"Another job well done mister Washington! Your work never ceases to impress," a wiry, spectacled man directed praise to a boy in the back of the class. Nicholas Scott, though his students called him Nick, was the professor of film studies at the University of Calgary. Joshua Washington was one of his favorite students. Son of Robert Washington, well known director and producer for many popular horror films, Josh seemed to share his father's talent for film making.
The class applauded, though unenthusiastically. It was no surprise that Josh would once again produce the best short film. He'd always excelled at these projects. He had a knack for storytelling and his special effects were top notch. Many assumed his father's money bought his success. One student however was genuinely impressed with Josh's work.
Chris had taken film studies with the hope of learning more about the technical aspect of film production—the camera equipment, special effects, editing. He was interested in all of the background work that went into making a movie. Their semester project was to create a short film, and shoot it themselves. Chris had created a nature documentary following the lives of a family of caribou that lived in a small forest near him. It involved very little script writing, and he needed no actors. It was certainly nothing special, but it would suffice for a passing grade.
Josh on the other hand had went well over the top of academic expectation. He'd created a short horror film centered around a group of friends vacationing at a cabin who were terrorized by two wolfmen, their bodies transformed and disfigured by the mountain's curse. Chris was blown away by the special effects. It must've taken Josh days to digitally create them, and the scene where one of the boys transformed into a wolf monster was so well done, better than any film student had the right to create. The creature make up was extraordinary as well. Chris had no idea Josh could write, direct, edit, and do costume makeup. Surely his dad had to have helped him. There was no way one person could've done all of this by themselves, but he had to admit if anyone could, it'd be Josh. He was practically raised on this stuff.
The class quieted down as Nick began the next short film. Chris gave one more glance to the boy in the back before turning his attention to the screen. He'd always wanted to talk to Josh, ask him about his techniques and any tips he could give. He was the son of renowned film producer Bob Washington after all. But alas, Chris was too nervous and awkward to ever approach him. More than once he'd thought about taking the empty seat next to Josh, but every time he'd just walk on by right back to his seat at the front of the class. Josh was somewhat of a celebrity. Okay, technically he wasn't, but being the son of a famous film producer made you somewhat of a celebrity, at least in Chris' eyes. However, it wasn't just star struck admiration that kept him tongue tied.
Though he refused to admit it to himself, he was attracted to Josh Washington. Maybe it was his eyes he found so alluring, the way they were always bright and wide and seemed to show some hint of mischief and intelligence. And he had an easy smile, more of a lopsided grin with a quick flash of teeth. He was definitely attracted to his voice; it had an unusual cadence. It sounded thick and almost nasally, and he drawled his words sometimes. All those things aside, there was still something else that drew Chris in, like an invisible magnetism that pulled his thoughts towards the dark haired boy. It was something he couldn't explain.
He would find out though, and more. Chris was determined to learn more about his special effects, if anything. He'd decided that the next time they came to class he'd finally take the empty seat next to Josh. He spent the rest of the class period—and the days that followed—working up his courage.
Josh was already there when Chris arrived. He stood in the doorway, palms sweating. "Okay. You've got this Chris. No problem. Gonna be fine," he reassured himself. Sadly, he didn't find himself very reassuring. He stood in the door like a confused statue, wanting to move forward but unfortunately cemented in place with anxiety.
His classmates gave him the push he needed, quite literally. Chris stumbled forward, mumbling an apology about blocking the entrance. It's now or never, he thought.
"Is this seat taken?" Chris asked, hoping he didn't look as nervous as he felt. Josh looked up as if suddenly broken from a trance. He quickly glanced between the boy standing in front of him and the empty seat beside him as if just now processing what had been said.
"No, not at all," he replied, flashing a quick grin. Damnit, Chris cursed at himself as he felt his cheeks heating up. Josh shoved some books back into his bag as Chris dropped into the chair. Some of those books looked pretty old. Like, really old he noticed.
"The name's Chris," he offered when Josh caught him staring at the books.
"You're the one who did the nature documentary, right? With the caribou?" Josh asked. Chris wasn't sure if he should be flattered that he'd remembered, or embarrassed. Comparing the two short films it was obvious which fell short.
"Yea. Yea, that was me," he scratched at the back of his neck, a nervous trait of his.
"You did a good job with the cameras. Putting them high up and at an angle to extend the shot? Good idea." The unexpected praise eased his nerves, and the fact that Josh paid that much attention to his shots made butterflies flutter in his stomach.
"Well, most people put cameras at eye level, and it causes the animal to take up the entire frame, and the foliage clutters the edges. It makes for an awkward and unpleasing angle, you know? Putting the camera up higher in the trees allowed me to get more of what's going on." Josh nodded along. He seemed impressed, which was more than Chris could hope for. "So your special effects, did you do all of them yourself?"
"Why? Do you doubt me?" Josh turned towards him.
"No, it's just they were so cool man. The self-lighting candles? And the wolfman makeup. The fur looked so real! How'd you do it? It must've taken you hours to edit everything."
"Ah, so I've got a fan?" he smiled again. "You know, a lot of people here think I use my dad to help me out. What do you think?"
Chris considered for a moment. It was very possible that his dad had assisted him, but Josh didn't seem like the kind of person to cheat like that. At least, from what Chris had observed at a distance, he didn't seem like that kind of person. "Nah, I've seen your dad's movies. The way he does things, sets up shots and stuff, it's different. He'd have used wide angled shots instead of slow panning, I think. Plus the frontal object focus in frames, like with the candles, is totally not his style."
Josh raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You're the first to notice. I do all of my own work—special effects, editing, everything. Believe it or not." He leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him.
"Dude, how'd you find the time to edit it all? You must've holed yourself up for days," Chris laughed, albeit nervously. One side of Josh's mouth lifted. Damn, it was attractive.
"You make it sound like I have no life," he laughed as well. It was a natural, almost musical sound to Chris' ears. "So you're into techy stuff?"
"Yea. Cameras, CGI, all that jazz," he looked down at his hands as he fidgeted, adjusting his glasses. "I was hoping you'd give me some tips. Tell me how you did it." Josh seemed to be considering it, tossing the thought around in his mind. Chris held his breath, feeling hopeful.
"Nope. Sorry, family secret," Josh decided. Chris visibly deflated. So much for that plan. He stumbled over words, not sure what to say or how to continue the conversation. Before he could embarrass himself further, Josh continued. "I mean, I could tell you, but it's a very complicated approval process. There's a lot of paperwork, interviews, background checks. Can't just share this kind of thing with just anyone."
Chris wasn't sure how to reply. He just kind of stared at Josh, eyebrows arched, and his mouth working but no words came out. Before he could come up with some witty response, and really that moment had already passed, Nick walked into the classroom and began his lesson.
He tried to focus on the professor and what he was teaching, but Chris' mind was racing. He fought the smile that threatened to plaster itself to his face. He'd actually managed to talk to Josh Washington, and not only that but Josh had talked back. Perhaps it was overzealous thinking, but maybe this was the start of a beautiful friendship. It was definitely overzealous thinking, but maybe it could be the start to something more.
When class ended Chris shoved his things into his bag, wondering whether or not he should say goodbye or if he should even sit here again. Something touched his shoulder. "Hey." He turned to see Josh holding a small slip of torn paper between his fingers. "Your interview's tomorrow."
"What?" Chris was confused.
"Very complicated approval process, remember?" The blank stare he received from Chris was a sufficient answer. "Tomorrow. I'll meet you at the bar downtown. The one with the red roof. Know what I'm talking about? Good. Drinks are on me," He rose from his chair, holding out the small paper slip to Chris. Their hands brushed in the exchange and it was like a current of energy passed between them. Woah, Chris thought. He still felt a tingling in his fingertips. A cell phone number was scribbled down in black ink next to Josh's name. He gave me his number.
"So, you'll tell me?" Chris asked. Josh had already slung his bag over his shoulder. He looked down at Chris with amusement.
"Maybe," he said as he turned around and began to head for the door. Chris scrambled to catch up, messily shoving things into his bag and almost toppling over a chair as he hurried. He gripped Josh's number tight in his hands, lest he somehow accidentally lose it.
"At least tell me what program you use?" Chris called out, hoping to learn something from this encounter.
Josh didn't stop walking. He glanced over his shoulder at Chris, giving him a curious look. The corners of his mouth raised in that lopsided way and Chris caught a glimpse of his smile. "What if I don't use any programs?"
Chris laughed. "You're joking, right? C'mon man. Just tell me."
Josh shrugged, taking a left at the building's entrance, where Chris would need to take a right for his next class. Their paths finally separated and it looked like he'd get no answer. Not until tomorrow at least. Chris was about to turn away when he saw the other boy pause.
"Maybe it's magic," Josh smiled, walking backwards a few steps before turning on his heel and continuing on his way. Chris was left standing there to ponder his response. Surely it was just a joke, but something about the way he'd said that last word sent a shiver through him. Chris shook his head, before moving on. Magic. Yea right.
The place he was at was more of a lounge than a bar. The room was spacious and had a classic bar running along one wall, a few people mingled among the stools nursing their drinks. Comfortable couches and cozy looking armchairs were assembled around low modern looking coffee tables. Circular leather booths were situated in the corners. On every table small tealight candles in frosted glass holders gave off a warm inviting atmosphere. It was nicer than most places Chris had ever been to. Needless to say, he felt rather out of place. This was clearly an establishment meant for the financially well off.
For a moment he thought he'd gotten the address wrong. The curious glances he gained from the patrons definitely didn't make him feel like he was in the right place. The people here, even those dressed more casually, wore name brand clothes and designer jackets, and carried themselves with an air of superiority.
Chris was just turning to leave when his phone buzzed in his pocket. It was a text from Josh. Look towards the back, it read. He glanced up and sure enough he saw a hand waving him over. Chris shuffled his way through bystanders, mumbling apologies when he had to cut through conversations. The soft sound of small talk and laughter mingled with the low instrumental music being played created an ambient atmosphere.
Josh was partially hidden in one of the round booths in the back corner. The dark color of his coat nearly blended in with the booth's leather. He eyed Chris with amusement, candlelight caught in his eyes and gave them a curious glint. Chris slid into the seat next to him.
"So, come here often?" he asked, eyeing the drink Josh swirled in his hand.
"No, not really. Thought it would make a good first impression though," Josh chuckled, taking a sip from his glass.
"Well, color me impressed," Chris grinned, feeling more at ease. Josh watched him over the rim of his glass. "You said you'd tell me some of your techniques?"
"I said I'd interview you," Josh corrected, flashing a smile. "So I'll start by asking you some questions. But first, let me buy you a drink," he caught the attention of a waitress passing by.
The questions were easy enough. Where are you from? What's your family like? Why are you taking film studies? Chris found it curious that Josh seemed more interested in the facts about his family rather than his film studies. Whenever he talked about his home life or mentioned his childhood Josh seemed more attentive, his eyes sparking with interest. He leaned forward, resting his chin on the heel of his hand.
As the night drew on the drinks kept coming. Chris wasn't much of a drinker, so he was still mostly sober when the topic of conversation shifted. Josh on the other hand was on his fifth or sixth glass. With each that came he spoke more freely and smiled more easily. His laugh was musical and Chris found himself wanting to hear more of it.
"So, back to your short film. How'd you do the things? Like the things with the candles?" Chris asked. His cheeks felt warm and his stomach felt bubbly and he noticed he was smiling at everything.
Josh sighed dramatically, "I already told you." When Chris didn't answer he gave him a quizzical look. His cheeks were rosy and he was just beginning to slur the edges of his words. It took Chris a good minute to realize what he meant.
"Oh? Oh. Magic?" he asked. Josh nodded enthusiastically laughing as if he'd just told the world's funniest joke. Laughter began to bubble out of Chris as well, even though nothing humorous had been said.
"Yes! Yes, magic!" Josh beamed.
"You're joking right?" Chris looked at him in disbelief. Josh appeared to be actually offended. He also seemed to be too drunk to give a logical answer. Though his smile was endearing, it wasn't the answer Chris was looking for. Josh could see the disappointment written across his face.
"Look. Look, I'll show you," he waved his hand over the candle on their table and the flame went out, and then swept his hand over it once more. The flame flickered to life.
"Oh okay, I get it. Movie magic. It's one of those prop candles. Clever." Chris didn't know what he'd expected. Obviously it was a prop candle, like the one used in Josh's short film. He seemed genuinely perplexed at Chris' lack of understanding.
"No, it's magic," Josh reiterated. The look on Chris' face was skepticism, possibly even disbelief. Josh rolled his eyes. He snapped his fingers. There was a small spark, and then suddenly a flame was dancing above his finger tips.
"Woah," Chris' eyebrows arched up in surprise. Josh laughed at his response, the flame wavering with each shake of his body. He tried to make a logical explanation for what he was seeing. This had to be some kind of movie trick he'd learned from his father. After all, years spent in the film industry must have taught him something. This was just a simple stunt made to look like magic.
"What? Still don't believe me?" he asked. Before he could answer Josh extended a hand towards his glass. His fingertips hovered just inches away from the rim of the glass. He seemed incredibly focused, staring intently. Something shimmered in the spaces between his fingers, it looked to Chris something like heat waves. Before his eyes a change started to occur. The rim of his cup began to ice over, frost stretching down the sides. "Magic."
Impossible, Chris thought. Magic didn't exist. At least, that's what he'd always assumed. Now he wasn't so sure. Perhaps it was the alcohol affecting his cognitive abilities, but he was starting to believe Josh. Try as he might, in his inebriated state he couldn't conjure up another explanation that made sense.
"So...so magic? Like, real magic?" Chris wasn't sure how to put his thoughts into words. Regardless, Josh nodded encouragingly, as if his new friend had finally come to his senses and was just now starting to see the bright light of absolute truth.
"Shhhhhhhh. It's a secret though. Can't tell anyone," he leaned in close to Chris, pressing a finger against his lips. He could smell the liquor on his breath.
"So you're, what? A wizard? A warlock? Some kind of mage?" Now it was Chris' turn to ask him the interesting questions. Josh fell into another fit of laughter, and for a moment he feared he'd fall out of his seat. It took him a long minute until he could compose himself enough to speak.
"No, I'm a witch," he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. The look Chris was giving him apparently encouraged an explanation. "You see, magic is a maternal trait, so it's usually passed down from mother to daughter. Magic doesn't usually manifest itself in boys. Don't know why though, never really thought about it."
"But you can use magic, right?" Chris inquired. He leaned forward, eager to know more. As a kid he'd always been interested in things like magic. From reading books about wizards and witches to playing mages in online games, he'd always been interested in the thought that some kind of magic or something could exist, but as all such fantasies do when a child grows up, he began to look at the world with a harsher light. Magic, just like Santa, didn't exist.
"Well, no one knows why, but every so often a baby boy will be born that has a witch's talents. Usually only happens in family's with strong magic bearing bloodlines. Both of my parents come from very strong bloodlines. No surprise all three of their children would show some sort of talent," he downed the rest of his glass. When he looked back up he was smiling mischievously. Chris told himself it was the alcohol making his cheeks warm. Josh leaned in closely, his leg brushing against Chris' knee. His eyes never wavered. "I guess you could say I'm a very lucky boy," he drawled. His eyes flickered over Chris' shoulder and suddenly his face fell. "But not tonight."
Chris made to turn around, but Josh grabbed his arm in an iron grip, dragging him from the booth. He stumbled, almost knocking empty glasses to the floor. Josh took no pause in pulling him away, leading him by the arm out through a backdoor. Chris had just barely been able to catch a glimpse of someone walking through the front entrance. A tall man in a bulky coat limped in, a scar stretched over half of his face and his one good eye roamed the room. Even from here he got bad vibes from the guy, and he couldn't tell if they'd been seen.
"So, a friend of yours?" Chris asked as he stumbled into the back lot behind the lounge. Josh gave him a look with a mixture of confusion and fear.
"No," his lips persed. He was gripping Chris' sleeve so hard he thought it might tear. His uneasiness was contagious, and Chris soon found himself picking up the pace, glancing over his shoulder repeatedly, paranoid that they was being followed. He almost tripped over a trash can, sending the lid clattering to the ground.
The color had drained from Josh's face. He seemed to sober up rather quickly, only slightly wobbling. His eyes were glassy and darted quickly around them. Fear seemed to radiate from his as they made their retreat.
"Hey man, are—are we okay? I-I can call the pol—"
"No!" Josh shouted, then quickly lowered his voice. "No. I'm taking you home. Now."
They came to a sudden halt. A man stepped out of the shadows in front of them, blocking their path. Darkness seemed to curl around him, drawing closer to him when he moved.
"Leaving so soon? And you haven't even introduced me to your new friend here. Surely your parents raised you with better manners Joshua," the mystery man clucked his tongue. His voice was gravely and sleazy, sounding every bit the way walking down seedy dark alleyways at night felt.
Josh said nothing. Tension hung between the two with an energy that could be physically felt. Chris looked to him for some sort of sign, but he was intently focused on the man in front of them, a dangerous look fixed to his face. The muscle in his jaw twitched as he ground his teeth together.
Without warning the trash cans on either side of them seemed to explode, flying forwards. The man threw up his arms in defense, but the force of the impact sent him stumbling back. He cried out as he fell.
"Run!" Josh yelled, as if Chris needed to be told that. Everything was a blur, the streetlights, the sidewalk beneath his feet. Everything except Josh running in front of him. He kept his eyes glued to Josh's back, moving as he moved. His heart was racing in his chest and he gulped for air. Something was chasing them, he could feel it. Terror wracked through him like a cold wind. It didn't sound human.
They practically spilled out onto the street. Chris caught himself on his hands, taking the time to look back. Something was stalking in the darkness, though he couldn't quite make out what it was. It definitely wasn't human, and it didn't appear to be any kind of creature he'd ever seen. Wicked black eyes gleamed from the shadows, pure terror seemed to roll off the thing in waves, like someone's worst nightmare had suddenly manifested itself into a living being. Chris couldn't move, he was paralyzed with fear. His mind was screaming for him to run but his feet refused to move. It was like being caught in a trance, locking gazes with those soulless black eyes. You cannot run, it seemed to snarl, but he couldn't tell whether the voice was real or in his head. It prowled closer, its jaws watering, probably tasting the fear it incited. Chris thought he was going to die.
A ball of pure energy flew past him, merely inches from his head. It struck the creature, sending out an array of sparks. The thing recoiled from the blow, hissing through dripping obsidian teeth. Chris looked back at Josh, who had another ball of light balanced in his hand. It hovered over his skin not actually touching and shimmered like a star.
The thing before them apparently wasn't too set on getting hit with another blast of Josh's magic. It slunk away into the shadows, growling in rage in a language Chris had never heard before. The
fear clouding his senses seemed to evaporate with its retreat, though it didn't slow his heart rate any. He could still feel it racing in his chest threatening to explode.
"It won't be gone for long. We gotta go." The ball of light in his hand flickered out, evaporating in his hand. He began quickly walking away, hands thrust into his coat pockets. Chris was quick to follow.
"What the hell was that?" he demanded. Josh looked at him with a pitious and guarded gaze. He didn't answer. Instead he quickly patted all his pockets, first his coat and then his pants. When he couldn't find what he was looking for he felt around his neck.
"Shit," he breathed.
"So, you're not going to explain to me what just happened? One minute we're enjoying a drink and the next we're running for our lives from some man who apparently knows you," Chris was still having trouble wrapping his mind around the situation, and Josh wasn't helping. He chewed on his lip, juggling whether or not he should say more. "Come on bro. You owe me some kind of explanation."
Josh glanced from him to an oncoming car and back. "Look, I'm sorry. It wasn't supposed to go down like this. I...I got careless. Just forget this ever happened, okay?" He waved down the car and it came to a stop next to them. Chris was surprised to see a cab, but considering everything that just happened, he didn't question it. Josh opened one of the side doors for Chris.
"You expect me to just forget?" He snapped, climbing into the back seat of the car. Years of therapy wouldn't make him forget the night he'd had. Josh leaned into the driver's window and whispered something Chris didn't quite catch. He slipped a wad of bills to the man. Chris expected him to climb into seat beside him, but apparently Josh Washington was full of surprises. He shut the car door, leaning in through the window.
"No, but you will," he waved his hand in front of Chris' face and suddenly the world went black.
Chris woke that morning back in his bed, his head pounding. He didn't remember coming home. In fact, he wasn't entirely sure if he'd ever left to begin with. Last night was a blur, bits and pieces drifting by as if in a dream. The more he tried to remember the worse his head hurt. Could it have been a dream? After all, what he did remember couldn't be real. When he closed his eyes he could see a snap of fingers and a flame that hovered above them. That image faded out and for a moment he could see Josh Washington's face, flushed from too much to drink and grinning like a fool. Then they were running, the warmth from before replaced by the darkness of night and of...something else. Something sinister lurked at the edges of what he could see, some kind of dark force stalking in the shadows. He couldn't make out what it was, but he could feel it drawing closer. His dream had turned into a nightmare. And then suddenly there was a flash of light, and with it his memory faded. It had to have been a dream. So why did it feel so real?
An insistent rapping came from the front door. Chris elected to ignore it. Whoever it was could come back later or leave a note. The knocking didn't stop, it grew louder instead. "I'm coming, I'm coming. Just...give me a minute," he mumbled, forcing himself out of bed. He stumbled through his house and swung open his front door. If it weren't for the throbbing in his head, he'd have thought he was still dreaming.
Josh was standing outside his door, behind two girls who looked vaguely similar. One of the girls had long, dark hair that fell to her shoulders, and thick rimmed square glasses. The other looked exactly the same, though with shorter hair that framed her face and no glasses. Chris thought they looked like twins. Without even acknowledging him the one with shorter hair turned to Josh, who looked somewhere between irritated and embarrassed.
"Is this him?" she asked. The other girl seemed to be studying him.
"Yea. Chris, these are my sisters, Beth and Hannah," he nodded to each in turn, "Beth, Hannah, this is Chris."
"How do you know where I live?" Chris asked. It was too early for such weird things to be happening, and he needed some answers. The three siblings ignored his question.
"Mom said we shouldn't get too close to the mundanes," the girl with the glasses—Hannah—said to her brother.
"I know, but he's different," Josh huffed, obviously uncomfortable.
"No, we're different," Beth finally turned to Chris, "What do you remember from last night?"
"He doesn't remember anything, Beth," Josh snapped. Last night? Chris thought back through what little he could remember. So it was all real?
"Wait. So, I wasn't dreaming? That all happened?" he asked Josh. Beth answered for him.
"Oh, he doesn't remember does he?" she placed her hands on her hips.
Chris shook his head. This was all too strange and his headache didn't help him understand anything any better. "Hold on. What are you doing on my doorstep? How'd you even know where I live? And why can't I remember most of last night? I thought I was dreaming... Did you drug me?" Questions spilled out of him but the others didn't seem the slightest bit concerned. Hannah kept glancing over her shoulder back towards the street.
"See? He would've forgotten," Josh mumbled, shouldering his way through his sisters. Beth elbowed him when he passed by. "Fine, I'll take care of it," he flashed Chris a smile, "Get dressed. You're coming with us. I'll explain everything on the way."
Chris eyed them all warily, but everything going on was too odd for him to argue with. Sure, why not add kidnapping to his list of weird things from the night that apparently would never end. He backed into his home. The others followed him in, even though he hadn't given them an invitation to do so. Beth and Hannah waited by the door while Josh followed him through his house.
"So this is your place?" he asked, taking everything in. He studied every photo on the wall and ran his hands over every surface. It was like he'd never seen a middle class family's house before. "Everything feels so normal."
Chris stared at him in bewilderment. Why was he so weird? Something in his brain told him he knew the answer, but he didn't even want to think about it. If he did he might actually go crazy, if he wasn't already, or suffer a brain aneurysm. Honestly, he didn't know which would be worse. "What the hell is going on? I hardly even know you and you just barge into my house and expect me to go with you to who knows where," he said sharply.
"Look, I'm sorry. Really, I am. I didn't mean to drag you into all this. If it helps, you're coming to my place," he picked up a small knick knack from one of the shelves against the wall. It was something his mother had brought back from some place she'd traveled. He turned it over in his hands, completely oblivious to Chris' pointed look. "It'll only be for like one night. Maybe two."
"Fine. Whatever. Just know you're not going to get any ransom money from kidnapping me," he deflated. Whatever was happening, there was no point in resisting it. Might as well just go with the flow.
"Noted," Josh called as Chris stepped into his room, closing the door behind him. He changed quickly into a pair of jeans and a shirt. The air felt a bit chilly that morning so he layered a sweater on top of that. He shoved some clothes into his book bag, and with a sparing look in his mirror to fix his hair, he went to leave and embrace the weirdness outside his door. On second thought, it was rather cold, and it would only get colder, so he grabbed a jacket from the end of his bed as well.
Josh was waiting for him outside his door, looking just as amazed by all the ordinariness of his home as he had when he'd left him. Beth and Hannah were still waiting stiffly by the door. They were more than happy when it was time to leave. Beth looked him up and down one more time, as if trying to figure him out, before opening the door. A black car was waiting for them in front of his house. Beth climbed into the driver's seat, and Hannah followed her, taking the front passenger's seat. That left Josh to sit in the back with Chris. In any other situation he'd have been thrilled. They rode for a while in silence. Chris looked from one sibling to the next, expecting some kind of explanation. Josh merely gave him a sympathetic smile any time their eyes met. The sisters seemed to be having some sort of silent conversation in the front seat, passing glances back and forth. Chris couldn't take the silence any longer.
"So is someone going to tell me what's going on or?" he asked. Beth met Josh's gaze in the rearview mirror.
"Guess I'll explain everything again," Josh sighed. He began recounting last night's events. The more he told the more Chris remembered, as if a fog was slowly being lifted from his mind. Everything made a lot more sense once he remembered. And yet at the same time everything still seemed just as insane, but there was no denying what he'd seen last night.
"So you guys—all three of you—you're witches?" he asked.
"Yeah. The Washingtons are one of the most powerful witch families in the world. We come from a very long, very old line of witches. Magic runs strong in our family," Hannah said. She seemed quite proud of it. "Even Josh is a witch, which is very rare. Boys don't usually inherit magic. It hardly ever happens. There's only one other man in our coven who—ow!" she rubbed her arm from where Beth had elbowed her.
"There's no need to tell the mundane more than he needs to know," Beth said.
"Coven? Like, there's a lot of you guys? And you keep using that word, what does it mean?" Chris asked. The more they explained to him the more questions he seemed to have.
"Mundane. It means non-magic folk," Josh explained.
"And non-magic folk aren't supposed to mingle in the magic world, for this very reason," Beth said sharply.
"What reason?" he asked. The Washington siblings shared a look.
"The man from last night, the one that chased us, his family and ours have been at war for years," Josh said.
"Well, it's less of a war and more of a feud. You see, his family thinks our family stole his family's lands years ago, but we didn't. We acquired it fairly, but they're still angry about it. They've had it out for us ever since," Hannah explained. Things were beginning to piece together in Chris' mind and he was starting to see the bigger picture.
"So, this guy doesn't like you because a long time ago you took some of his land? That's good and all, but what does this have to do with me?" Chris inquired.
"He's been looking for some kind of leverage on us for years. I couldn't be sure if he saw you last night. After I sent you home I couldn't be sure he didn't follow you either. I admit I was a little...inebriated," Josh gave his sister a sharp look, "but everything will work out just fine. We're going to make you a protection amulet, and then you can go home and forget this ever happened."
"Protection amulet?" This sounded like something from a movie, not real life.
"Yes. Josh has one, and he's supposed to wear it at all times, but apparently last night he forgot it. So now I'll have to make one for you too. It'll keep that guy from being able to locate you. You'll be safe then," Beth told him.
"Oh, okay," was all Chris said. He still had so many questions he hadn't asked, but he was still having trouble wrapping his mind around what he'd already been told. He settled for silence, mulling over the new information. Over the course of one night he went from a normal film studies student with a crush on his classmate to traveling with three witches trying to protect him from another witch that may or may not be trying to kill him. Oh, and magic was real. That little fact had almost slipped his mind.
"I won't be able to charge the amulet until tonight. It needs to be done under the new moon," Beth stated, more to the others than to Chris.
"That means you'll get to meet the others," Josh smirked. Others? More witches, Chris assumed. He was beginning to wonder just what level of madness he was getting himself into.
The Washington's house was farther out into the countryside than Chris had expected. A winding, unpaved driveway that was more like its own road twisted through a cluster of trees large enough to be called a forest before the foliage opened up enough to finally view the house. House probably wasn't the right word, Chris thought. Manor was more like it.
"Woah," he breathed as the trees opened up onto a large front lawn. It was bigger up close and had to have at least ten bedrooms, if not more. A wrap around porch decorated not only the front of the house, but also the second floor. The outer walls were painted white, and the high roof and shutters were of matching gray.
Josh seemed amused at Chris' reaction. Beth pulled the car around into a four car garage. Everything about this place was spacious and expensive. "Welcome to the Washington's" Josh introduced, "Come on, I'll show you around."
Chris followed in silent awe, gaping at every room they passed. The first floor was set up like a pretty normal house, if normal meant top of the social ladder salary. The kitchen alone was bigger than Chris' bedroom, and though the house itself looked old the kitchen was completely modern. The dining room was worthy of royalty, probably. It could easily sit twenty guests and had ornate cabinets lined with fine china. Josh lead him into an airy foyer. The front door had decorative stain glass windows on either side. The colored glass cast a wash of color over the floor. Without a word, or even a glance back to make sure Chris hadn't gotten lost, Josh began to climb a fancy looking grand staircase.
The second floor was nothing like the first. A long hallway stretched out on either side of the landing. A fancy rug depicting the different phases of the moon ran the entire length of the hall. There were more doors on either side of the hall than Chris had rooms in his house. "Most of the rooms we've repurposed for different things," Josh explained, "This one's a library. It holds every tome and grimoire we own, except for the super rare or dangerous ones. Those we keep secured in the attic. Ah, this room has like potions and stuff." He opened the door and Chris peeked in. The walls were lined with shelves and the shelves were lined with glass bottles and vials in every shape, size, and color. Some were empty and some held curious things Chris couldn't quit place. A work table littered with various ingredients sat in the corner.
"Potions? Like, like actual potions?" Chris asked, amazed.
"Eh, basically. It's the magic we put into them that makes them work. Without it they're just a lot of gross things sitting in jars. The ingredients just amplify certain aspects of our magic," Josh explained, closing the door and heading down the hall. "This room, it's mostly storage."
The room he was referring to was cluttered with every sort of weird artifact Chris could imagine. Strings of multicolored feathers and animal skulls hung from the walls and ceilings, as well as bundles of dried herbs, bones from various creatures, and things Chris couldn't even name. Tables and shelves were lined with crystals ranging from the size of a thimble to larger than Chris' head, and they came in every color and texture. There were jars containing curious things, like preserved animals and creatures Chris would've called fake if he hadn't been having the weirdest day of his life. He swore he saw one holding what looked like a griffon fetus.
"The rest hold boring stuff. Books, scrolls, artifacts, those kind of things," Josh said as he walked past the rest of the rooms without even opening their doors. How he could call any of this boring Chris couldn't tell, but he guessed growing up around this stuff desensitized you to it all. "This room is the most important of them all," Josh grinned.
"What's in there?" Chris asked, wondering what could possibly behind the door.
"It's my room," Josh said. After all of the strangeness from the other rooms, Chris was surprised to find it looked like a normal nineteen year old's bedroom. An unmade bed pressed against one wall, a desk cluttered with papers, old looking books, and other miscellaneous items, and a bookshelf that was only half filled with books made up the room's décor. A pile of clothes were piled into the corner of the room. It was so normal.
Josh stood leaning against the doorframe as Chris examined the room; he decided that he liked it. Josh walked in and took a seat on the edge of his bed. "You can leave your stuff in here, or I can put you in one of our guest bedrooms if you'd like," he looked up at Chris with those bright eyes of his.
"This-this is fine," Chris stammered. Josh grinned at his embarrassment, though his smile quickly faded.
"Hey man, I'm really sorry to get you caught up in all of this. I'm supposed to keep this all a secret, but I got a little carried away last night...and, I don't know, I guess I thought you seemed like a pretty cool guy and..." he trailed off, staring out the window, "Anyways, after tonight you'll be free to go home and you'll never speak to me again. It'll be like this all never happened."
Chris thought it over for a moment. Normalcy would be nice, but he'd lived his entire life normal. Now he was waltzing through a world of witches and witchcraft, and he wasn't sure he wanted to go back to normal. He especially didn't want to forget about Josh. He'd spent the entire semester so far working up the nerve to talk to him and now he was going to have to forget all of that?
"I mean, I don't see why that's necessary. We could still talk and stuff. We're practically best friends already," Chris grinned sheepishly, "Already we're having our first sleepover."
Josh smiled, his excitement reaching his eyes. "I'd like that," he said. Suddenly he stood, looking at his watch. "Once you set your stuff down there's some people I want you to meet. Up for a little hike into the woods?"
"Not really, but I'll go," Chris shrugged. Josh patted his shoulder as he passed, his hand lingering there.
Best friends, Chris thought. That would be nice, even though he'd like more. He shook his head, clearing the thought from his mind. It was too early to hope for that, and besides, he had some people to meet. Who they were he could only imagine. If they were anything like the Washingtons, then he was in for a wild ride.
They clambered their way down the stairs, planning to exit through the kitchen door. Josh stopped in the doorway, causing Chris to run into him. The twins had left apparently, and another couple took their place. A stern looking woman who looked a lot like the twins was leading an older, professional looking man through when she spotted Josh.
"Josh, honey, your sisters are waiting for—" she spotted Chris standing behind Josh, "Oh? Josh, who's this?"
"Mom, this is Chris. Chris, mom," he introduced the two nervously. "And this is—"
"Christopher, it's a pleasure to meet you," the older man said, stepping forward to shake his hand. Chris looked warily to Josh who looked warily to his mother who looked sternly at her son. The man however seemed oblivious to the awkwardness between them all. "I'm Alan Hill."
"He's one of our Coven's leaders," Josh whispered in Chris' ear.
"I see you've told him more than he needs to know," Josh's mother's smile was strained. "You plan on fixing this, right?"
Before Josh could answer Alan spoke up, "It's too late for that now Melinda. His course is set." He pursed his lips together and gave Chris an almost pitying shake of his head. "The future is forever changing though," he turned to Josh, "Your friends are waiting for you, I believe. When you return, I'd like to talk to you Joshua. Privately."
The two took their leave of the kitchen, leaving the adults to discuss whatever it was they were whispering about. As Chris crossed through the door he managed to catch a snippet of the conversation that sent a chill down his spine. The future is set, but still shifting. He only has so much time... He had a sneaking suspicion that they were talking about him.
“So did you tell everyone you know about me beforehand or was that just a lucky guess?” Chris asked as the two boys made their way across the Washington’s lawn. Hannah and Beth were waiting for them by the tree line.
“What?” Josh asked, furrowing his brow. He was still pondering over what Alan Hill could possibly want to talk to him about. Would he be reprimanded for bringing a mundane into the heart of their coven? Or could it be something even worse? Something didn’t sit well with him about the whole ordeal.
“That guy—Hill?—he knew my name,” Chris said.
“Oh, that. No, he’s just clairvoyant,” Josh said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Honestly, the answer didn’t surprise Chris. After everything that had happened, did he really expect a normal answer?
“And does every witch’s house look like this?” Chris looked over his shoulder at the Washington’s house once more. Two silhouettes stood in the kitchen window, watching them.
Josh apparently found his question amusing, because he started to laugh under his breath. “No, just ours. Mom’s one of the three leaders of our coven, so our house is basically an archive, kind of? We store a lot of important tomes and charms. It’s a safe place for spell working and what not,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. By now they’d caught up with Beth and Hannah, and Chris still wasn’t sure where they were going.
“Three leaders? Why not just one?” Chris had an endless amount of questions, but Josh didn’t seem the least bit bothered by it.
“There’s always three leaders in every coven. It’s to represent the three aspects of the Goddess: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. Only the international council has more than three witches leading it,” Beth answered instead.
“Yea, the international council is led by five witches from all over the world. We have a distant cousin on the council, from Egypt,” Hannah added.
“Wow, an entire secret organization, and right under all of our muggle noses,” Chris smirked.
“We like using the term mundane for non-magic folk, but ten points to Hufflepuff for the reference,” Hannah beamed. Chris was pleasantly surprised. He wasn’t really expecting any of them to get it.
“How’d you know I’d be a Hufflepuff? Are you clairvoyant too?” Chris asked. The other two Washington siblings collectively rolled their eyes in front of him.
“No, I’m actually better with pyrokinetics, but I can tell,” she nudged him with her elbow. “I’d totally be a Hufflepuff too.”
“If I’d known you were going to turn out to be such a nerd, I might have reconsidered bringing you along,” Josh teased, grinning at Chris with that lopsided smile of his.
“Well I’m here at your own personal invitation so,” he leaned over to Hannah and, whispering, added, “He’d totally be a Slytherin.” She nodded in agreement and the two shared a look that only fellow Harry Potter fans would understand.
They walked deeper into the woods following a path only the Washington siblings seemed to see. As far as Chris could tell, there was no visible path and they were just mindlessly walking through the trees. Hannah and Chris continued to chat about houses and fan theories, Hannah offering similarities and differences between the real witching world and the fictional one, whilst Beth and Josh walked on slightly ahead in amused silence. Chris was disappointed to find that magic wands weren’t really a thing, but thrilled to know that some of the spells were actually legit. Hanna even told him that Rowling herself was a witch, and that she’d met her once, though briefly.
Chris and Hannah, entirely immersed in their conversation, were completely oblivious to the silent one taking place between Beth and Josh. She shot her brother a look, complete with a raised eyebrow and smirk, that said you like him, don’t you? He returned her look with a warning glare that clearly said shut up. Beth shrugged, a smile flashing across her face. I didn’t say anything. Josh dramatically rolled his eyes, groaning inwardly. A pink tint stained his cheeks and he tried to play it off like it was because of the cold nip in the air. The two could talk without words in the way that only siblings could do.
They came upon an open clearing, only occupied by two thin saplings just barely thicker than Chris’s arms. Their bark was smooth and ashen, unlike the rough and brown bark of the trees around them. They stood like twins with long skyward reaching branches arching just so that they seemed to connect, and you couldn’t tell where one tree ended and the other began. From the right angle, and with ample imagination, Chris figured that they resembled a sort of doorway. They all stopped in front of it, and for a moment no one said nothing. Then, Beth strode forward, stretching out her hands. Still, nothing happened.
“What’s going on?” Chris whispered.
“Beth has a talent in transfiguration and transmutation,” Josh explained in a low voice, leaning close enough to Chris that he could feel the brush of their shoulders. “She’s creating a doorway to where we want to go.”
Chris watched in silent awe as Beth stood there, statuesque, her eyes screwed shut in concentration. For a long moment nothing happened, and then, ever so gradually, the air between the trees began to shimmer. It was hard to make out, like heat waves, but there was definitely something there. The air was charged with energy, swirling around Beth and then being channeled by her into the trees.
“Okay, there we go,” she huffed. Her face was flushed and a thin sheen of sweat shone on her forehead. Chris looked in the gap and saw no difference. The same trees and bushes were on the other side, though the air still shimmered. Hannah was the first to step forward, striding up to the trees. Without a word she walked between them, and, suddenly, she was gone. Chris blinked rapidly. No, she was gone. One moment she had been there, the next she wasn’t. Everything on the other side was still the same.
Beth followed her twin between the trees. This time Chris made sure to keep his eyes open, so he wouldn’t miss what happened. Like Hannah, one moment she was there, and then she walked between the trees. The air around her blurred and, just like that, she was gone too.
“Woah,” he breathed. Without even realizing it, Josh had started pushing him from behind. Adrenaline rushed through his veins, and, admittedly, so did a little fear. He had no idea where he was going or how he’d end up there or what the side effects of such magic would be on someone like him. None of the Washingtons had mentioned any danger, but then again neither did Josh and look where he was today. “Wait—“ he cried out, but it was too late. With one final shove from Josh, he stumbled through the gap.
It felt like walking into electrified syrup, tiny shock waves pulsed all over his body. The hairs on his arms stood up and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. The world was shifting around him, blurring as if it was all suddenly spinning very fast and he was moving so slow. His limbs felt heavy, and he couldn’t stop himself from falling. The air around him seemed to buzz with energy, reconstructing itself. It felt like an eternity before he fell.
He landed flat on his face. The air settled around him and he noticed he could breathe again. His palms dug into pebbly ground and he sat up on his knees coughing up dirt. Josh strolled through right behind him, immediately stepping to the side as if he’d expected Chris to fall. The amused look on his face said he had. Chris stood on slightly shaking legs, cleaning his glasses off on his shirt and mumbling something about how he’d meant to do that. When he looked up he realized in sudden embarrassment that the Washingtons weren’t the only ones who’d witnessed his spectacular fall.
Six other people that seemed of similar age were all watching him with a wide range of emotion, anywhere from annoyance to curiosity. Chris immediately recognized some of them as having played a part in Josh’s short film.
“New pet, Josh?” one of the girls sneered. She had an air of superiority around her that even Chris could feel. Her hair was straight and came to her shoulders, framing her face. She had dark brown eyes that seemed to be judging him, and finding him wanting from the way she sniffed and looked down at him from the bridge of her nose.
“Yep, named him Chris. Careful though, he isn’t house trained yet,” Josh clapped him on the back. This seemed to bring an amused smile twitching to her lips. He scowled at Josh, slightly offended.
“Well, he can play with the other dogs,” she said as she turned to walk away.
“That’s Emily, don’t worry about her. She’s all bark and no bite,” said a girl with blonde braids and a bright smile. Unlike the others dressed in darker clothes, she wore a bright purple jacket lined with faux fur.
“Oh, my bite’s as bad as it gets bitch,” Emily tossed over her shoulder.
“Whatever,” the blonde rolled her eyes, and just like that she was smiling again. “I’m Jessica,” she leaned in close, sniffing Chris, “is he mundane? I don’t smell any magic on him.”
“You can smell magic?” Chris asked, glancing over at Josh as he took a step back from Jessica.
“No, but Jess is a special case. She’s what happens when a witch and a werewolf hit it off. A mixed breed, if you will,” Josh explained. From the glare she was giving him, Chris could tell she didn’t quite like that definition.
“There are werewolves now? You know what, sure, why not? Werewolves,” Chris exclaimed, wondering when the surprises would stop.
“Yea,” Josh grinned, leading Chris to where two boys were in the middle of a heated argument, “Boys, boys! Mind your manners, we’ve got company. Mike, Matt, this is Chris.”
Grudgingly they turned. Both had strong builds and looked like they could handle themselves pretty well in a fight. Matt was a little shorter, with smooth dark skin and wide shoulders. Mike was taller and carried himself like a man who knew what he was doing. There was no doubt in Chris’ mind he was used to being in charge. They seemed to completely drop their argument at Josh’s words. The snarl on Mike’s face turned into a warm, welcoming grin.
“Ah, new boyfriend Josh? And he’s not even a witch. What must your parents think?” Mike came striding over. Chris felt his face heat up and he tried to tell him he wasn’t Josh’s boyfriend but the words jumbled themselves in the time it took for them to travel from his throat to his mouth so he ended up sputtering. Josh took everything in a much smoother stride.
“Why, Mike? Are you jealous?” he teased, his eyes going wide for a moment. While Mike acted melodramatic, Josh turned to Chris. “You wanted to know how I did the special effects? Well, remember the wolfmen? No CGI necessary. They’re werewolves!”
Chris glanced from Josh to Mike to Matt and then back again, letting it all sink in.
“Boy, do you know how to find the smart ones Josh,” Mike said, clapping Chris on the shoulder before sauntering away.
“Aw, come one guys. Go easy on him, it’s his first day.” They turned to find two more witches standing with Hannah. One was a blonde with bright eyes and a mischievous smile, a look he was only used to seeing on Josh’s face. The other was a ginger with large doe eyes and a spattering of freckles across her nose.
“Chris, these two lovely ladies would be Sam and Ashley. They are, by far, the nicest witches in our little group, besides me that is.” Sam scoffed at his words. She extended her hand and Chris shook it, feeling the tingle he’d come to know as magic flowing from her skin. Ash did the same, a broad smile playing at her lips. When her hand brushed Chris’ her eyes went wide and her smile slowly faded.
“I-I’m sorry?” Chris uttered, quickly pulling back his hand.
“Something wrong Ash?” Josh asked, concern etched on his features.
“No, I just…For a second I thought I saw something,” she furrowed her brow in confusion, “It was probably nothing. Don’t worry about it.” A weaker reflection of her previous smile returned to her face, obviously masking a feeling of uneasiness.
Before he could ask any more questions or ponder over what just happened he was whisked away once more. Hannah had started a bonfire in a pit that had obviously seen more than its fair share of bon fires. The earth around it was scorched and blackened.
The group was seated around it, warming their hands and talking about all sorts of magical things Chris didn’t understand, even with Josh whispering explanations in his ear when he appeared too confused. In fact, Josh’s close proximity was the opposite of helpful, and rather distracting. Every so often Hannah would change the color of the flames, or conduct the sparks blown by the wind into an ember cloud of butterflies.
As Josh explained to him, every witch shows proficiency in a specific talent, even though all of them can perform basic magic, like making things levitate or small flickering flames at the snap of their fingers. A witch didn’t truly grow into their talent until their twentieth birthday, but they showed signs of what they would be early on. Hannah was skilled at bending fire to her will. With enough concentration she could mold the flames into other animals even. Twice, she sent fire-made squirrels dashing from the pit and spiraling up nearby trees, only to flicker out before doing any damage. He figured she’d become a pyromancer, and a pretty powerful one at that.
With a wave of her hand and a few whispered words, Sam had wildflowers sprouting all around her. Her and Ashley giggled together, the latter pulling up flowers and beginning to weave them into a crown. Sam was skilled in nature magic, so anything that came from the earth she could control. At least, she’d be able to on her twentieth birthday. Right now all she could do is grow any small plant or flower that came into mind within a matter of minutes. “I can even understand animals. Not clearly yet, but one day. Right now I can only pick out a few words here and there, but I’m learning,” she explained to Chris when she overheard the two boys talking about her.
“And what about Ashley? What can she do?” Chris asked as he watched her make the finishing touches to a flower crown.
“Well, her family’s bloodline is weaker, so her magic won’t be as strong, but she’s already showing signs of clairvoyancey,” Josh replied. “Sometimes she gets feelings or quick pictures in her head of what could happen. She’s pretty accurate most of the time.”
“Can she control what she sees? Like, if I ask about a specific date, can she tell me what will happen on that day, or nah?” he questioned.
“No, not right now anyways. Hill could. And a clairvoyant can’t tell you for certain what will happen, only the possible outcomes. Time is very fluid, so it’s nearly impossible, though I hear some situations are pretty set to happen, no matter what you do. Those are the easiest to see.”
Chris nodded along, looking from witch to witch in turn. According to Josh there were two types of witches. A green witch’s magic was inherently good, or, more accurately, didn’t naturally corrupt. That didn’t mean every green witch was good, only that their magic was pure. Then there were black witches, who’s magic naturally corrupted the user’s mind. Their skills were dark and tainted the soul. Much like how not green witch’s aren’t always good, black witches aren’t always bad. They just had to be more careful with their minds when casting. The longer they walked a path of darkness the harder it was for them to find the light.
Emily was a black witch, Josh said, though she was only part of the first tier. There were four tiers of black magic, each more dark and dangerous than the last. She specialized in manipulation, bending others to her will. Of all the black magics, it was the safest and caused the least amount of corruption. The second tier had to do with shadow bending, or the ability to travel through and physically materialize shadows. Travelling through such darkness was never god for the mind, dark things whispered to you there and corrupted the mind. Tier three was necromancy, bringing the dead back to life and having them do your bidding. It was the second most dangerous form of magic, according to Josh. The balance of life and death isn’t something to be played with. Last, there was tier four: demon medium. They were very similar to spirit mediums, like Josh’s mom, but dealt with demons, and it was obvious why they were most dangerous.
“If being a black witch is, like, bad, why not just choose something else?” Chris questioned.
“You can’t choose what kind of witch you are; the magic chooses for you. Sometimes it’s hereditary, sometimes it’s random,” Josh answered. He turned to where Jess and Beth were, sitting close together on the other side of the fire. Two tufts of hair were sticking up on Jess’ head—no, not hair. Ears. Chris had to rub his eyes to make sure he was seeing things correctly, and he was. Those were definitely dog-like ear sitting atop her head. As if realizing she was being looked at, Jess turned and flashed Chris a bright, fanged grin. Her eyes reflected firelight much like a wolf’s did at night. The girls were laughing at his look of surprise. Beth covered her mouth with one hand, and when she removed it her mouth was no longer there. Instead, there was a duck’s bill where her lips once were. Jess nearly fell back, shaking with laughter as Beth quacked loudly at them.
Josh explained that Beth’s talent was transfiguration. When she turns twenty she’ll be able to turn anything into anything, he said. He puffed up a bit with pride, Chris noticed. He was certain she’d be one of the strongest witches the coven’s ever seen, both of his sisters would. That made Chris wonder…
“So what’s your special skill?” he asked, resting his head on his knees. Josh was silent for a long moment, staring into the flames as if transfixed. The orange light flickered over his face and lit up his eyes.
“I don’t have one,” he replied, a smile twitching at the corner of his lips. “A lot of times male witches can’t do much more than basic magic. I mean, we’re not supposed to have magic in the first place. It’s rare to see one with a specialization, or any sort of strong magic, like Hill. He’s one in a million probably.”
“Oh, that sucks,” Chris wasn’t sure how to respond. Some magic was better than no magic, right? After all, he didn’t even have any magic.
“Nah, not really. I don’t mind. I wouldn’t mind being normal…” he trailed off. He continued to stare into the fire, and Chris continued to watch him. The silence stretched on between them for minutes before Josh suddenly sat up, as if remembering something urgent.
“Shit, I’ve got to get things set up for tonight,” he cursed, standing up and brushing off his pants. He extended a hand towards Chris, which he took. He pulled the other boy up, and began to make his way towards the trees. “Hannah, Beth, we’re heading home,” he called out.
“We’ll be back soon! Try not to get lost on your way back,” Hannah answered. Chris gave the group one last look over. Only Beth met his gaze. He held eye contact for a moment before looking away. He could’ve sworn it looked like she and Jess were holding hands, but it could’ve just been a trick of the light.
The sun was just starting to set as they made their way back. Long, tree shaped shadows stretched around them and the dying light filled the forest with a golden haze. It felt, well, magical. A smile pulled at Chris’ face at the thought. Speaking of thoughts, his kept travelling back to what Mike had said earlier, the joke about him being Josh’s boyfriend. He knew it was only a jab between friends, but he wondered what Josh really thought on the subject. Chris certainly wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of it. After all, Josh had taken him out for drinks, and that wasn’t really a hey, I just met you let’s be friends kind of thing, was it? The entire atmosphere of the night before, at least what he remembered of it, had felt like a first date, but seeing how the witches could be so strange, perhaps he shouldn’t put so much thought into it.
He looked up at the boy walking in front of him. Josh seemed absorbed in his own thoughts, every so often smiling to himself. For a fearful moment Chris wondered if mind-reading was a witchy talent Josh possessed.
Suddenly, Josh came to a halt. It was so unexpected that Chris ran into him, both of the boys stumbled forward. All the color had drained from Josh’s face, looking much it did the night before. His mouth fell open in shock. Chris followed his wide eyed gaze and instantly his insides went cold. A dead rabbit was nailed to a tree, its intestines hanging out in a dripping, gooey red mess. Above it, drawn in the rabbit’s own blood Chris guessed, was a pentagram surrounded by symbols he’d never seen before. Something dark and unseen radiated from the deceased rabbit, and Chris had the unnerving, hair raising sensation that they were being watched.
“We gotta go,” Josh said. His voice trembled. He was afraid.
“W-What was that?” Chris stammered as he stumbled after Josh. He seemed to know the woods a lot better than he did, so Chris was constantly tripping over hidden roots and getting tangled up in weeds. Josh sped on, every so often glancing back to make sure Chris was still there. With a wave of his hand trees limbs bent out of their way.
“A hex,” he said. He pressed onwards, taking turns that Chris would never have known to take.
“So…So not good, right?” The look Josh threw him over his shoulder told him that that was a stupid question.
“Only dark magic requires blood—of any kind. Death itself is a form of power, and it takes a very dark witch to channel it into their spells. It’s dangerous and forbidden,” Josh explained. They passed trees Chris didn’t remember passing before, but in a forest like this that didn’t mean anything. He couldn’t remember every tree they passed.
“And that hex, w-what does it do exactly?” Chris asked, his coat snagging on an outstretched limb making him jump.
“It’s like an anchor; a magical waypoint. Whoever made it marked that area with their magic. It means whoever they are, they’ll be able to find that place again or-or use it as a doorway. I don’t know,” Josh climbed over a fallen log, offering Chris a hand in assistance.
“It didn’t look like that other doorway, the one your sister opened,” he huffed.
“That’s because they’re not the same—I’m not even sure it was a doorway. The glyphs looked like passage points but there were some I didn’t recognize. The one Beth opened was for people to pass through. If it is some kind of portal, it’s not for humans,” Josh’s face was drained of color, like it had been the night before. It made Chris feel distinctly unsafe.
“Are we safe?” Chris asked, his voice squeaking slightly. He looked over his shoulder, suddenly afraid they were being followed.
“Yes, there’s all sorts of protection charms around the house—powerful charms and stuff. It was built by the strongest witches in our coven. Nothing’s getting through it,” Josh reassured, though the expression on his face looked more like doubt.
Finally, they broke through the tree line and Chris was surprised to find they’d come out on the opposite side of the house from where they’d left. He looked around in confusion, but Josh didn’t seem affected and continued speed walking towards the house. He didn’t even stop when they went inside. Instead, he went room to room calling out his mother’s name. She silently appeared in one of the entranceways, almost startling Chris to death. Josh approached her, opening his mouth to say something, but stopped. His eyes flickered to Chris and his mouth snapped shut.
“I think I conveniently left something important in my bag that’s upstairs and not in this room,” Chris took the hint. Josh gave him a thankful nod as he backed out of the room.
Josh told his mother what they’d seen, trying his best to explain the strange glyphs. He’d have taken a picture on his phone or tried to redraw them, but capturing or recreating such dark magic wasn’t safe. She nodded gravely as he spoke, her eyes distant.
“Come with me,” she said, leading the way up the stairs. They went straight for the attic, a place even Josh wasn’t usually supposed to go. The air there was thick with magic, protection charms not only keeping things out, but keeping things in. His mother roamed the shelves, picking out a few thick tomes that had a sinister air. Their covers were dark and wordless and they looked older than both their ages combined. She carefully opened one, gently turning the pages. She stopped on one with glyphs written all over the page in large black scripts. Words were written beside them, but they were in a language Josh had never seen before. From the images decorating the borders of the page, skulls and winged demons, that this was definitely a book on ancient black magic. “Do any of these look familiar?” she asked.
Josh looked over the page. Nothing immediately jumped out at him, but—wait. “This one. It was at the top of the pentagram,” he pointed to a mark towards the bottom of the page. His mother frowned, her fears confirmed.
“I don’t want you going back there, not until we find him. It’s not safe, he’s up to something dangerous,” she said as they left the attic, his mother locking the door with magical charms behind them. “As for Chris—“
“I know, I know. You want me to take him home and never speak to him again,” Josh interrupted. He knew it was coming, but he didn’t want to think about it. He’d grown rather fond of Chris, and rather quickly—perhaps too quickly.
“Actually, Alan was saying that it might actually be safer for him to stay as close to us as possible. He suspects Vincent may be targeting him already, but we can’t be certain. Either he stays with us, or he leaves and you erase his memories. I say give him the choice,” she corrected. Josh was surprised. His mother was against their interacting with mundanes; nothing good usually came from witches and mundanes coming together. Maybe she was expecting him to want to forget. Secretly Josh hoped that maybe he wouldn’t.
“Where is Alan anyways? He said he wanted to speak to me,” he questioned, looking down the hall towards his room when they came to the second floor landing. His bedroom door was ajar.
“He had to leave. He said something about some kind of urgent business. Knowing him it could be anything. I don’t know, I’m not clairvoyant,” she sighed. “I’ve got some work to do. I’ll have to make some counter curses and send someone out to investigate. When your sisters get home make sure you guys complete the protection charm,” she told him as she continued down the stairs. Josh made his way to his bedroom.
Chris was sitting on the edge of his bed staring out the window. He jumped when Josh came into the room.
“Oh I, uh, found the thing,” he said, though he was holding nothing. Moving past Chris, Josh flopped down into his desk chair, twiddling with a seemingly normal pen. “So, nice talk? With your mom?”
“Yea,” he released the pen and it began to walk across the table on its own. They watched it teeter towards the edge, and with the slightest flick of his hand, it fell forward off the table, returning to an ordinary inanimate object. He was trying to arrange the words in his mind. “So, mom says you have two options. One, you can go home and I can make sure you forget this ever happened. Two, you stay as close to me as you possibly can. The closer the better. Probably not as safe, but still pretty safe. No one in their right mind messes with the Washingtons.”
“I’m guessing the man we met the other night isn’t in his right mind?” Chris asked.
“Yea, not really,” he grinned, glancing at Chris from the side of his eyes. Chris stared at his wall, deep in thought. On one hand, he could go back to his normal and safe mundane life. He’d go back to his normal family, showing up to his normal classes, having a normal crush on the boy in the back of the room. On the other, he could stay. He’d be close to Josh and he’d be exposed to this crazy society of witches and magic—but he could be putting his life on the line, maybe even his family’s.
He thought long and hard on the matter, weighing the pros and cons. Logic told him to go home, that there was no need to unnecessarily risk his safety, but another more reckless side spoke to him. “I’ll stay,” he said. Maybe it was his imagination, but Chris could’ve sworn Josh looked relieved.
As the last rays of sunlight sank beneath the trees Josh’s twin sisters came strolling through the trees. Josh watched them from the kitchen window. Chris was sitting at one of the bar stools, idly drinking from a glass of water. The door opened and the twins came in. From the happy expressions on their faces, it was obvious that neither of them had seen what they had.
“Well, now that you’re here we can all get started,” Josh clapped his hands together. Chris looked between him and his sisters with a look of concern. He’d never heard of a protection spell and he wondered what it involved.
Josh lead them to one of the upstairs rooms they hadn’t been in before on their tour earlier. It had a wooden floor with a pentagram already drawn on it in white chalk. The windows had thick maroon curtains shutting out the light and the room was bare of all furniture., except candles scattered all around the room.
“I’ll go get the stuff. Josh, do you know where you put the other half of the crystal?” Beth asked, drumming her fingers on the doorframe.
“Should still be on the table,” Josh replied, crossing to a small box sitting on the floor in the far corner of the room. Chris, unsure of what to do followed him. The box was filled with pieces of chalk. Josh took one and crouched down by the pentagram, drawing symbols Chris didn’t understand and muttering under his breath. Hannah went about the room lighting all of the candle with flicks of her hand. She caught Chris watching her and offered him a friendly smile. Magic hung heavily in the air around them, even Chris could feel it.
“So what am I supposed to do exactly?” Chris asked. The siblings looked at each other.
“You don’t actually do anything,” Hannah said.
“Yea, you’re not even going to be in the room when we do it,” Josh added.
“I’m not?” Chris felt a mix of relief and concern.
“Nope. It’ll be easier for the magic to flow if it’s just witches in the room. Sorry man,” he clapped Chris on the shoulder as he stood, dusting off his chalk covered hands on Chris’ jacket sleeve with a sly grin. Beth entered the room, holding various small bowls full of various things. In her hand she held a small crystal. She signaled to them it was time to start. “You can either wait around in my room, or we have a game room downstairs. There’s TV, movies, games. You’ll find something to keep you entertained. I’ll come get you when we’re through,” Josh led him from the room, giving Chris one last devious grin before closing the door behind him. Backlit by candle light, Chris had to admit he’d never looked so attractive.
He meandered around downstairs for a while, looking through their seemingly endless supply of movies and eyeing the games curiously. For a while he played pool by himself, though the silence unsettled him. He turned on the television just to have some kind of noise, flipping to a nature documentary about butterflies. Like hypnosis, he was drawn into watching the entire thing, and even the following documentary on bees. Almost three hours had passed by time he checked the clock. Still no sign of Josh.
Quietly he made his way up the stairs, wondering how much longer the Washingtons would be. He tiptoed passed the room they were in, pausing to listen. He heard nothing but the muffled sound of one of the girls presumably chanting. Releasing the breath he didn’t know he was holding, he continued down the hall to Josh’s room.
He took a seat in Josh’s desk chair, slowly spinning in it with his eyes unfocused. When that made him dizzy and kind of nauseous, he wheeled over to Josh’s bookshelf. The books there were a combination of magical tomes, books he probably had to read in high school, and volumes on the history of the film industry. There were books containing details and behind the scene facts on nearly every classic movie ever made. Towards the bottom there was even a pile of Psychology texts. Chris picked one up, thumbing through the pages.
Another hour must have passed while he was reading about the different parts of the human brain and their functions. He pulled out his phone to check the time; it was getting late. He scrolled through his apps, checking his email and replying to messages. He looked at the latest news stories, catching up on current events. He was so absorbed from the light of his phone that he didn’t notice the door opening. Josh cleared his throat and Chris jumped, nearly falling out of the chair. “You’ve got to stop sneaking up on me,” he laughed.
“Sorry,” Josh grinned, taking a seat on the edge of his bed. His eyes flickered to the floor and he toyed nervously with something in his hand. “Well, here you go,” he held out a crystal tied to a thin leather cord: a necklace.
Chris took it into his hand. He could feel the tingle of magic singing from the stone. One side was smooth like a polished crystal should be, but the other was jagged, as if it used to be part of a larger crystal. Josh pulled out a similar necklace from inside his shirt. His crystal seemed to be the other half to his. “So, is that it?” Chris asked, slipping the cord around his neck.
“Well, almost. We used the same protection charm on your pendant that we used on mine. There’s one last spell I gotta do that’ll bind you to the pendant so the charm is complete,” Josh explained.
“What’re you waiting for?” Chris was rather curious and excited to see a spell performed. Josh, however, didn’t seem so enthused.
“Um, well, the strongest form of protection is a spell bound in affection…” he began, but his words were lost on Chris. Josh inwardly groaned as he was forced to continue his explanation. “Spells have to be sealed a-and this one it’s, uh, well it’s sealed…with a kiss,” he finally managed. Chris froze at the realization, blood rushing to his cheeks. Oh.
“Sorry, I know its we—“
“No, it’s..it’s fine. I mean, so what. N-no big deal,” Chris stammered. Josh nodded. In the low lighting it looked like Josh was blushing too. He sat forward, clearing his throat. He closed his eyes, whispering something in another language, maybe Latin. Chris watched the way his lips moved, the words whispered over them. His face felt hot, like he had a fever, and his throat was dry. When the spell was finished Josh opened his eyes. They seemed to pull in all the light in the room, glimmering like stars. The tension between them was thick enough to be physically felt.
Slowly Josh leaned forward, inching closer to his face. Chris wasn’t sure what to do. Should he close his eyes? Should he kiss him back? Should he just sit there and pretend nothing was happening? Before he could think of an answer to any of his question, or even prepare himself before Josh pressed their lips together. His lips felt warm and a little dry, and it took every ounce of will Chris had not to melt into it. To Chris’ disappointment, the kiss ended as quickly as it had happened. Josh pulled back, his face as red and as warm as Chris’.
“There. It’s done,” Josh whispered, his voice a little hoarse. Chris couldn’t think, he had only one thing on his mind.
“A-Are you sure?” he licked his lips, “Maybe you should try again, j-just to be sure, ya know?”
This brought a smile to Josh’s face and he let out a breathy laugh. It sent shudders down Chris’ spine. Chris swallowed hard as Josh’s hand cupped his face. That devious grin of his was pulling at his lips. “Well, just to be sure…” Josh leaned in, pulling Chris’ face forwards and pressing their lips together a little harder than before. This time Chris kissed him back, humming softly against his lips. Josh’s hand slid to the back of his neck, carding through his hair. Chris could feel the flow of magic flowing from his finger tips and could taste it on Josh’s tongue. Everywhere their skin met Chris could feel the energy pulsing between them. Josh pulled Chris onto his bed, eager for them to be closer. It was bliss, better than anything Chris had ever felt. He couldn’t imagine forgetting this he thought as Josh’s tongue danced in his mouth and his hand slid beneath his shirt. He was definitely staying; no matter what danger lies ahead.