead to them asking about her parents and why she suddenly appeared here.”
Nico drummed his fingers on the ground and looked up at Hunter. “You took care of that.”
With a half nod, Hunter conceded. “I did. Legally she is in your care, but if they look deeply enough they’ll ask questions; ones we can’t answer. Do you have any idea how it would sound in a court of law if I said ‘her mother took her illness through magical means in order to let her live.’ I know the truth Nico. I understand the things beyond the accepted norms exist. You showed me that years ago. But the world is full of sleepers who won’t understand. And they have the power to take her from you and no amount of voodoo will change that.”
Nico frowned. He hated the terms magic and voodoo. What he did was natural – it was power drawn from the earth and had been throughout history. It was something that the sleepers had long ago forgotten about. Now the world was obsessed with celebrities, movies, music, money, cars, work and television. There was no time for spirituality. Even the ‘religious’ wielded their faith like a sword to cut down those who were different from them. He swallowed. “You’re a good man, Hunter.”
With a warmed smile, Hunter waved away the complement. “Not as good as you, Nicodemus. I’ll bring you the information. If the police were to question you, say we are working on enrolling her. I would advise you to stop helping locals with their issues, but I know nothing will stop you from doing that. Perhaps you should think about getting married. Might be more acceptable for a married man to raise a child that’s not his own.”
With a creased brow, Nico studied Hunter’s face. “To who?”
Chuckling, Hunter shook his head. “It was just a thought.” For as wise and ethereal as Nico was, when it came to Maya, the man was blind. “What’s for dinner?”
Nico looked towards the house. He was extremely intuitive, but food wasn’t something on his radar. “Go into the kitchen and help,” he said with a straight face. He knew full well the ever so proper Hunter would never get his hands dirty, even if it was to pitch in. That wasn’t who Hunter was. He was the strangest of all of Nico’s family – to Nico anyway. To the outside world, Hunter was the most normal.
Inside Etta was helping to set the table, or rather she was struggling to carry the heavy plates and Collins was actually doing most of it for her. Maya brought out several dishes with Grace’s help and set them down around the table which was already full save for the seats reserved for Hunter, Nico and Maya. There was a new chair – one that recently replaced Etta’s high chair. The little girl, however, sat on Nico’s knee instead as the bearded man took his place at the head of the table.
Of those here, Hunter was the only one who held a steady job. The rest worked on the house or the farmland. They grew what they needed to eat and were entirely self-sufficient. And with Nico around their crops never perished with bad weather. Rain or shine, fire or wind, Nico could harness whatever their plants needed to help them grow.
Collins was the youngest after Etta. His father had been killed in Iraq and his mother remarried a man who wasn’t interested in having kids. Collins was fourteen and living on the streets when he was picked up for pick pocking and loitering. A local police officer named Ian Shepherd called Hunter to see if he could help the kid out.
Officer Shepherd knew Hunter from Grace’s situation. She was twenty-five now. She’d been fifteen when she got pregnant. Her parents forced her into an adoption, which led to depression. Her depression led to drug use and eventually jail. Hunter happened to be at the jail visiting a client that day and ended up taking Grace’s case. He took her to Nico that same night and she’d lived here ever since. A bit of community service later and Grace was one of the more stable people in the house.
Gwen and Nolan, who Nico affectionately called ‘the twins’ despite them not being related, were both twenty nine now. They had both come to the house on the same night. Orphaned at a young age, both Gwen and Nolan had been in and out of foster homes over the years, never quite belonging anywhere. They met Maya while pan handling on a street corner. Maya led them to Nico.
Hunter had also been a troubled youth. He credited Nico with turning his life around.
Aleister was in his late-thirties. He was the most quiet of them but also, by far, the moodiest. He had reason to be, though. A retired veteran, Aleister had seen too much. He never spoke much of his biological family, but he had come to the house when he met Nico years ago.
It was Maya who had been with Nico the longest though. She’d met him thirty years ago, back in the days when Nico still left the house.
There had been others over the years; people came and went over time. Nico was always accepting of that – he said people came for the time frame they needed to heal or to learn and then, when the time was right, they would go on their way to spread their what they’d learned. It was the way of life.
“Nolan,” Nico offered, giving the male ‘twin’ the gift of offering an invocation. They always started their meals with a few words of thanks – to nature and to the powers beyond this world, to those that had gone before. Every day they still spoke with Esther, for certainly she was here in spirit.
It wasn’t two whole days after Hunter’s visit that the police came calling. The local department was smart now – they knew who to send. Ian Shepard had a relationship with Hunter and so, when it came to the ‘cult’, the police always sent over Ian. He was greeted at the door shortly after knocking by a smiling Collins.
“Howdy,” Ian offered, tipping his hat. He had never met Nico face to face. He dealt only with Hunter and yet, he had a feeling this kid wasn’t the master of the house. “I was looking for Nicodemus Bastion?”
“You’re Ian Shepard, right? I was a lot younger last time we met,” Collins explained. “Yeah, he said you’d be coming by.”
Ian felt a little uneasy. “Mr. Bastion?” How had Nico known?
“No, Hunter Ellis,” Collins replied, chuckling at that paranoid look that claimed the cop’s face. “He said someone from the force would be by.”
Ian nodded, feeling every bit the asshole. Nicodemus Bastion had a reputation of being a mystic, a voodoo doctor and the like. Ian wasn’t buying it and yet, for a second, he’d let himself get drawn in. Of course Hunter had warned them he was coming. It was discussed in the town hall on Friday night. “Got it. And you’re Collins – we met when you were…”
“In jail,” Collins finished for him. “You called Hunter to help me. Don’t worry officer. I’m not embarrassed of who I was or the journey I took to get where I am. I regret nothing.”
Ian nodded. He supposed that was a healthy outlook on life. Why question it? “Is Mr. Bastion here?”
Collins nodded and stepped aside. “I’m starting to get a complex here. Everyone comes to see Nico, no one ever has time to talk to me. Stay here, I’ll go get him.” He started up the stairs, passing the little girl who was coming down to investigate the knock at the door.
“Hi!” Etta greeted Ian. She recognized his uniform from her books. “Are you a policeman?”
“Why yes,” Ian replied, moving down on one knee to bring himself to Etta’s height. What luck – he’d come to see how the little one was doing and here she was. “What’s your name, little miss?”
“Etta Bastion,” she answered proudly. “I’m six years old.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Ms. Bastion.” She had the same last name as Nico which he found interesting. “Do you go to school?”
“Yes, she does,” came a strong male voice from the top of the stairs. Ian looked up to see a tall man with broad shouldered and dark curly hair. “But I believe Hunter Ellis already sent over the paperwork explaining that, Officer Shepard.”
Ian stood straight up and offered a smile. “Yes, yes he has. I just wanted to come over to …”
“… to be nosey,” the man finished, starting down the stairs. “That’s what you all want, isn’t it? To get a look inside, get a good look at the freaks? Well you’ve seen it, so please see your way out.” He stepped in front of Etta protectively, placing himself between Ian and the little girl. “I do realize you’re just doing your job but as you see, everyone here is well taken care of. There is no reason for alarm and all we ask is to be left alone.”
Ian swallowed, feeling rather unwelcome as Collins reappeared at the top of the stairs with a third man. This one was tall and slender but built well. He wore a ripped up Rolling Stones t-shirt and jeans, his face was mostly hidden by a unruly beard and long hair. Ian looked back to the hulking man in the foyer and attempted to calm his nerves. “It’s routine, Mr. Bastion. No one means you any offense, sir. It’s the law that children of age be enrolled in school. My superior sent me over here to confirm that we received your paperwork with the intent to home school.”
“I’m not Mr. Bastion,” the man said. He then looked up to the gent in the Rolling Stones shirt. “He is. And he may have nicer words for you, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re not welcome here.”
“Aleister,” Nico called with an even, calming tone. “That is no way to treat a guest in our home.” Walking around Collins, he started down the stairs. “You will have to excuse Aleister, Officer Shepard. He is protective of his kin and our home. I am Nico Bastion and you are welcome here as long as you do not intend harm. But of course, if you did, you wouldn’t have made it through the threshold of the door.” Nico paused, scooping Etta up with one arm as he gestured to the red power line just beyond the front entrance of the doorway. Brick dust and salt. It kept those that meant ill will away. At the very least it made them overwhelmingly uncomfortable and therefore, unwilling to pass or stay too long.
Aleister deferred to Nico, moving aside to let the master of the house speak.
Ian’s brow rose, uncertain if the last sentence was a threat or a hint that something was at work here he couldn’t see. Either way, he wasn’t crazy about it. “As I said, Mr. Bastion. I just stopped by to confirm we received your paperwork and everything is in order. I am glad to have met Etta.”
Nico nodded his head pleasantly. “Well, you certainly understand, having a child of your own of the same age. It must be difficult, being a single father.”
Ian studied the other man. There was a simple explanation for it – he read the paper. Or Hunter had told him. He refused to think, like the rest of the town, that Nico was a ‘witch’.
“It’s Warlock,” Nico corrected him out loud. “A witch is female. A male is a warlock. And Hunter told me about your wife’s passing. Very tragic. I’m sorry. As for your son, that I saw on my own. We all carry those dearest to us in our minds and hearts. You carry him close to you, even when he’s far away.”
“His name is Claude,” Etta replied with a happy little smile. She had learned from Nico how to listen to the things that were thought versus said.
“That’s right, sweetheart,” Nico praised her, kissing her temple. “You see, Officer Shepard, there are some things I can teach that no one will find in a school textbook. Please, come back for dinner sometime, I’d love to talk further.” And with that, he gave a wink and headed back upstairs with the little girl in tow.
Thoroughly freaked out, Ian just nodded and turned on his heel. He opened the front door and exited without a single word. Closing the door behind him, he paused briefly on the porch to collect himself and then headed down the steps to his squad car. How the hell was he supposed to write a report on that? He’d sound insane! Best to just say nothing at all. It was routine visit. That was all.