We’re excited to share an excerpt from Wayward Witch, the third novel in Zoraida Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas young adult trilogy. Infused with Latin American tradition—the Brooklyn Brujas series follows three sisters—and witches—as they develop their powers and battle magic in their hometown and worlds beyond. Available September 1st from Sourcebooks Fire.
Rose Mortiz has always been a fixer, but lately she’s been feeling lost. She has brand new powers that she doesn’t understand, and her family is still trying to figure out how to function in the wake of her amnesiac father’s return home. Then, on the night of her Death Day party, Rose discovers her father’s memory loss has been a lie.
As she rushes to his side, the two are ambushed and pulled through a portal to the land of Adas, a fairy realm hidden in the Caribbean Sea. There Rose is forced to work with a group of others to save Adas. Soon, she begins to discover the scope of her powers, the troubling truth about her father’s past, and the sacrifices he made to save her sisters. But if Rose wants to return home so that she can repair her broken family, she must figure out how to heal Adas first.
Claribelle was lost in the forest.
She stepped between two ceiba trees
under the light of the full moon.
A door opened and she walked through it.
—Claribelle and the Kingdom of Adas: Tales Tall and True, Gloriana Palacios
I’m supposed to be the good one. The bruja who studies dusty tomes and respects her magical lineage. The sister who doesn’t trap her family in another dimension or raise an army of heart-chomping zombies. The daughter who doesn’t talk back, flosses twice a day, cleans her altar without being told to, takes out the trash, and recites rezos to the gods before going to bed at midnight. If I were the good one, I wouldn’t be hiding today of all days.
It is, after all, my Deathday and my birthday combined, and like the average fifteen-year-old bruja, I’m spending the party in a hallway pantry, sitting on a crate of Goya beans, with my dress pockets full of chocolate candy bars. A low-hanging light bulb casts a white glow over the open storybook on my lap.
“Have you seen Rose?” My mother asks someone from the other side of the door.
I don’t know who she’s talking to, but they make a noncommittal sound. Ma shouts my name, and I freeze mid-page-turn. After the ceremony, I said I’d go change into party clothes and be right back, and I had every intention of doing so. Mostly. But I started imagining all those people—friends, family, and strangers—wanting to talk to me. To look at me. To wonder why, after fifteen years of being an ordinary bruja I am suddenly so interesting. That’s the word people keep using, at least. Since I don’t have an answer, I decided to put myself in time-out.
When my mom gives up and the hammering tap of heels dissolves into echoes, I breathe a little easier. I flip to my bookmark and sigh. I’ll read one more chapter and then go. I know. I know I can’t stay in here forever.
If you ask me, and no one ever does, it’s too soon to celebrate my freakish new abilities. I mean, one minute, I was a seer, speaking to ghosts and the world beyond the Veil of the living. Now I’m something completely different that no one in my family, our network of brujas, or supernatural allies have ever heard of. There isn’t even a name for it since I’ve forbidden everyone from calling me a “magical hacker.” It’s a miracle our lives haven’t been threatened for a whole six months, so I haven’t had to put my power to the test. Honestly, I’m not so sure my family even wants me to try.
Lula told me to enjoy the moments we get to be normal and danger free, but there’s no “normal” when you’re a bruja. Unlike the rest of the Mortiz family, I can’t pretend like the last year and half hasn’t been filled with monsters and blood and guts and secret societies and more resurrections than I am personally comfortable with. We’ve just accepted Dad’s magical memory loss from the years he was gone. Alex is all One with the Force after she accidentally banished us to Los Lagos. Lula unleashed dead hordes across the city, but no worries, she’s back to her old self again. Ma finally has her family whole and together.
I’m the only one who seems to notice that there is something wrong around here, but every time I work up the nerve to speak, I convince myself that it’s all in my head. Things are peaceful. Things are fine.
Sandals slap against the tiled hallway floor. I recognize the cadence of her walk instantly. I hold in a sneeze brought on by pantry dust as my eldest sister starts yelling for me.
“Rose Elizabeta Mortiz, get your bedazzled butt out here and dance!” Lula manages to walk right past my hiding spot.
I sneeze, and a handful of pink and white petals fall between the pages of my book. The flowers in my ceremonial crown are already wilting. So much for fresh carnations. I’ve tried to undo the braid Lula and Alex artfully twisted around my head with gold twine, but they used so much hairspray and so many bobby pins that I only managed to yank a few strands out by the root. I blow on the petals. They scatter on the blush-pink tulle skirt of my dress, stuffed around my feet.
The door opens, letting in the bright kitchen light and the rhythmic tap of drums from the living room.
Lula purses her lips. There’s a flash of relief in her gray eyes before she shouts, “Found her!”
Alex pokes her head around Lula’s body. Her brown hair is in a braided ballerina bun, decorated with a glittering crescent moon. “I told you she wouldn’t have been in the garage. That’s where all the old folks are playing poker.”
“I have to say, I’m disappointed in your hide-and-seek skills.” I turn the page of my book and clear my throat, hoping they’ll take the hint and go away. “Good thing neither of you are going into search and rescue for a living.”
“Um, rude,” Lula says, dusting her bare shoulder, but the pantry dust only mixes with her body glitter. When she leans into the light, the four claw marks that scar my sister’s face are iridescent as pearl. Over the summer, she started accentuating them with colorful eye shadow because she says people stare anyway, so she might as well get creative. “There are too many rooms in this house. I keep confusing the guest bathroom for the guest closet, which is not a fun surprise when there are a hundred people in the house and no one locks the door.”
“And yet”—I slam my book shut—“you managed to find me in the only place I’ve been able to find some peace and quiet since the ceremony finished.”
My sisters ignore me and shove their way in, party dresses and all. I groan in protest when one of them steps on my foot and another one jams an elbow in my ribs as they squeeze on either side of me and close the door.
“Come on, Rosie!” Lula says. “You’re missing out. Tía Panchita says she’s dancing with a ghost but really she’s had six cups of Tío Julio’s coquito.”
“You’re in a good mood,” I say dryly. “Are you sure you haven’t had six cups of Tío Julio’s coquito? Or is a certain thirsty hunter here?”
She elbows me, and in an attempt to move away, I slam into Alex, who bumps into the supplies stacked on the shelves that surround us. The jars wobble precariously, and a dozen of them tip forward. I shield my face from the impact, but Alex thrusts her hands up, conjuring a gust of wind. The chilly air funnels around us, and the force of her magic sets every jar of spices and bird bones back into place. When our arms brush against each other, I jump at the electric charge of her lingering power.
Alex dusts her palms, and even in the dim light, her smug grin is unmistakable. It’s a welcome change to the days when she rejected anything that had to do with being a bruja. But now she’s just showing off.
“Okay,” Alex says, “Why are you reading a book you’ve already read a thousand times instead of enjoying your Deathday after-party?”
As if on cue, a chorus of laughter filters from the living room, followed by the scaling notes of a saxophone. I don’t know why my parents insisted on hiring a real live salsa band to perform when the only salsa I like is the chunky and spicy kind I can scoop up with tortilla chips.
“Excuse you,” I say, frowning, “but if I remember correctly you didn’t even want to have a Deathday, and we all know how that turned out.”
“Rosie…” Alex says, the smugness completely gone. “You know I’m sorry.”
Lula’s eyebrows shoot up, eyes darting between Alex and me.
Frustration knots in my throat. I know Alex regrets what she did. Despite being the only encantrix in her generation, she is still a cautionary tale brujas tell their children at night. How was she supposed to know her canto would backfire? How could she have known that her family was so intrinsically tied to her magic that removing it would have been like trying to carve out an organ with a butter knife? When Alex tried to cast her powers away, she changed everything. Sometimes I want to blame her. If not for Alex, Lula would have never tried to resurrect the dead. We wouldn’t have had to fight for our lives and watch our home burn down and had to move to nowhere Queens. I would still be a seer. Then again, if not for Alex, we wouldn’t have Nova in our lives or Dad back.
In my heart, I know that if we were the kind of family that verbalized our feelings, things might be different. But we bottle our fears and sadness and sometimes even our joy. I know I’m no different.
“I know, you’re sorry. Look.,” I say. I wish I was better at trying to untangle my feelings because I don’t want to hurt my sister, either. “All I’m asking for is an hour by myself. Conjuring dozens of ancestral spirits doesn’t exactly make me want to get on the dance floor and mambo.”
“What about perreo?” Lula muses, followed by Alex flicking the bare skin of Lula’s arm.
“I’d rather not see a bunch of old brujas dirty dancing,” Alex mutters. She nudges my shoulder playfully like we’re in on this together. “I could tell you stories about Agosto that aren’t in this book.”
“In the living room,” Lula offers brightly.
And Alex adds, “While we eat cake.”
“I don’t want your stories of Los Lagos,” I say, perhaps a little more roughly than I meant to. I will always be a teeny tiny bit jealous that Alex got to meet Agosto the Faun King in real life. Then I remember that while she was running around Los Lagos, I was inside a ball of energy waiting to get served up for dinner to an old hag. I tell myself that Alex came through. She saved us. We saved her too. “It’s just—I want my own, that’s all.”
Lula wraps her arm around my shoulder. She isn’t using her healing magic on me—not exactly. She has a different kind of power that usually calms me just by being near. The times I was holed up in bed because the spirits whispering in my ear were too loud, Lula was at my side, singing and brushing my hair to distract me. On the day I found out I had to switch schools because we moved here, she bought me a tray of cupcakes and didn’t even have one for herself. I can think of a thousand more ways Lula is my rock. But I don’t want that today.
“Rosie, come on,” she says. “I know being the center of attention isn’t the most fun—”
Alex scrunches up her face and holds out her hand like she’s ready to catch the lie in Lula’s words. “But you love being the center of attention so…”
“This is true,” Lula admits, tapping a red nail against her chin. “We’re still talking about a once-in-a-lifetime rite of passage. Like sinmago parties. You had fun at Claudia Toloza’s quinceañera.”
“And you danced all night at Rishi’s sweet sixteen,” Alex chimes.
I grumble. “That’s different.”
“If I could do my Deathday over—” Alex starts to say, and that’s when I just about have had it.
“First of all, I don’t need your philosophizing on the mistakes you made and what you’d do over again,” I tell her. “I’m not you.”
Lula and Alex stare at each other and share a look only older sisters can, like I’m acting petulant and unreasonable. But they don’t see things the way I do. The frustration of it all makes me want to scratch at the itch beneath my skin, the one that started ever since my new magic appeared, but when I did that last night, I just clawed my arms raw.
“Rose—” Lula starts.
“No, I need you guys to listen to me. Please,” I beg.
My sisters nod and remain quiet for a whole minute. Call the Guinness Book of World Records.
I take a breath and say, “Ever since I was little, all I wanted was to be like you guys. I never noticed that we weren’t like other families because you never made me feel strange. We are who we are. But lately, it’s like you’re all trying to make us something we’re not.”
“What do you mean?” Alex asks, her voice deep with worry.
“I mean me. You don’t know what it’s like to be me right now. You don’t see what I see.”
They’re quiet again. They scratch their scalps and shift in their glittering party dresses and sigh like they’re trying to understand but there is something missing.
Lula brushes my stray baby hairs. “We can do more research into your power, Rosie. I can ask the Alliance to try new sources—”
I let go of a long grunt. “No. I mean, it’s weird having this new magic and I’d like to find out more about it, but it’s not just that.”
“Then what?” Alex asks, her brown eyes cast in long shadows from above. “Talk to us.”
How am I supposed to know what to say? I know the ingredients that will conjure luck and I can brew a potion to talk to the dead, but no one ever taught me how to speak a truth that is uncomfortable.
I take a deep breath, trying to figure out how to explain what I’m feeling. My sisters are pretending everything is square, just like our parents. It’s like we got to the end of the storybook and everyone has their happily-ever-afters. Our dad is back after having vanished without a trace for over seven years. Alex claimed her magic. Lula put the dead back to rest.
But am I the only one who notices the way Dad stares into space like he’s forgotten where he is? I’ve woken in the middle of the night to Lula screaming her dead ex-boyfriend’s name. Alex wanders around the house at three in the morning, checking all the locks, making sure our warding wreaths and salt bricks are in place like she’s waiting for something to attack. Then there’s Nova, our adopted brother, and the magic that marks him and is literally burning through him, using him up like a candlewick. I think of Ma’s tense, rigid body, like she’s holding her breath because she’s afraid this happiness won’t last. We are all incomplete and not talking about it. I don’t know how to make them see that the Mortiz family hasn’t reached the end of their story yet.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s me.
I’m the one who can’t move on. My normal is the paranormal, the supernatural. Some people thrive in chaos, and maybe I feel at home when things are wrong.
I look at my sisters, my beautiful and messy sisters, who made mistakes. They are the bad brujas who have raised the dead and traveled realms. They’ve figured out a way to continue to live and laugh and love. They’re all right. Aren’t they?
Maybe I’m the one that’s wrong. Maybe I’m just so used to everything being on the verge of disaster that I haven’t acclimated to harmony. Maybe this is it.
So, I decide to let it go, because I’m the good one, and I don’t want to stir up any trouble. I just want to get them off my back. A dull pain pulses in the pit of my stomach and spreads throughout my body. More rose petals fall when I shake my head.
“I think I’m just having a hard time with the move and being at a new school. I got detention for arguing with the social studies teacher and practically failed my science test.”
“You got a B,” Lula says.
“My first! I had straight A’s,” I groan. I don’t mention that I can’t study because I have headaches, and I can’t sleep because I miss the whispers of spirits.
They both rub my back like they’re washing a car, waxing on and off.
“I started this,” Alex says. “I can fix this.”
“I’m the reason our old house burned down and we had to move,” Lula says, managing to sound indignant and apologetic.
Carnation petals rain on my shoulders and hair. “No. It didn’t start with you two. It started with Dad.”
Lula gnaws on her bottom lip and Alex sighs. I bet if I closed my eyes and listened, really listened, I’d hear their heartbeats, just as frantic as mine. But Alex is the one who wants to quash my doubt because she needs to be in control of our family’s happiness.
“But he’s back now. Everything is fine. We’re safe,” Lula says.
That right there is why I can’t talk to them. They’ve dealt with so much, and I feel wrong prying into this tentative peace. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re all lying to ourselves. To each other.
I palm the top of my book. I can get it together for tonight. I can. I relent because they need me. “Fine. I’ll go party with New York’s finest magical creatures.”
“And select fine sinmagos.” Alex winks and Lula claps her hands in victory.
“But if I ever spawn, I’m not putting them through this,” I grumble. “I don’t even know half the people out there.”
“You know how it is, Rosie,” Lula says. “First you invite one tía, and then the other one is like, I hear so-and-so got an invitation, pero like, where’s mine? And then the list goes from close friends and family to family six times removed, and even the bodega werewolf that flirts with Ma ends up getting an invite.”
“Don’t even talk, Lula,” Alex says, wagging a finger in front of her face. “You’re just like Ma. You’ll make friends with the person who bumped into you on the subway. You literally befriended Death.”
Lula gives us her cheek and turns her gray eyes to a row of canned tuna. “I’m a little too busy lately with important Thorne Hill Alliance business to make friends. It isn’t my fault you two get your introvertedness from Dad.”
“That’s not a word,” I say.
“And,” Alex adds, “Dad didn’t used to be introverted.”
“I don’t remember,” I say. Sometimes I think I remember my father’s face while he read me a book or his voice singing while he seasoned a pork shoulder for dinner. But I can’t help wondering if those things really happened or if I made them up because I didn’t want to be the only one of my sisters who didn’t have memories of him.
“Give it an hour,” Lula says, tucking a loose black curl behind her ear. “You don’t have to hug anyone or kiss anyone on the cheek or be fake polite if you’re not comfortable. Just be yourself. Our beautiful, smart Rose.”
“And if anyone bothers you…” Alex wiggles her fingers in the air and tiny sparks of electricity thread around them. “Just say the magic word.”
“What’s the magic word?” I ask.
Lula scrunches up her face, then says, “Pamplemousse!”
“I don’t know what that means.”
Alex rolls her eyes so far I can only see the whites for a second. “It means grapefruit. The hunter is teaching her French, so she thinks she’s fancy. Also, if he decides to take you on vacation again, he’d better invite all of us or Ma is going to curse his—”
“We were on a mission, Alejandra, not vacation!” Lula flips her curls in Alex’s face and sucks her teeth. “And I like the sound of the word is all. So, if you can’t get out of a conversation just shout pamplemousse, and we’ll come and save you. Promise.”
“Promise,” Alex echoes.
“I said I was going,” I say, exasperated with them.
“Wait, aren’t you changing into your after-party dress? I spent weeks combing through thrift stores for both of these,” Lula says, because of course that’s what she’d be worried about.
“She knows,” Alex mutters. “We all know your sinmago power is finding a bargain.”
It’s customary to have a wardrobe change after the ritual summoning, since there’s usually blood spatter from the animal sacrifice. I look at the brownish Texas-shaped stain on the pink fabric of my dress. If I asked a creature to give its life for the security of my power, then I’m going to wear my actions right on my sleeve. Or my skirt.
It’s just one night, I tell myself. You can do this for just one night. For your mom because she spent so much time and effort on this party. I would do anything for her. Once when my mom made herself sick after healing an older bruja and pulling a ten-hour receptionist shift on the same day, I asked her why she stretched herself so thin and didn’t ask for help in return. She said, “Our community needs me. Besides, I have you three. That’s all the help I need.” After everything my mom has been through, after all she’s given of herself, she needs me there. Suddenly, I feel terrible for hiding.
“Let’s go,” I say. “But I’m not dancing.”
We sit in silence for a moment longer, arms linked like a chain, listening to the joyous cacophony outside.
Then, Lula reaches for my wilting flower crown. “Can I fix your hair though?”
“Oh my gods, Lula, leave her be!” Alex lightly slaps the back of Lula’s head, and Lula returns it.
“I’m just saying. These flowers were supposed to last a whole day, and there’s a certain shape-shifter Rose has a crush on who’s here tonight.” Lula smirks.
“Nope. He’s probably a hundred.” Alex frowns. “I disapprove.”
I try to get out of the pantry just to get away from this conversation and to hide how hot my cheeks are. They follow in a fit of giggles at my expense. We spill out of the pantry and into the kitchen, three brujas ready to own the night.
Excerpted from Wayward Witch, copyright © 2020 by Zoraida Córdova