Beautiful Mask

witch, magic

By far the weirdest hallway in the Boarding House for Unusual Witches was the Hall of the Famous. The long hall connected the dormitory and living spaces to the classrooms. Oil paintings of past headmistresses hung on the walls. Busts of famous alumni lined the edges of the red carpet runner. My first day there I knew I’d be among them. I just didn’t know that it would be like this.

I make a face as the sculptor shapes my nose. He sighs again. “Please, keep still.”

It was ridiculous really. I didn’t do anything bust-worthy.

I’d time traveled. Dangerous. I shouldn’t have done it, but I was successful. I saved the library of the boarding school from burning down. Let me clarify, I overheard the plot to burn the library because I had slipped out of bed after hours. I ignored it, thought it was a joke. When the library went up in flames, I broke into the headmistress’s office, shrunk the Wheel of Time (a highly important magical object), stole it, used it to go back in time, and stopped the girl who set the fire by beating her up instead of telling on her.

Yet, seventeen-year-old me gets to stand there having a bust made of my face while the other girl loses her powers. I purse my lips. The sculptor stands up. “I think we need a break.”

If the school wasn’t paying him so much, he would’ve quit.

As the sculptor washes his hands in the art room sink, I step out into the corridor. The girl, Angela, is in the headmistress’s office receiving the enchantments that will suppress her powers. The corridor is empty. Casting an invisibility spell over myself, I hurry to the headmistress’s office up in the West Tower.

The door is sealed. I feel the magic as I reach for the doorknob. I mutter an unlocking spell in vain. The headmistress has doubled security since my break-in. I close my eyes and reach out through the door to Angela’s mind. “Angela, I’m here to save you.” I repeat it over and over.

Then a faint voice whispers back in my head, “How? It’s too late. The headmistress has already started.”

“Help me unlock the door.”

“I don’t have much magic.”

“Just help.” I try the unlocking spell again and I feel the spells falling away. The door swings open.

The headmistress stops mid-spell. “What’s going on here?”

I step into the room. “Angela’s only seventeen. You can’t take her magic away.”

“She almost committed a federal offense. That library contains original books that don’t have copies.”
“I committed multiple offenses: breaking and entering, burglary, meddling with time, assault. Do the ends really justify the means?”
The headmistress smooths her emerald robes. Her mismatched eyes (one blue, one brown) narrow. “Would you like your powers bound as well?”
“I think that Angela should be given a warning, ma’am. I’m sure this has scared her straight.”
“Ends never justify the means, but intention is always important. As courageous and stupid as it was for you to argue on Angela’s behalf, my decision is final. Leave before I have you removed.”
Angela’s pale face and wide eyes try to convince me to stay, but I’m selfish. I didn’t save the library for the sake of knowledge, I saved it because I’d hidden a family heirloom in there hoping that someone would find it. Eventually someone will possess that dangerous crystal. I leave Angela to her fate.
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A Vampire’s Eternity

Sam stood in a capsule like room with three doors; she had to choose where she’d live for all of eternity. She was lucky really, a vampire with the ability to adapt. Most vampires picked the city bustling with humans and parties. Sam loved the lights and the towering buildings. She loved the excitement.

But she also liked the country: the open space, grass rolling for miles, the humidity filling her car as she drove through the countryside with the windows down. But it was boring. Not enough people. Plus, she couldn’t walk down the street and hold her girlfriend’s hand. Sure, they might get looks and snide comments anywhere, but in the country, a whole small town could snub you. Sam wondered where her girlfriend had chosen. Maybe they should’ve talked about it before now.

Then there was the suburbs, not the nauseating 1950’s suburbs with the nosy moms and the bubblegum pop songs. These suburbs were green lawns, lines of trees, ranch houses filled with modern families and couples. Sometimes the neighborhoods had block parties. Sam liked the idea of having a backyard and still being close to stores and bars. It wasn’t the city, but it was something.

She reached for the door to the suburbs, white wood with a gold door knob. Then she noticed a fourth door behind her. It was grey with no handle. She pushed it in. The space beyond it was dark. She stepped inside. Lights flicked on by her feet, illuminating a path. She followed it to the end where a control panel sat. None of the buttons were labeled, so she pushed a random white rectangular one. A 360 degree screen lit up around her. A movie started playing, Sam’s sixteenth birthday party when she had almost kissed that guy. She pushed another button and another memory started playing. Half way through her college graduation memory, a notification popped up on the screen.

“Congratulations! You have chosen to live in your memories.”

The door back to the choosing room was sealed.

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Violations

school, dress code
Image from Pexels

The rules were written on the walls of the middle school in the cafeteria.

Shorts and skirts must be three inches above the knee, not shorter.

No bra straps showing.

No tank tops.

Standard regulation dress code rules written in blue letters across a yellow background, the school colors. I went to middle school here and was back as a substitute. The rules weren’t unreasonable. Middle schools always have the strictest dress codes.

I watched the hallway as students scuttled into the English class that I was teaching. The preppy, polo-wearing choir kids got to class early. The band kids came late. It was standard.

It was May. Everyone passed notes. Everyone wanted to be done. The sunlight streaming through the window by my desk made my eyes tired. I played the Shakespeare movie like I was supposed to and closed the blinds. It didn’t help.

A girl came in late. Her neon yellow bra strap slipped out from under her t-shirt sleeve. I motioned for her to pull it up as she took her seat. As soon as she moved it, it slid again, a tightening issue. I waved her to my desk and wrote out a dress code violation slip.

Ms. ____________________

Time and Date:

Violation:

I set the slip on the corner of my desk. “Fix your strap, please.”

She stared at the piece of paper. “I’m sorry. I’m trying.”

She didn’t seem like a troublemaker. Maybe I should’ve let it go. I handed her a restroom pass. “Try adjusting the strap length.”

Red faced, the girl hurried to the bathroom. When she returned, the strap was where it belonged, hidden.

We paused the movie after Petruchio tamed Kate. I flicked the lights on. “Your teacher will be back next class and you will finish the movie. Your final is on Monday.”

As the kids rushed to the bus, a male teacher stopped the girl from earlier. Her strap had peeked out again in her hurry to go home. He handed her a violation slip. I should’ve stepped in, fought for her. But the delinquent girl crumbled the paper in her hand and went out to the bus.

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Journal Entry From a Lady’s Maid

Lady Cora's Castle

*Warning: This story contains graphic images and Lady Cora has no relation Downton Abbey’s Cora Crawley*

I have worked for Lady Cora for ten years, but today I saw something dark. The lady is into mischief and witchcraft. It was not surprising to me to find parts of animals and vials of blood in her chambers. However, when I went to change the sheets today, I almost slipped on the crimson liquid. The floor looked as if it had been mopped with the stuff. Confused, I called out for Lady Cora to be sure of her well-being. There was no answer.

Proceeding forward, I stripped the empty bed. The sheets were dry and white despite the surrounding mess. Keeping the dirty sheets tucked under my arm, I put on the new ones. Then I grabbed the knife from the bedside drawer (she kept it there for ritual purposes) and went into the bathroom to reassure myself. The blood trails continued into the stone bathroom, where the mirror was cracked and the wooden tub appeared full. The beads around the knife blade rubbed against my hand, increasing my anxiety.

I had to get closer to see inside of the tub. Red water sloshed around in the tub. Something bobbed up and down. Two unfamiliar women lay face down in the water, their bodies split in half.

A voice came from behind me, “I don’t see a bed in here. Why do you have my knife?” Lady Cora grabbed the blade and wrenched it away, slicing her hand in the process.

“I’m so sorry, Ma’am. I wanted to make sure you weren’t hurt.” I don’t know how I spoke through the fear building in my throat.

Lady Cora, deep blue eyes flaming, ran her bloody hand over her green silk dress. Her raven black hair was piled perfectly on her head. If she killed these women, then it must’ve been sometime in the night.

Lady Cora put her hand on my shoulder. “Do not touch my things. Now go fetch the gardener. Tell him we’re planting today and to get his shovel out.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” I started fast for the door.

“And you remember the most important rule here?”

I stopped just beside the bed, taking comfort in being in a different room. “No question. No gossip.”

Lady Cora’s footsteps came up on me. I’d seen Lady Cora handle caged animals, but I’d never empathized with them until now. She stood where she could reach me if she wanted to. “That’s two rules.”

I held my breath, dread filling my heart. Every muscle twitched, waiting for her to grab me and use the knife. Lady Cora was known for cutting servants with or without reason. The only solace (if it could be called that) was her mercy. She never killed servants.

She laughed a little. “You may go.”

It doesn’t take long for lady’s maids to understand that laughter is not a cause for relief. I left her chambers in utter fear, shaking so hard I almost tripped over the sheets. I thought to ask someone for help. The seamstress may take pity on me, but anyone I tell, I endanger. People don’t take too kindly to that. And running means the dogs or the archers or the knights. So I write and I wait.

Did you like this story? Leave a comment or continue reading. The next story is about a woman named Andrea who believes she is a witch held captive because of her dark powers.  http://www.wedbushwrite.com/ancient-dark/

Snow White Ash

The kingdom of Ether hadn’t had snow in over a hundred years. They’d been transitioning between spring and summer, all warm weather all the time. King Handel had been content with this, until his little girl, Princess Syrina, said something. “Daddy, what’s snow?”

They’d been eating breakfast, and she’d had a book on her lap under the table. She was always studying something she wasn’t supposed to be. This time she’d found a book about a kingdom far away, a place perpetually cold and snowy. Her father took the book away. “Shouldn’t you be reading about the history of Ether?”

“But it’s so boring. I want to know about other places. Why doesn’t it snow here?”

“Before you were born, it snowed every year.” King Handel didn’t know why it had stopped. No one did.

Princess Syrina stared out the window at the cheery, blue sky. “Can we make it snow? Is it supposed to snow?”

“I’ll see what we can do.”

***

That night King Handel journeyed out of the castle to visit the most powerful being in Ether. She’d existed long before humans, maybe longer than the elves. She was the Balancer and it was her job to ensure the balance of nature. King Handel had come to her before, so she was not surprised when he came to her again at her cave in the mountains. He bent his knee for her. “Ether has only had summer and spring for the past eight years. We need winter and fall.”

The Balancer stayed in the shadows, but her white and black dragons slid forward. “If you needed it, then I would’ve already stepped in.”

“My daughter wants snow.”

“I’m not changing the weather based on the whims of a child.”

“What if I can make you an offer? I can give you anything you want.”

“I don’t want anything.” The Balancer and her dragons began to retreat back into their cave.

“I can give you fifty souls within the next twenty years.” King Handel could send troops to fight in a foreign war. He could promise them riches. Everyone would jump at the chance. Fifty men wouldn’t be a detrimental loss.

The Balancer hesitated. “I don’t want the souls of fifty soldiers. I want ten soldiers, ten women, ten elves, ten dragons, and ten children within the year.”

King Handel had paid a steeper price before. They shook on it.

***

Long story short, King Handel sent ten soldiers to capture and kill ten elves. They succeeded, but the celebration was short. King Handel poisoned the celebratory wine. Then he sent a trusted servant to steal ten dragons eggs from an old palace at the far reaches of Ether. The hardest was the women and children, which he rounded up and burned alive for “treason.” They didn’t scream. Snow mixed in with their ashes, all falling from the sky, bringing Princess Syrina her first snow.

Anecdote: Church Hymns

Church hymns, the organ specifically, drew me to St. Paul’s. I’m not a religious person, but most people say that, don’t they?

The soft voices sung something that blended into the music, words lost in pitch. My fingers wrapped around the cold brass handle. I opened the heavy, wood doors. Warm light filled the foyer. The ushers smiled and allowed me to pass. Most of the pews were empty. I dipped two fingers into the huge, gold basin of holy water at the back and made the sign of the cross. I was raised Catholic, but that was the first time I’d entered a church in ten years.

I chose one of the back pews. The priests didn’t seem to notice. The choir stopped. The lead priest went on with his sermon. “Jesus is the way to God. Jesus is God.”

The sparse parish recited something, mumbling. I mouthed random words. The parish stood. I stood late. The parish knelt. I knelt, waiting for the chorus to sing again. I didn’t have to wait long.

Soprano voices soared and tittered like birds. Altos and tenors carried the accessible notes, the ones the parish sung back. The bass held everything together, held me together. Music touches what sermons can’t reach, a deeper spirituality.

Nothing brought me into that church that day. Everyone I loved was alive. No one was sick. My life had no troubles. But I needed it. My soul lacked something. Those hymns pulled me up higher, made me stand taller, gave me a reserve of strength that I would need. They helped me a year later when I lost my grandma, the real Catholic in my family. She had almost become a nun. We were supposed to go to the theater together that summer. Plans change.

When the Stars Fall: Part One

Was it the dark undertones to the lullabies that made them so horrifying? Or was it the children’s refusal to listen? Whatever it was that year, the stars started falling from the sky. People thought there was an abundance of shooting stars. They thought nothing. Then they noticed the dark spots, bald patches void of stars. How were they to fix it?

People did what people do, panic. They left the mess for us to clean up. Fair folk always clean up. One night we tucked the world into bed. Not a single human woke. Then we set to work. We stole four human children: a baby, a toddler, a child, and one on the edge of womanhood. It’s women that always pay.

Do not accuse us of murder. We do not stand on trial. We do not listen to you. Without us, the world would be doomed. We offered the children to heaven, and heaven accepted. Their bodies rose to become stars. When the world woke, they did not remember. We’ve saved them hundreds of times and they never remember. It’s for the best.

***

I stand on trial accused of handing the above history to a mortal woman. I plead guilty. She deserved to know. Humans deserve to remember. We’ve never given them a chance.

The elders say I am wrong. They say that we gave humans many opportunities.

I say that we trust one. That she can make a difference.

They disagree. What makes her special?

She’s part fair folk.

***

Andromeda has been trusted. It is up to her not to screw this up. If she fails, the elders will sentence me to death. So be it. I am ready.

Play the Victim

The burning, itch in my throat intensified when I woke up. Cool air shocked my system. Light reflected off of everything, making colors ten times clearer. Vampire sight plus a hangover had landed me in bed for the weekend. But that meant no blood in over 48 hours. That meant starving.

I had thousands of options: drunk sorority girls, hot stay-at-home-moms, my snobby flatmate. Atlanta had no shortage of people.

I rolled out of bed and pulled on jeans. My purple flannel didn’t look too rumpled. Because the apartment was dark, I put my shoes on. Eating in wasn’t an option.

Dazed and walking into the setting sun, I ducked into a dim, eclectic bookstore. A combination of soft rock and indie hummed through the speakers. The smell of weed soaked into my shirt. It was easy to tell the potheads from the lone wolf types.

Picking out a familiar book, I settled in an arm chair across from a girl with long, dark hair piled on one side of her head. Gold earrings encircled her ears. Her white neck bent elegantly over her grimoire. She didn’t notice me. I glanced at her until she caught me. She shifted away.

I flipped through my book a few times. “Eastern mysticism or Western magic?”

She flashed the dark green cover at me. “Eastern. True magic.”

“How many of those spells have worked for you?”

“Enough.” The vein in her neck pulsed.

Time to get her home. “I won’t believe unless I see it.”

“If I showed you, then I’d have to kill you.” Her eyebrows twitched. Her eyes glanced around to check that no one was watching. Then the music stopped. People froze. We were outside of time.

“So magic is real.” My fangs poked out of my gums. Her face paled, but anger twisted her features. When I bit into her neck, the blood burned in my mouth.

“Why the hell would you mess with a witch?”

Anonymous Drowning

I was on my lunch break Wednesday afternoon when I received a call from a random number. It wasn’t the publishing company I had interviewed with. “Who is this?”

Slow violin music sang through the phone. I set my fork down in my salad. “Hello?”

A faucet turned on, and a voice breathed into the phone. “Please call for help.”

This is a prank. I should hang up.

The water stopped. The person climbed into the bathtub. “The water’s warm. It’s going to fill my lungs soon.”

“This isn’t funny.”

“No? You wouldn’t think dying is funny.”

“Do I know you?”

The voice wasn’t familiar. It sounded feminine but deep. “I’m already bleeding.”

Despite the cheerful, coffee shop music in the cafe, my body grew cold. “I’m going to hang up and call 911. Where do you live?”

“If you don’t call them soon, it’ll be too late.”

“Where do you live?”

“Thank you.” The line disconnected.

My hands shook as I set my phone down on the table. My appetite had disappeared. Am I obligated to do something? What would I tell the police? I had ten minutes left for lunch. Not enough time. I deleted the call from my history and told a friend about it later that night. She figured it was a prank. I agreed and switched my phone number the next day.

When the Lifeless Wake

The waxy faces of the lifeless stare up at me as I pass the rows of coffins. No one closes their eyes. No one cleans them. It’s someone’s job, but that person only moves the bodies now. Loved ones don’t visit. Not anymore.

It happened slowly, like everything of great importance. We celebrated the person’s life. Happy music played at funerals. Then people wore bright colors. People smiled. We filled the hole that person left with other things. We threw out their pictures. We threw parties. Then we avoided their bodies to make it easier to move on. Now the bodies rot below the funeral homes. It’s too time consuming to bury them. No one wants to smell them burn.

I’m their only visitor. I pray over them, newly deceased and the decayed. My nose hates me for it. I stare only at the name plates on the sides of the coffins. The eyes of the dead are cursed. If you look into them, death is all you’ll see.

I spend three hours weaving through the crypt. In the dim light, the names blur together. As I approach a short coffin, a rattling breath breaks the quiet. There’s movement. I force myself to look. The child is a whiter shade of pale, but she blinks. Her head lolls to the side. Her blue lips form words.

“Help! Help!” I look behind me for the funeral home director. He can’t hear me.

The girl’s hand grabs my wrist. “Jane,”

“She’s not dead. Call the doctor!”

“No. Please.” The girl tries to sit, but blood trickles from her mouth.

I wipe it away and scoop her up. Her skin is icy. Holding her close, I run for the funeral director. Prayers pour out of me. The funeral director backs away as I near. “Stay away.”

“She’s dying. She needs help.”

“Stay back!”

“How did she get down here? She’s still alive.”

The funeral director holds his battery-powered lantern closer. In the light, the girl is limp. Her chest is still. I feel no pulse. “I don’t understand.”

“Did you look?”

“But she was breathing.”

The funeral director starts to close the door.

“Wait!”

“The dead can’t pass.”

“I’m alive!”

“You’re lost.”

The door shuts and locks. They will never reopen it. They will store the dead elsewhere.

I sit beside the girl’s body and cradle her. She’s already stiff. My hands stroke her hair. Her eyes are empty. I close them. Eventually I’ll also sleep.

And it’s comforting to face mortality and to know the ending of your story. Everyone dies.