I throw out the remaining pizza crusts and wash the few dishes I have. Then I dust. Then I vacuum and wash the blinds. Finally, I brave cleaning the bathroom and tackle the floor-drobe monster growing in the corner of my room.
I’m too wired to sleep. Definitely shaken and much too awake to watch mindless television, which is a damn tragedy.
I can do magic. I am magic. Elation and pant shitting terror race after each other through my veins and do the conga up my spine.
I’m a witch. Fully and finally.
Holy shit. I am a witch and I have no fucking clue what to do.
Growing up I’d become a close bedfellow with jealousy, watching my cousins discover magic, learn to shape it with spells for their endless entertainment, and garner acceptance from the family and witch community at large. Even in the beginning it looked effortless to me. They had that way about them that children do, giggling and twisting around, reaching for ideas and opportunities easy as pie. I never noticed their familiar additions, too busy caught up with the green-eyed monster slathering over their abilities. They did live on a farm, though, so it’s not like an extra animal or two were newsworthy.
And I get stuck with a pissy werewolf, who is now stomping his way home.
Somewhere, someone in charge of pulling the strings is laughing their ass off at me. I wish that feeling was not as familiar as it is.
Heh. Familiar. See what I did, there?
Midnight rolls around and I force myself into bed. I have an early shift in the morning at the diner with my boss, Wanda. There is never any skipping unless deathly ill, because Wanda will send one of her five kids round to check. I found that out the hard way.
The red numbers on the digital clock mock me from across the room. I turn on my side and tuck my hands up under my pillow.
I pull them back out and hold my hands above me. I wiggle my fingers.
“I have magic.”
I turn on my other side and sigh into the comforter.
I’m just about to drift off when someone starts pounding on my door. I shimmy into some shorts and grab my bat along the way. I sneak up on the door and peer through the peephole on the door. The image is distorted and blurry.
“Open up, I know you’re in there,” Rafe growls.
“You said you never wanted to see me again,” I remind him, hand hesitating on the door.
“I don’t, but I can’t get past the end of the block without throwing up my insides and wanting to die and now it’s raining.” He pauses. “Open the damn door. Your neighbor is going for a shotgun.”
I unlock the deadbolt. Mom always said I’d let an ax murderer in if they asked nicely enough. My death will then surely come as no surprise.
“Mr. Tubbs has Alzheimer’s and cataracts, so even if he remembers where the shells are he can’t see well enough to hit anything vital.”
“You need to figure out how to take this damn spell off me,” Rafe says, ignoring that. He is pretty soaked. He shrugs out of his jacket and looks around, frowning. He spots my glorified coat rack (read: single nail, crooked) and flicks my jacket onto the floor and hangs his up instead. “I felt like my insides were trying to eat themselves. Doesn’t matter which route I take, I can’t get farther than a block, so undo this. Right now.”
“Dude, I don’t even know what I did to make you happen.” I gesture at him. “All I wanted was pizza.”
“Then look it up in a book or call someone else, just find a way to get me back to normal. I want to go home.”
“I thought I was a dud before tonight. What, do you think I can just snap my fingers and reverse it?”
Rafe advances on me, eyes and mouth puckered like an angry butt hole.
“You’re going to damn well try,” he says, and there’s a bit of fang glinting behind his lips.
I throw my hands in the air.
“You know what? Fine. Fine. Get your ass back in the circle and I’ll do my best. If I blow up the entire fucking block, I will come back as a pasty white ghost and tell everyone you made me do it.”
Spoiler: I did not blow the block up.
Medium spoiler: just my crappy ass TV.
Mini spoiler: I could not de-familiarize Rafe. My mother was right, shocker.
Rafe wakes up at five to go with me to the diner. Our eyes are blood shot. I feel like death, he looks it.
Wanda raises her tattooed eyebrow at us when we stumble through the doors.
“Gave him a ride,” I yawn and make my way back to the kitchen more by feel than sight.
“What happened to that fancy rig of yours, hm?” Wanda asks Rafe.
“It’s, um.” Rafe blinks, expression panicky and blank.
“In the shop. Idiot ran into a ditch.”
Rafe glares at me. I smile back, just refraining from flipping him off.
Serves him right, the fucker.
“Well, ain’t that a thing.”
The morning shift passes by in a haze of hot coffee, greasy fingers, and shooting pains that travel up my calves and thighs and right to my spine. I need new shoes, but that’s not happening for another couple months with my budget.
Rafe lurks at his usual table, nursing coffee, picking at plain eggs and toast. He pulls his phone out and starts working on it, just like usual. I’m too tired to even contemplate what he’s doing. Maybe hiring a hit man to take me out, remove the bond. That seems to fit with his general personality.
Rafe glares my way like he can read my mind.
Shit, can werewolves read minds? If so, that is just wildly unfair.
My shift ends just after the lunch rush. I gather my purse and pull a sweater over my ketchup smeared blouse. Looks like another laundry night, courtesy of a couple brats in Barbie shirts getting enthusiastic with the condiment packets.
Rafe stows his shit, follows me out, and opens his mouth. I hold up a hand.
“Just don’t right now, okay? I need a shower and I need some macaroni, and then we will go see someone who might have some insight.”
To my surprise Rafe actually listens. He says nothing on the way back to my apartment. I consider that a definite win.
He’s still on his quiet streak when I’m done and we are back in my crappy car and heading across town. Rafe’s face does this expression, all wrinkled forehead and squinty eyes, when we roll up on Fontaine Boulevard, and then The Mystic Bar.
“Are you serious? This place attracts every wannabe freak and vampire groupie this side of Lawrence.”
“Where else in the podunk town do you expect to find any help on this kind of problem?”
“Uh, somewhere with sober people? Or people who don’t take Twilight and True Blood as valid life choices?”
“Hey, show some respect. These are good people that might have an answer to our problem. Don’t piss them off.”
Okay, so I may have been laying that on kind of thick, but attitude would get us nowhere with these people, especially Big Ma.
The inside of the Mystic looks like most other bars. There’s dim light, flashing neon, tables that haven’t seen a good wash since the Reagan administration, and shitty beer on tap. Unlike most other bars the signs of witchcraft are, literally, all over the walls. Runes, symbols, bindings, protection, cockroach repellent, everything pertinent to keeping the bar a safe haven for the clientele, plus an everlasting lemon fresh scent.
At this time of day patrons are just starting to filter in from work. The Foaley Brothers are setting up sound equipment for the night’s entertainment. Earl, a big guy with tattoos and piercings out the wazoo, lines up glasses and pulls liquor for the shift. Big Ma herself sits behind the bar, a frumpy old barn owl perched above her head, and dishes up her signature Hawaiian Carousels, guaranteed to give you a spin you’ll never forget. She only makes fifty at the opening of the night, so it draws big crowds fighting to get one before they’re gone.
I feel stupid, now, realizing that the owl is her familiar. To be fair, I’ve only met her a few times at the Witchery Support Group. I just thought she rode in on the Harry Potter craze and decided to keep the image.
“You an early bird, child.”
Big Ma lives up to her name. She’s a good four hundred pounds, stands about 5’10, and dresses in colorful muumuus and flip flops. She claims she grew up in Hawaii and never quite shook the island style, but she talks like deep south and has an attitude to match.
“Well, I have a bit of a problem, I was wondering if you might could help.”
Big Ma glances up and down at Rafe.
“That is the opposite of a problem, unless he bein’ an asshole. If he ain’t, hell, take him for a spin or two. Problem should resolve itself.”
I grimace. Rafe let out a noise somewhere in the neighborhood of a growl and a choke. He choked on a growl. Oh man, I wished I had the stones to turn and see his face.
Claws. He has claws and teeth and temper, remember that, Magatha.
“Um, no, that’s- That’s not the kind of problem we have. See, I was practicing some spell work last night.”
I lay out everything that happened, in excruciating detail. When I’m done, Rafe adds his bit, albeit with a snappy tone and glowing eyes. Big Ma continues to line up Hawaiian Carousels, nodding along.
“Well, what’cha mama said is true. When a witch comes into her powers you get a familiar. That’s how I came by Duncan.”
Big Ma tosses up a bit of thin, seared meat. Duncan snaps it out of the air with a disgruntled hoot.
“Witches need their familiars to survive magic. Ain’t no way around it. As to how they get chosen for one another, I can’t help you there. I ain’t a bloodliner, I’m a freestyle.”
My shoulders slump.
“Oh, well, that sucks then.”
“Does someone want to explain for those of us not in the same class?” Rafe grunts.
“There are two types of witches, bloodliners like me, and freestyles like Big Ma. Magic runs in my family line, hence the name, but you can choose to become a witch, it just takes a lot of study, perseverance, and some hidden talent. Some people call that freestyle.”
Rafe wrinkles his entire forehead.
“Why would anyone choose to become a witch in the first place?”
He looks at me, and I wouldn’t quite call it mind reading, but I have a good idea of what he is thinking. The supernatural community tends to view us as fairy tale villains thanks to assholes like the Brother’s Grimm and religious misinformation. It’s a hard rep to shake, although good old Mrs. Rowling has done her part to turn the tide.
Rafe sees me as a stupid child playing with fire and destined for green skin and Wicked Witch of the West notoriety.
I’m kind of flattered about the last bit.
“I worked in retail for twelve years,” says Big Ma.
That pulls Rafe up short.
Big Ma levels Rafe with such a look of unimpressment to retort against his sneery, snooty, whole thing going on with his face.
“Twelve years of dealing with that was enough for me. I could have become a mass murderer, but hexes are cleaner. You work a year of two in retail, you’ll see.”
Rafe mutters something under his breath. I ignore him.
“So there’s no way you know of to sever this tie we have? None at all?”
“No, child, not that I’m aware. I’ve been plenty satisfied with Duncan’s service, never saw the need to trade in.”
I slump down in my seat at the bar. Well, shit. I don’t have to look at Rafe to know he was about to blow a gasket. Secretly, deep down, I still feel kind of in awe and excited about all of this. But then I look at Rafe and, well. I get why he’s angry. Hell, I would be, too, because this is probably the closest to slavery that you can get, now that I think about the implications. My stomach squirms and I ball my hands up, almost like I can hide the guilty digits that started messing with the spell casting.
Rafe glances my way. I have a moment of terror- please, do not let this mind reading stuff go both ways- and then Big Ma pulls a pen out of her muumuu pocket.
“Tell you what. There might be somebody who can help you. You buy the first two Carousels and I’ll give you an address.”
“How about you just hand over the address and screw the drinks?”
Rafe pushes up to the bar, eyes glowing intense and claws coming out of his fingers. In a blink he is laid out on the floor, a giant red mark across his face like he was bitch slapped.
“Whoa,” I say. “You have gotta show me how you did that.” That would come in so handy for the assholes that try and cop a feel when I make coffee rounds.
“I’m a business woman, hot shot. Ain’t nobody gettin’ anywhere for free.”
I toss a wad of bills from my tips on the counter.
“Thank you, Big Ma.”
I drink one down in one gulp. Fiery sweetness claws down my throat like a citrus-y demon in a lei. I shiver and sputter, but it stays down.
The room spins around a couple times. Yee haw.
“Go on, drink up,” Big Ma pushes the other glass towards Rafe, challenge clear.
Rafe looks like he’d rather peel her face off.
I put my hand on his arm, well aware I could probably lose it.
“Come on, just drink. It’s pretty good.”
To my unending surprise, Rafe does just that. He swallows it better than I did, doesn’t even flinch. Then he slams the glass down on the bar and his lips purse into a thin line.
“Wonderful mix,” I say.
Rafe gives a curt, reluctant nod.
Big Ma beams.
“Thank you. His name is Deathwatch Owens, he lives out in the middle of nowhere at the end of Route 9.”
“Deathwatch Owens? Why is he called that?”
“With a name like that, you think I’m gonna ask questions?”
Well, okay, I can concede to that point.
“Anyway, he likes to keep to himself, lives off the grid, so he don’t have no phone or anything like that. He’s a bit kooky in the head,” Big Ma twirls her finger next to her ear. “But he been around a while, he knows magic.”
She writes down directions on a cocktail napkin and slides it over. Yay, I think, dour. Road trip with Mr. Grumpy-britches.
“Do you think he’ll take our visit without, uh, living up to his name?”
Big Ma shrugs.
“He likes oranges and chili dogs. Wouldn’t hurt to bring a peace offering.”
“Thank you so much, I- we really appreciate this.”
I elbow Rafe when he stays silent. He steps on my foot. I pinch his arm.
“Thank you,” he grates out.
I smile big and we leave past the first wave of customers that flood through the doors. When we reach the cracked sidewalk, Rafe whirls on me and points his finger right in my face.
“Don’t you ever poke at me again.”
“Try being a bit nicer, ass wipe. You were talking to a witch in there, on her own turf. She could have creamed you into kibble.”
Heh, dog joke. Oh man, so many possibilities, so little time.
“Let me see the address.”
He grabs the paper from my hand before I can say anything.
“I know how to get there,” he says. “It’s about five hours south.”
“Well, my car will never make it.”
The rusty junk heap barely manages the six blocks to and from the diner on a good day. I have to walk about half of the time thanks to faulty spark plugs, an old motor, bald tires, etc. It’s always something.
“Good thing I have my own. Come on, let’s go.”