Humans are fickle, fragile, yet thriving creatures. They change their minds and break promises freely, most without thinking twice of consequence. They love wholeheartedly or deceive expertly and claim that they can be one in the same. They have a will ultimately unshakable, yet inevitably puncturable by the smallest insignificant needles. They are so weak, yet so very strong. And I envy them.
“Another round of coffee, miss,” the waitress asks as she sashays by my table once again with the pot in hand. She’s easily twenty-four, give or take two years with bags handing under her eyes and her dirty blonde hair twisted up with a pencil. She smells of cigarettes and coffee grinds from working long hours at this diner.
“Thanks, Linda,” I say, genuinely grateful for her kindness as she pours hot coffee into the mug in front of me. There’s a detailed dragonfly tattooed on her wrist with her daughter’s name beside it, Myra. “Is there anything else I can get for you today?”
“That delicious wild berry pie sounds heavenly right now,” I say with a smile.
“I’ll go grab you one, on the house,” she says with a bright smile before walking off. I pour some creamer and sugar into my mug then give a gesture with my finger, making the spoon stir slowly without the slightest touch.
After being sent away from the orphanage, I found myself struggling to make a living until I fell deeply into my craft. I’d always known what I was and who I was going to be. I’d known that magic ran through my veins and drove my existence. But, beyond that, life had no meaning. There was no purpose in my existence.
“Sorry,” Linda apologizes sullenly when she returns. I quickly grab the spoon to stop it before she notices. “He says they’d neglected to bring our shipment… Maybe better luck next time?”
“That’s quite all right,” I assure her as I set my coffee down. I dig money out of my bag and hand it to her, paying for the coffee with a generous tip. She seems surprised as she stares at it but doesn’t speak against it as I get out of the booth, all the while putting my things back into my bag.
“Same time next week,” she suggests.
“Yeah, I’ll be back,” I tell her with a smirk. “Can’t deprive myself of your highly caffeinated coffee for too long nowadays. My life officially depends on it.”
She giggles a bit, the sound like gentle chimes. “I’ll make sure we’ve got that wild berry pie ready for you when you come,” she tells me. “Have a great night.”
After leaving the diner at the edge of town, I start walking back in the growing darkness that has engulfed us. I can hear the blissful sounds of the night and feel the crisp air against my skin. I’d normally find this comforting, except its unsettling. Something doesn’t feel right this time.
Sliding a hand into my pocket, I strain to hear past the breeze in the trees and the sounds of water dripping. The hex bag my hand takes hold of in my pocket begins to grow warm, and I search the dark for the threat I feel in my bones. This is hardly the first time I’ve been feeling this way, the sickening sensation in my stomach that anticipates someone aiming for my demise or capture. The sickness in my throat that senses someone stalking me in the shadows. It’s a feeling I’ve learned to recognize.
A low growling grabs my attention, making my senses go into high alert as I keep my pace and heartbeat as steady as possible. I know that, if I hesitate or show any sign of fear, I’m already dead. If it’s a mangy stray, I note as I slide past a lethal hex to a simple flash bomb, I’ve got the advantage.
For a while, I walk with this creature following me. I can feel it lurking in the shadows, just out of my sight. I whistle the melody from Twisted Nerve and Kill Bill to keep my breathing even.
For all it’s worth, I must maintain my secret at all costs. If it’s a thug, I’ll expose myself. I have to watch what card I play.
The hairs on the back of my neck straighten as a chill run downs my spine. I can sense it coming.
When the beast lunges at me, I duck and roll away just in time to avoid the jaws that were aimed at my throat. The pavement grates my exposed skin as I roll across the sidewalk clumsily, my elbows and knees taking the sudden roll harder than expected. I grunt in momentary pain, then spin to face it as I glares at me. And I’m surprised when I see it is hardly just a dog.
I see large, sharp teeth bared. I see blood dripping from its jaws and a piece of fabric in its claws. The luminescent green eyes startle me at first until I note its size. He’s easily the size of a lion, or maybe even a small bear. And he’s pissed.
When the wolf realizes what I’ve done, he whirls back around and displays his teeth at me as I put increasingly more energy into the hex bag to prepare to invoke it -hoping against all hope it will at least stun him long enough for me to get away. He snarls lowly at me again, this time threatening to spring at me once more. His snarl sounds something more like an angry bear with a toad in its throat or a demon and banshee’s bastard child -take a pick.
I can’t move fast enough this time however. It moves faster than the last time, pinning me to the ground and biting my shoulder as it does.
Fire rushes my body, fueling me to fight. Fueling me to survive.
I scream out through the agony as the fire ignites in my lungs, but I react quickly by slashing its chest with the athame I usually tuck into my belt. It yelps in pain and lets me go, jumping back from me as I try to get to my feet. The adrenaline manages to keep me going, but the pain in my shoulder is burning down my arm and up my neck as I try to cast.
“Leave me alone,” I shout as I threw a spell with my hand, sending the wolf flying back several yards from me. I start running immediately, heading into the alleyway, and jumping into the first dumpster I see. Fear courses through me as I try to control my breathing and make sure it can’t hear me. I can only pray it doesn’t hear my panicked heart.
I hold the hex bag close, pushing as much energy as I can muster into it despite the pain and steady loss of blood. I glance down at my shoulder, seeing the gaping holes and gashes from the bite. It’s bleeding and the longer I look, the more I feel like I might pass out.
But, before I can breathe easy, I need to find out if I’m safe. I can’t leave. And I certainly can’t stay here for long.
After I hear a distant howl, I finally release the breath I’d been holding and let myself relax. For whatever reason or another, I feel like I had barely skimmed by with my life.
Taking a sharp breath, I manage to crawl out of the dumpster back into the alley. I cover my shoulder and hug it close as I walk back onto the street, checking both ways before stepping out. Whatever had attacked me is long gone, thankfully; but I can’t ignore the burning pain that’s racing through my body. My throat runs dry like I’ve been without water in a desert for months. My body begins to ache as if a flu were invading.
Rolling my neck, I ignore it as I straighten my clothes. “A salve sounds good right now,” I whisper to myself as I start on my way home. I don’t lower my guard, but I do breathe a bit easier knowing I managed to squeak by once again. Also one step on death’s welcome mat, toeing the line every day more and more.
After walking the three blocks in the dark, I get to Runes and Ashes. To the average witch, this is like the go-to grocery for all herbs, spells, and supplies a witch could need. But, for the humans, it’s a trinket or hoax shop that’s more for laughs than anything -a joke, if you will. The rare few come in to try to get the real deal, but those who do never breathe a word after a mind blanking spell and being sent on their way.
I’d scrounged up money and bought an old bookstore from some old lady that had no will nor family to pass it to, a nice woman that thought I was her best friend Sarah from high school in her final days. For the most part, I made lotions and balms that humans flocked to get because its organic and whatnot, an easy sell but a wonderful use of what I can do. But, for the real witches, there’s more than that within the store. There’re herbs from around the globe that can’t otherwise be obtained or even cultivated. There’s vials and potions, some empty and some filled. There’s books and resources here that they’d never be able to use otherwise. This is a safe place for a witch to practice and learn. A haven for others like me to practice in peace.
I make sure to adjust the jacket I’ve been wearin, and cover up the bite mark as I enter, the bell above the door chiming lightly. Zara greets me with a chipper voice that always manages to brighten my mood, her light brown eyes matching her smooth skin. “Nice of you to come back,” she says with a laugh as she comes around the counter. “I had to cancel your séance because I didn’t know when you were coming back…”
“I’m so sorry,” I tell her as I hide my pain from her. I can feel the sweat beading at my forehead and my skin running cold. “Did it get to busy while I was gone?”
“No,” Zara admits. “Just two ladies that came in looking for a curse to kill the man that was playing them. I told them we don’t allow that here and sent them away, just as you would. I probably should’ve sent them to a therapist though.”
“Thanks,” I say appreciatively, offering a gentle smile.
“Although,” she carries on as she follows in my shadow as I go up the winding stairs, “I don’t get why it’s so important. I mean, this is just a tourist attraction that works off the fact people crave magic. Magic that doesn’t exist. And it always baffles me how obsessed some of these people are.”
I can’t help but wear the all-knowing smile that she can’t see. “I don’t want the publicity if it does come back around to us that we gave them a killing curse then someone dies. You know that.” Well, that’s partially the truth.
Dark magic is dirty, and evil. It takes sacrifice that can’t be avoided, taking the form of the witch’s sanity or the blood of another. Either way, it’s dirty business that I prefer to steer clear from as much as humanly possible.
“Zara, go home,” I tell her quietly as I pause just a few steps down from my apartment. She wants to argue, I see it flash through her eyes. But, I don’t let her get that far. “I’m tired,” I tell her as I give a smile. “And you need sleep too. Just go home, and I’ll see you tomorrow. All right? I’ll scramble up something for breakfast too.”
“You are a pretty great cook,” Zara says as she gives me a smile. “Fine, but make sure you look over those ship orders. I can’t make sense of them otherwise I’d handle it but… Whatever, I’m going.” She yawns a bit then heads down the stairs. “Good night, Rheanna.”
“Night, Zara,” I say in return as I unlock the door and head inside. I know that Zara will lock down the shop and all when she goes, so I ease at knowing I’m in my domain once more. My safe place where I can be myself entirely.
I strip off the jacket and toss it into the sink, knowing I’ll have to clean the blood off before I can wash it. I look down at my shoulder, the throbbing pain growing now that the adrenaline has calmed. I almost tear my tank-top off in order to reveal the wound. I mutter a curse as I grab a premade salve near my sink, uncorking it to put some of it on my wounds. As soon as it touches, a wave of electricity surges for a second before it calms and cools to soothe the aching pain. I breathe a sigh of relief as I lean against the counter, letting the salve work at cooling the fiery pain that threatens to consume me.
A few minutes pass and I finally move away from the counter to take a seat at the table where my laptop has been waiting. I open it carefully and power it on as I eye the wounds carefully, seeing that the blood has stopped flowing. For now.
I grab a notepad and jot down to make more, sticking the note to the side of the bottle as I feel the pain start again. I try to ignore it, but it only grows as I try to stay upright, ripples and waves encroaching my vision to make it blue. It’s a pain I’ve never felt before that consumes me as I cry out in agony. I fall over onto the floor, the fire returning as it threatens to engulf me. It’s a pain that isn’t normal.
My vision shakes and the room spins. I reach across the table and grab my tiger’s tooth necklace, clutching it in hand as I try to push off this hellish pain. But I can’t fight it. I roll over on the floor and stare at the ceiling as I try to catch my breath, watching the ceiling spin. My vision fades in and out, and I can’t move. I can’t even speak. I want to try to dispel it with magic or another means, but I can’t. I simply can’t.
But the last thing I hear before the dark consumes me, is the howling of the beast that lulls me into a painfilled darkness that I can’t escape.
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