Magic runs in my family in varying degrees just like heart disease, bad decisions, and craziness. Personally, I think the craziness is just a side effect of everything else, but my mother never agreed.
“It’s the curse of our blood,” she would say, head angled high so she could stare down her nose at the very thought that one of the four family traits was anything less than a full blown attribute to be prized.
Craziness settled into my mother at an early age. That’s my theory and it’s yet to be disproved.
Anyway, back to the magic. I’m a late bloomer with it. My cousins were casting spells by the time they were ten, making toads pop out of toasters, levitating buckets of water over unsuspecting victims, turning chocolate milk into something I’m not gonna name because that was just too fucking traumatic, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I tried to cast when I was their age. I gave myself headaches and nosebleeds for over a month one summer, fed up with the pranks and snide comments about my weak genetics. Nothing more came of it than a general wooziness and a sense of shame and anger that led me to my most epic display of crazy: throwing all of my cousins’ favorite clothes, diaries, and baseball memorabilia onto a bonfire. Then I glued all their porn stash materials to the outside of the house. If the bonfire incident taught me anything, other than the immense satisfaction of petty revenge, it was that I could take comfort in the fact I was probably not adopted, because crazy like that is something you tend to inherit.
Then I left. I caught the midnight bus to California, ran out of money by Kansas, and got a couple of jobs.
So here I am, a couple years down the road and legally an adult. I work at a shitty diner flipping burgers and refraining from poisoning the general populace. I still try to practice spells in my off hours, just on the chance a spark will catch, which is what brings us to Saturday night. I tried to do a spell and, well, it sort of worked.
Except now there’s an unconscious dude in my tiny cockroach castle because he appeared in a flash of blue smoke and I might have hit him over the head with a baseball bat. On closer inspection, the dude turns out to be Rafe Madison, semi-regular diner patron who never smiles and only orders his coffee bitter black with a side of plain eggs and toast.
“What the hell did you do to me?”
Rafe is still inside the pentagram I’ve drawn on the floor with glow in the dark paint, which was the best way to hide it from the landlord. Rafe sits up and rubs at the side of his head. There’s a nasty looking knot forming there.
“Um. Wow. It worked.” I stare down at my hands like an idiot, as if I could actually see the magic threading through my veins. I can’t. I don’t even particularly feel any different, which is a let down.
On the other hand, I finally got my magic, yo!
“What. Did. You. DO?”
Rafe wobbles to his feet and takes a step, only he comes up against the invisible barrier of the circle. He hits it with a closed fists and lets out an honest to God growl.
His eyes flash an alarming unnatural shade of yellow.
I pull the bat a little tighter to me.
“Okay, whoa. Time out. What the hell are you?”
Even as I say it Rafe’s fingers lengthen into claws and he swipes at the barrier. He bares his teeth, a couple of which are now rather pointy fangs, and between blinks he’s come to sport Wolverine-esque mutton chops.
“A werewolf? Seriously?”
Rafe lets out another throaty growl. The hair on my arms stands on end.
“Okay, first off, calm down, dude. This was not the regularly scheduled programming for tonight.”
“What have you-”
“I’m a witch. Apparently. You know, magic? Um, I so was not intending for any company, though. So. Sorry for interrupting your evening, I sincerely apologize.”
I try to smile. No harm no foul. Rafe’s face does an exaggerated impression of his usual scowl.
“Let me out of here,” he says.
He still has fangs and claws out.
“Yeah, no. You calm down first.”
Riley lets out a semi roar. I flinch back and hope like hell old Mr. Tubbs has taken his hearing aids out for the night.
“Okay Growly McGrowlerson, I think we could all benefit in this situation by calming down a little bit. Tea! Tea sounds great. I’m gonna go make some in the kitchen. Right now.”
I take the baseball bat and go to the kitchen. I close the door, calm and cool. Then I sit down on the floor and have a quiet freak out.
I haven’t talked with anyone in the family but my mother since I set the bonfire and left. She knows I’m in Kansas, but not the town, so I haven’t seen anyone since then. I may not have been able to perform magic, but I learned damn quick how to counteract spells. A couple pouches of graveyard dirt, cinnamon, and crushed cat bones (I know, I know, eew) replenished every month keeps me below the radar.
She’s the first one I call once the panic attack stops.
“Daughter,” she greets, like she’s some high fancy old blood British matriarch. Except Mom is Southern, so the drawl conflicts with that image.
“So, update, I can cast spells now,” I say, foregoing the regular social niceties, because there is still a definite edge of anxiety poking between my ribs, kind of like claws.
“I suppose congratulations are in order, then.”
“Um, yeah, thanks. I have a more pressing matter at hand, though. I cast a spell and now there’s a local werewolf trapped inside my circle. I gave him some chamomile but it’s not having the desired effects and I think he still wants to slash me up and wear my insides as a tiara.”
Rafe turns and glowers at me. Still, the tea cup is half empty. And he’s not roaring anymore, so small mercies.
A pained sigh comes over the line.
“At least it’s not a chimera. That happened to your aunt Charlotte.”
I scrunch my face up in thought.
“Are we talking aunt Charlotte in the psych ward because she can’t keep her clothes on or ancestor aunt Charlotte who was burned at the stake for trying to take over England with witchcraft?”
Oh, of course.
“Okay. Why is there a werewolf in my circle? I was not casting any kind of summoning. I tried to multiply my last slice of pizza so I wouldn’t have to go grocery shopping tomorrow.”
“A witch’s first spell always attracts a familiar to their side to help them with their magic,” Mom says. “It is a time honored tradition and mystical connection for a witch-“
“I don’t remember unexpected guys or girls popping into existence around Miles or Gwen.”
Mom sighs again. It’s always been her thing, and it grates like sandpaper.
“That’s because Miles got an iguana and Gwen got a lazy barn cat. The shape of the familiar directly correlates to the power and path a person’s magic is going to take them.” Mom pauses for a moment. “Looks like you still don’t do anything by halves.”
“Yeah, no, I’m still me,” I say, because I really have nothing else to add to that.
“Let the poor thing out of the circle, Magatha. What’s done is done. Now it’s up to both of you to figure out how to work together.”
“He’s gonna eat me as soon as I do that.”
“He is sitting right here and can hear every word you say,” Rafe grits out. It’s lispy going through his fangs, which would be kind of funny if circumstances were non-panic inducing.
“He’s not going to eat you,” Mom scoffs.
“Right, because you’re a thousand miles away and not in the same room as Cujo.” I blow out a breath and close my eyes. “So, what do I do after I let him out?”
“You could spring for an apology steak, rare. That might go a long way.”
“I was trying to multiply pizza, Mom. That should tell you something about my funds, specifically lack of. Anyway, how do I un-familiarize him?”
Mom laughs. I really hate it when she does that. She only laughs with that certain lilt when something is at my expense.
“There’s no severing the witch-familiar bond, Magatha.” I can picture Mom rolling her eyes and still looking smug. “You two are stuck together. So I suggest you treat it like any other relationship. Just remember, it’s all trial and error.”
She’s still laughing when she hangs up.
Rafe and I look at each other in silence. Honest to God crickets start chirping outside the window.
“All right. I’m gonna let you out of the circle, okay? Do I have your word you’re not gonna shishkabob me?”
“I swear,” he says through his teeth.
I eyeball him for a minute, because that is the least sincere sounding promise I’ve ever heard, and I’ve made a few. I can’t fault the guy, though. I’d be pretty pissed if I was snatched from my evening routine, too.
Thank god he wasn’t masturbating at the time. That would have been awkward.
“Sorry about the head, by the way,” I say in a rush. I do not need those kinds of thoughts right now. “Like I said, I was hoping for an extra pizza. Not a were.”
Rafe says nothing while I go around deactivating the circle. Once the last bit is undone I step back and watch. The bat is still within reach, but it seems a little rude to pick it up after apologizing for the bump on his head.
Rafe takes a cautious step over the barrier, then relaxes a fraction and steps out all the way.
“You,” he points with a still clawed finger. “Stay the hell away from me.”
Rafe stomps out of the front door, letting it slam closed behind him. There’s an annoyed shout from Mr. Tubbs- “Damn fool hooligans!” – and then silence.
Gripe, the fat, old, one-eyed tabby that came with my apartment, slinks out from under the sagging sofa and sits beside my bat. Gripe takes in the entire scene, nonchalant, and starts licking his paw.
“You are an asshole,” I tell Gripe. “Abandoning me when the world goes crazy. Why couldn’t you have been my familiar? You two have the same personality, right down to the claws.”
Gripe does not give a shit, but that’s the way it goes with cats.