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Three Witches Stories

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Claire knew this was against coven rules. Like, totally outside the realm of acceptable witch behavior.

To dole out one’s magical talents—particularly at the county fair—was a bit manipulative (in regards to the customers), a bit pathetic (in regards to Claire). Still, she liked to think she was working for a kind of greater good. Ensuring the happiness of all mankind! That was almost admirable, wasn’t it? Giving hopeful glimmers of adulthood to the stork-like teenagers, comforting the mopey singletons who trudged around, heads bent? She’d offered such assurances as:

“A new man will come into your life. A handsome one, with a huge prick. His name…I think his name begins with a ‘T’.” (This to the recent divorcee, clutching her ring finger like a burn. She hadn’t known what a “prick” was but was no less forthcoming with her money.)

Or this, to the bucktoothed 16-year old picking at his acne scars: “You’ll be the coolest person in college—captain of the ultimate frisbee team.”

He’d been disappointed at that one, enormous chompers clamping over his bottom lip and, seeing this, she said, “Ho ho ho there, young man! Ultimate frisbee is cool where you’re going. The coolest cool.” And then he’d smiled, a patchwork of teeth and holes, which Claire hoped someone might find endearing. A nice and wholesome blind girl, maybe.

And then this, to the both of them: “For just $5 more, I can guarantee it. All you have to do is buy this magical rock and carry it with you wherever you go.” Nevermind that said magical rock was actually from Claire’s backyard. Nevermind that several of them were speckled in bird shit. Maybe some cicada guts.

But that was the thing about desperate Mortals. Metaphorically speaking, their whole lives were a succession of bird shit plops and smeared bug guts, so they didn’t even notice when it was covering their $5, not-magical rock.

“Yes please! I’ll take two!” the divorcee had cried, handing Claire a ten dollar bill. (Did she think this would bring two men into her life? Because that’s not how Claire’s bird shit rocks worked.)

“Um. Yeah. That’s sounds pretty sick,” said Beaver Bobby. “I’ll buy a rock.” He’d paid in all quarters but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

If her best friend Gillian were here, she would likely call this “an exploitative farce,” two terms she would’ve picked up from her beloved Word of the Day calendar.

Claire,” she would hiss, “this is such an exploitative (Wednesday’s word) farce (last Friday’s word).” And then she’d pull out her Moleskin, update her word count with a self-satisfied tick. Her record, she claimed, was sixty words in a single morning, and Claire imagined a horrible plague descending upon their town, zombifying everyone until they could only grunt “verisimilitude.” Gillian thought an expanded vocabulary made her smarter but, really, it just increased her smart-assedness to a barely tolerable level.

Luckily, Gillian wasn’t here to offer one of her impressive synonyms because she’d bailed on their plans. If Claire could place money on it—and she couldn’t, with only $7 to her name, the very reason for this “manipulative/sad/exploitative farce”—Gillian was protesting GMO’s one county over. Perhaps arguing for the rights of beluga whales. Or, and this was the most likely, she was loitering at the Creamy Whip, breasts thrust at a very specific angle so that customers’ ice cream would find their shirts and not their mouths.

Psh! Now if that wasn’t an “exploitative farce” then Claire didn’t know what was. Gillian had mosquito bite boobs and a push-up bra more magical than her own powers.

But here was the thing: Claire wasn’t completely faking it. She wasn’t, so to speak, wearing a bra with three inches of padding. She could read palms, see futures unfurl, weblike, across strangers’ skins. Forks, divots, complex branches—each had such a distinct voice, that Claire had no doubt as to whether or not, say, Mr. Duncan over there would choke on a hot dog and die very suddenly. Or whether young Malva—that girl with the cotton candy and ruffled socks—would pop out a kid by the time she was 17. Claire, being a witch, knew precisely what would befall her clients by simply looking at their hands.

But of course, teenage pregnancy and death by synthetic meat logs weren’t exactly good for customer satisfaction. And so Claire would read Mr. Duncan’s palm, and she would see Mr. Duncan’s red face, gasping on a particularly troublesome bit of hot dog, but say he’d live until he was 85. A little white lie for a happy client. And a happy client meant A) money, B) a potential second visit, and thus C) more money. The $5 rocks weren’t scams, just for-profit business cards.

So she was lying, but not, y’know, totally lying. She’d deal with the prevention of hot dog-induced deaths later, when it better benefitted her monthly budget. (Because just as she wasn’t a complete liar, she wasn’t a complete asshole either.)

The fair had died down to a trickling of stragglers: mostly drunks, a couple of junkies who’d staggered into Nayawenne County for cheap-rate smack. Sighing, Claire stood to begin packing up. She turned off the moody sound effects and gathered Gillian’s stack of Tarot cards, which all featured hand-painted variations of herself. Man Gillian. Tree Gillian. Gillian with bigger-than-mosquito-bite boobs.

In the five hours since Claire had arrived, she’d made $120. Not a terrible turnout if one compared it to last year’s fair, when an angry swarm of Bible-thumpers had tossed her earnings into the funnel cake fryer. Sally Bain—or, as Claire called her, Sally Bane of Her Existence—had rallied her troop of Jesus warriors and thrust crucifixes into Claire’s face, chanting things like, “Begone Satan!” and “This is God’s land!” (Which was kind of funny when you thought about it. If God wanted to claim ownership of Nayawenne—out of every other place in the universe—then he was pretty damn stupid.)

Fortunately, Claire had suffered no further Bible-thumping, crucifix-wielding disturbances. Sally Bane of Her Existence had fled town once she’d discovered her husband had fucked the organ player up the ass. And in the church rectory, no less.

It had been a windy afternoon, and Claire’s crystal ball was now caked in a fine layer of dust. Though it was only for decorative purposes—for customer satisfaction!—Claire decided she ought to give it a nice shine, make it look at least halfway capable of revealing visions of tomorrow.

 

 

 

Witch Tip #1: Unbeknownst to Mortals, crystal balls were like kisses from a true love. Which was to say, not powerful in the slightest. The most a kiss could do was give you mouth herpes. And at its highest power, a crystal ball would fly across a room, break a window and the pinky toe of an irritating significant other. Not that Claire had experience with either situation. Certainly not the mouth herpes.

Claire ripped off a paper towel and went to grab the Windex, only to realize she’d left the Windex at home. Had, by a stroke of poor planning, only brought the herbal tonic she sometimes had to spritz into her eyes when they got a bit cloudy.

 

 

 

Witch Tip #2: Seeing the future had its drawbacks. Your eyes would get all crusty if you did it too much. As if your body was punishing you with goopy morning blindness. Honestly, it was pretty gross.

Well shit, Claire thought. She spat on her hand and rubbed the ball, hoping the couple beside “Whack-A-Democrat” wouldn’t think she was, like, doing something sexual to an inanimate object.

But whatever the couple thought, they were watching her, whispering behind their hands and giving her darting glances. Oh God, Claire thought, Bible-thumper radar blaring. Did Sally Bain send them? Did she organize a sabotage via prayer? Was it possible to raise an army of vengeful Baptists an entire state away? (Claire wouldn’t be surprised. She’d heard of stranger things. Done some of them herself. See also: anally-fucked organ player before he was anally fucked.)  

But no, the couple wasn’t looking at Claire with the fury of God in their eyes, but fascination. The woman, a petite but sturdy thing, was shoving her partner in Claire’s direction, making a not-so-obvious pointing gesture, like, Her. Her! that he seemed reluctant to obey. Still, he did, and soon he was striding towards Claire, long legs stomping up clouds of dirt dust, red hair matching the synthetic blood of a “whacked” Bill Clinton.

“Are you…” the man began, looking nervously over his shoulder. The woman pursed her lips, arched her brow like, Do it, you pussy. He shoved his hands in his pockets, defeated. “Are ye done for the day, lass?”

“I was just about to pack up, but I’ve time for another reading if you’re interested.”

“Aye…” he said, completely unconvincing. “Aye, I suppose I’m interested.”

“Well then, take a seat, Mr…?”

“Fraser. Jamie.”

He was huge. Like, mega huge. Like, he could probably eat her. He was also ridiculously attractive, which meant that if he did eat her, Claire would ask him to do it again. She most definitely would not mind being inside his mouth.

“So what’s it going to be this evening, Jamie? Tarot? Crystal ball?”

“My sister says as I should have ye read my palm.”

“Oh! Splendid. Is that your sister back there?”

“Aye, that’s Jenny.” Again, he looked over his shoulder at the woman, her eyes unblinking despite the tidal wave of dust. As if to explain her behavior, he said, “We just moved here from Scotland. Only been in Nayawenne County for a few weeks now.”

“Dear me,” Claire replied, and then cringed. Attractive, very large men made her nervous, and sometimes her nerves made her sound like a 50’s housewife. It was a problem, she now realized, she really ought to fix. “I mean, like,” she continued, “bloody hell. That’s a long way.”

“Family orders.” He shrugged. “But yer not so close to home yourself. British, by your accent.”

Claire nodded. “I’ve been here for a while now. Packed my bags when I was 20 and moved for…” She floundered for a plausible explanation. “Well. A guy.”

This, like Claire’s palm reading, was not a total lie. She had, indeed, come to America for a man: Ray, one of her classmates, had sought her input on a new enchantment in ‘04. A healing spell, Claire’s specialty, prepared from some rare fungi found in the hills of Appalachia. But Claire had about as many romantic feelings for Ray as she would a toad, due to the all-nighters she'd spent with his warty nose and her (she liked the think) perfectly attractive nose stuck in the same spell book.

She’d stayed, though, after that. Anything, even bumfuck Ohio, was better than going back to England, where every witch wanted to hex her.

A story for another time.

But this story, right here, continued with a ripple of concern across Jamie’s face. Claire regarded him, wary, but suddenly grateful for Gillian's absence. Any mention of Words of the Day, beluga whales, or push-up bras would ruin their conversation and so, for this sacred moment, Jamie was only hers.

“He’s out of the picture now,” she said. “The guy, that is.”

“Sorry to hear that. I’m just out of a break-up myself. One of the reasons I was none so unhappy about leaving Scotland.”

“Oh, well…” She looked down as if expecting two beverages to materialize, waiting to be held aloft. Instead, she grabbed her bottle of eye tonic, and lamely spritzed it into the air. “Here’s to being single then!”

“Aye, to being single,” he said, the mist falling slowly between them. Claire had never heard a proper guffaw before, but the sound that came from Jamie’s mouth was what she’d always imagined a guffaw to be. Warm, kinda strange, totally hot.

“So,” she began, getting back on track. “You said your sister put you up to this? Any specific reason for that?”

“Dinna ken,” Jamie replied, smiling a little beneath his (also) perfectly attractive nose. “I dinna question Jenny when she tells me to do something. She’s into this kind of…” He looked at the crystal ball, the cards, the rather tasteless turban sitting lopsided on Claire’s head. “Weel, whatever you call this.”

“How wonderful,” Claire said, giving Jenny another once-over. Adorable, really, when Mortals got caught up in the craft. One minute they were watching Oprah, swallowing her New Age-y drivel, and the next thing they were practicing divinations, performing séances in the streets with Glade candles and getting hit by Aramark trucks. (She’d read about it in the paper once. Half a leg had been found one street over, in a koi pond.)

“Well, I suppose we should get on with it then. Will you open your hand for me? Palm up, please.”

Jamie laid his hand on the table. It, like the rest of him, was huge.

The last man Claire went out with had also had large hands. He’d taken her to the theater and—there was really no other description for it—had swallowed her with his bulk. Sucked her face, handled her boobs like a hungry squirrel might stockpile acorns. She could still taste his buttery-saltiness on her tongue, the little bit of crunched kernel that had slid from between his teeth to the back of her throat. She’d coughed, choking, and when he’d reached to pat her back, he’d decided to take a handful of her tit instead. Just held onto it, leech-like, while the fugitive kernel slowly killed her. (Luckily, his other hand—the one not squeezing her boob—handed her the Diet Coke, and she survived.)

Jamie wouldn’t do that, she thought. His big and gentle hand would pat her back first, then return to lightly graze her tit as if by accident. It would, quite possibly, be the most artful tit-graze in all of human history.

And sitting here, trying to read Jamie’s palm, Claire realized she wanted his hand, right there, quite badly. To have his thumb teasing her nipple through her shirt, maybe traveling a bit lower. Slipping beneath the elastic waistband of her panties, to her crotch, which Louise at Louise’s would’ve waxed just for the occasion. The noises she would make would disturb the other viewers, but Jamie, with those big and gentle hands, would not muffle them.

“D’ye see anything interesting?” Jamie asked now, and the image of his hand on her tit, while fingering her in the 13th row of the Regal Cinema, vanished. Was promptly replaced by worry.

“Well, it’s funny, really…”

The true answer was: nope. Nothing. Not even a flicker of Jamie wrapped around a toilet bowl, vomiting bad cheeseburger on a Saturday night. Jamie Fraser’s palm was like one of those ancient texts she and Ray had pored over, all bizarre hieroglyphs and nonsensical syntaxes. But while they had managed a crude translation, this was something entirely different. Jamie Fraser’s palm, Claire knew, would never reveal its secrets—no matter how hard she tried.

Which was why Claire swooned a little bit, and why Jamie had to reach over to keep her from toppling to the ground. His hand, though it did not brush against that sacred spot of her breast, did find the small of her back, stayed there a touch too long. Through her fog of shock, Claire thought: There’s some sort of time etiquette for this kind of thing, right? A three-second max before it veers from a purely platonic gesture into something kinda sexual?

“That bad was it?” Jamie said, smirking.

“Sorry,” Claire replied, leaning into him. She lingered over his face but found no indication that he was feeling the same way, or even thinking, Blimey! That just veered from a purely platonic gesture into some thing kind of sexual!

“Fine. I’m fine. Peachy keen as they say!” Claire cleared her throat to keep her voice from cracking. “It’s just—your hand is a bit unusual is all. I’ve not seen anything like it.”

“Is ‘unusual’ a good thing or a bad thing?”

Well, Claire thought, that depended on what exactly was being called “unusual”. Because what she was feeling was really fucking unusual, and what she was feeling was a bone-deep, stomach-fluttering ache. Like Cupid had shot his arrow straight up her ass, punctured all her gory insides and skewered her heart like a shish kebab.

“I dunno, really. I guess it means—”

“I’m special?”

“You could say that.” Was she blushing? She was blushing. “Mr. Fraser…”

“Jamie.”

“Right. Jamie. I’m afraid—God, this is a little embarrassing—I can’t actually read your palm. There’s nothing there.” She slid the fiver across the table, feeling too frazzled to consider spinning one of her lies.  “These things happen from time to time. I’m, uh, probably just tired. But you can have this back. I won’t take your money.”

“‘Nothing,’ ye said? You didn’t see a thing?”

“Afraid so. Nothing to worry about though. It’s not necessarily a bad omen…It’s—it’s hard to explain.”

For a man being given a very sincere and full refund, Jamie’s face was abnormally pale. The color had drained from his cheeks, and his hands—so incapable of leech-like grabs!—began to tremble. Two crooked fingers beat a nervous rhythm into his pant leg, and he quickly got to his feet.

“Keep the money, lass,” he said, “You can pay me back later.” And if he wasn’t in such a rush, Claire would’ve been able to confirm that she had, in fact, heard him say, “I’ll see you soon, Claire.” That her name wasn’t a tacked-on politeness, but something he’d said with the utmost tenderness.

And if Claire had been an upstanding member of the Coven Coalition— a studious practitioner of spells—she would’ve been able to hear Jenny and Jamie’s conversation from 50 feet away. Instead, she was forced to define Jenny’s smug whoop as if it were Gillian’s Word of the Day.

 

 

 

Jenny’s Smug Whoop (n):

1) a victory celebration, i.e. I told ye so, did I no’?!

2) proof of a mutual understanding of Witch Tip #3, i.e. A witch cannot see her own future (yet another palm-reading glitch). If, for example, Claire read a client’s palm, and her reading was filled with blips of blankness, then she had likely stumbled upon a deep intersection. Or, rather: a point in time where her future and the client’s were so intertwined—beyond family, beyond friendship—that Claire could not see the specific event due to her involvement and the aforementioned glitch.

And so there was one reason—one very momentous reason—that Claire could not read Jamie Fraser’s palm. He had a future, no doubt about it, but every second was marked by a certain curly-haired, British witch. (Refer to: a deep, ongoing intersection.) She, Claire Beauchamp—who was not at all an upstanding member of the Coven Coalition but who would certainly enjoy having those big, gentle hands in her underwear for the rest of her days—was Jamie Fraser’s future. You could, if you were of the romantic persuasion, even say they were soul mates.

The discovery of one’s soul mate has adverse effects on one’s respiratory system, and so Claire found it hard to breathe. She scrambled through her purse, found her flask, and took a hearty pull.

“I take it yer off duty, then?” said an unfamiliar voice. “Claire, is it?”

Claire looked up to find Jenny Fraser, that same smug wash of victory tugging at her eyes.

“Aye, but of course it is. I ken that already.” Jenny cleared her throat, expanded her chest like a sermonizing Sally Bain. “You’re Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, born October 20th, 1989 in Oxford, England. Parents, deceased—verra sorry for yer loss, by the way—and an uncle, missing in action. Yer also currently broke, by the looks of it, which is why yer selling wee pebbles covered in shite.”

Claire, utterly speechless, simply said, “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” through a mouthful of gin.

Christ, to be sure. Sadly, Mr. FDR is a bit worse for wear. Got a proper skelping back there.”

Claire looked around wildly and found Jamie watching them—albeit, still visibly flustered—by the freshly bludgeoned Roosevelt.

“Did the Coalition send you?” she asked, frantic. “Am I in trouble? Because…Look! I’ll stop selling the bird shit rocks, all right? Just please don’t report me.”

Jenny shook her head, laughing.

“Nay, it’s nothing like that. It’s only—weel, it appears you’ve just confirmed something I’ve suspected for some time now. About you and my brother.”

 

 

 

Witch Tip #4: Magical beings—witches, wizards, fairies, vampires, etc. etc.—are everywhere. The old woman throwing Reese’s Pieces at the ducks could very well be a shapeshifter. Your random client at the county fair could have a witch for a sister.

“If you’re referring to how I couldn’t read Jamie’s palm, then yeah, I—”

But Jenny interrupted, happily offered her hand for shake.

“I’d say that settles it,” she said. “If yer going to make a lovesick fool of my brother, then I think we should be friends, aye?”