The two-story Victorian stood on the corner. Both lots beside it were empty. The sun burned bright overhead. There were no trees. And yet, it was still somehow bathed in constant flickering shadows. A black cat sat on the porch banister, eyes flickering back and forth in time with the twitch of its tail.
“You can do this,” Conner told himself as he carried the cardboard box up the cracked pavement to the front steps. A chill rolled through his spine, weakening his resolve as he crossed into the shadows.
He followed the instructions for the sign above the door and left both his gifts and a letter explaining his request beside the door. He almost knocked, but the cat hissed. He stumbled down the stairs, barely avoiding tripping over his own feet and ran back to his car.
He slammed his foot on the gas, tires screeching as he sped away, cursing himself with every obscenity he could muster.
Several hours later, he chuckled as he tucked himself into bed. The entire thing was a scam. Why would a real witch, if they even existed, grant wishes in exchange for random gifts left by strangers.
He turned off the lamp beside his bed and swore to himself this was the last time he would ever turn to Craig’s list for answers.
* * *
“Ms. Goodwillow, I read your ad and am hoping you can help me,” a woman said. “I’ve never even kissed a girl.”
Conner sat up in bed and turned his lamp back on. A young woman with burgundy hair sat in his desk chair. She held his letter in one hand and the box he’d left on her porch sat on the desk.
“What the heck?” Conner asked. “How did you get into my house?”
“I’m a witch, remember?” she said, then looked back down at the letter and continued to read. “I know it’s wrong to use magic to make someone fall in love with you.” She laughed and shook her head. “But, if you have some sort of spell or potion you can use to help me without bringing thousands of years of bad karma, I would be eternally grateful.”
She crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the cardboard box. “Your first mistake was trying to say you’d be eternally grateful. No one is eternally grateful. I’m no psychologist, but I’m pretty sure the longest anyone can be grateful is a few months. Then it turns into resentment. Every time. Trust me on this.”
“What are you doing here?” Conner asked. “Why are you in my house?”
“Your second mistake was being overly vague. I mean, are you looking for true love or are you just trying to get your dick wet? Because those are totally different spells. I need clarity.”
“True love, I guess.” Conner pulled the blankets up to his chest. “I don’t want to be one of those guys.”
“You’re what? Seventeen? You have plenty of time to be one of those guys without being a creepy douche.” She picked the box up from the desk and sat in her lap. “Which brings me to your third mistake. My ad was very clear. The value of the gift is directly proportional to the power of the spell I’m willing to work. So, should we talk about what true love is worth to you?” She started pulling things from the box and setting them on the desk. “A bottle of black nail polish, a used copy of “The Craft” on VHS, and the Best of Joy Division on CD.”
“I thought you would like them,” Conner protested. “You still haven’t told me why you’re in my house.”
“Do I look like the spooky girl you secretly had a crush on in 1996?” She pushed everything back into the box. “Do you really want a true love worth less than twenty bucks? Because I’ve probably got something in the book I can pull off for that. I mean, who wants campaign and diamonds when you can have cheap beer and camouflage baseball caps, am I right?”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Goodwillow, can we do this in the morning? If my gifts aren’t good enough, I can take them back. Get you something else. Or, I don’t know, pay you in money.”
“Call me Tia,” the witch said. She stood up from the table and floated over to the edge of the bed. “And, I can’t take cash. It’s a witch thing. Barter system only. But, come on, kid. Magic ain’t cheap. You think I can just go out and buy some eye-of-newt for a few bucks?”
“I guess I didn’t think. How expensive is eye-of-newt?”
“No idea. I’m pretty good at improvising. You know what? You’re pretty calm for a guy with a woman floating above his bed. You’re not, like, special or something, are you?”
Conner laughed. “Aren’t we all?” When she shook her head, he added, “I’m pretty sure I’m asleep and this is the craziest dream I’ve ever had. Witches don’t just pop up in your house and you look an awful lot like the girlfriend from the third Karate Kid.”
Tia shrugged. “I guess I can accept that.” She reached down and pinched him.
“Ow! Why’d you do that?” Conner asked. He rubbed his arm, then slowly looked back up at her. “Oh… I’m not dreaming, am I?”
“Nope, but don’t freak out on me now. You’ve been doing so good.” She lowered herself back to the floor and watched his face. “You’re not going to scream, or worse, puke, are you?”
Conner shook his head.
“Good. Because I’m totally out of here if you do, and I think I can help you.”
“Why would you help me?” Conner asked. “You said my gifts weren’t good enough.”
Tia walked around the foot of his bed, tapping one finger to her lips as she took in the room. “I can tell by your Star Wars sheets and your stuffed unicorn you’re a good kid. So, tell me about the girl.”
“The girl. A kid like you doesn’t turn to the black arts for love unless there’s a girl. I mean, there’s always a girl.” She sat back down in the desk chair and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. “If you’re not honest with me, I’ll know. I can read your mind.”
Conner swallowed. “There’s not one girl. It’s all girls. I can’t talk to any of them. I get all tongue tied and sweaty.”
“Well, congratulations. You’re cured.” Tia stood up and grabbed the box from the desk. She crossed to the window and leaned out. “You’re welcome.”
“What do you mean I’m cured?” Conner asked. “You didn’t do anything!”
“I’m a girl and you’ve been talking to me for a good five minutes. Poof. Magic.”
“That’s not the same! You’re a wi—”
“A witch?” Tia interrupted. “Yeah, but I’ve still got lady parts. So, here’s what I want you to do. Next time you’re trying to talk to a woman—we really don’t appreciate being called girls—just pretend she’s a witch, too. Problem solved. In fact, I think it’s just generally good advice. Treat every woman you encounter like she has the power to turn you into a goat.”
“Can you really turn someone into a goat?”
“I’m not going to answer that on grounds that I might incriminate myself,” Tia said. She sat down on the windowsill and tapped her finger against her lips again.
“I like you, Conner. Crappy BuzzFeed gifts for witches list and everything. So, I’m going to do you a favor.”
“Yeah? You’re going to help me find true love?”
“Uh, no. I’m going to do something much better for you.” Tia reached into her pocket and pulled out a beaded bracelet. She tossed it onto the bed and smiled. “From now on, you should wear this. It’ll fill you with the magical mojo of the alpha wolf. Yeah, that sounds mystic enough.”
Conner tied the bracelet around his wrist and asked, “What does that mean? Alpha wolf?”
“It means you’ll be full of all kinds of confidence and sex appeal. You might still get rejected by some women because they’ve got their own thing going on. But it won’t hurt your feelings because the magic wolf bracelet will just carry you through. Confidence is sexy. Wear the bracelet and you’ll find the woman you are meant to find.” Tia leaned back and let herself float out the window. “Trust me on this one. If it doesn’t work, I’ll give you, like, five times the value of your crap here in luck at rolling dice. You’re a D&D geek, right? That’s got to be a pretty great consolation prize.”
Before Conner could respond, she darted away from the window, box and all.
He looked down at the beads on his wrist. He did feel more confident.
He reached over and turned off the lamp, then tucked himself back down beneath the blankets. He would try it out tomorrow. There was that cute girl at Starbucks. The last three days, she’d been reading one of the Drzzt Do’urden books. Maybe she plays D&D, too.
Besides, even if it didn’t work out, he’d be rolling twenties in time for GenCon.
I thought about making The Craft reference actually be a reference to the 80’s classic, Teen Witch. I ultimately went with The Craft because who would be upset about getting a copy of Teen Witch? That’s Robyn Lively and Zelda Rubinstein at their best. Plus, magical jean jackets are a thing we need to see more of in our modern fantasy stories.
Sorry, I should have put a spoiler alert on that. You know, for everyone but the seven people I know who have seen that movie.
Now, I’m going to have to go and see if it is streaming online somewhere.
80’s bubblegum pop and magic? What more could a person want in a movie?
Maybe a young Christian Slater on a moped. Man, now I want to watch The Legend of Billie Jean…