Authors: Jill Nojack
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2015
Amazon, the Amazon logo, Kindle Scout, and Kindle Press are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Back when her skin was smooth and her lips were juicy as ripe berries, Eunice did the nasty with the devil. And she
it. If she hadn't, I wouldn't be lurking in the dark, twitching the tip of my tail, trying to keep an eye on what the old witch is up to. Everyone knows spells cast during the Black Moon aren't illuminated by the Goddess's light.
The candle flames bob toward the ritual grounds. I track their yellow-orange trails through Corey Woods into the clearing where the scuffling of witches' feet has worn a ring of bare earth in the new spring grass. Tonight, the coven within a coven that is loyal to Eunice gathers. Four witches. One perversely devoted warlock. And me; a small, black, feline familiar. I know better than to get too close. I know what will happen, what always happens, the same way it's happened across all the years. Why singe my whiskers?
The witches extinguish their candles when the circle is complete. Their black-robed figures are an inkier spot in the midnight. From where Eunice stands in her position of power, an even blacker tendril snakes toward the others, making the gloom appear gray in comparison. It weaves a net around the chanting witches, bending as it goes, to trace the outline of their bodies until the threads pull tight. I hear the dull thuds as all but the warlock lose consciousness and hit the ground. Protected by her favor, he moves closer to his priestess until they are cocooned together by the magic. The ebony tornado enfolds them as it swirls into the sky. The wind howls.
And then, exactly as it always happens, it happens. A bright purple orb of light streaks from the heavens and explodes inside the funnel, dispersing the darkness and tossing Eunice and the warlock backward as easily as a twister tosses a scarecrow. For a moment, they loll like turtles on their backs, their limbs waving in the air that still sizzles with violet static as the lightning dissipates.
When they recover their wits, the man flaps his palms at spots where the arcs of power ignited his robe. Eunice sits up, raises her head, and screams her rage at the retreating brightness. The year, the chant, the participants, each of them changes, but it doesn't matter. Someone powerful doesn't want her spell to be cast.
Still, like me, my mistress can't let go of the hope she'll wake one day and the rules of her universe will have changed.
When the warlock is done slapping at his robe, he pushes back his hood and reveals a pock-marked face under a disheveled comb-over: Eunice's loyal sycophant, Kevin. Eunice brought him in to her Black Moon nights twenty years ago when he was just a pimply faced high school senior.
Kevin looks down on her where she still sits near a patch of scorched grass. Through compressed lips, he says, "You promised it would be different this time!"
"Just give me a hand up." She extends an arm. He doesn't take it. "Now," she adds. He continues to glare for a moment and then bends over to grasp it, helping her struggle to her feet.
His voice is low and angry. "I'm sick of your promises. I've kept the cops and Dad away from a lot of things for you. It's time for you to give me what you owe me. I'm tired of hearing just one more thing needs to happen first."
"Shut up, Kevin!" She inclines her head toward where the movement of the other witches indicates they're waking up. "Our secrets are
secrets. We'll talk later."
"No. I want my due. I want the coven, my piece of your imports, and I want Ca…"
Eunice flicks her pinky finger at him, and his flapping tongue swells to fill his mouth, preventing him from finishing his sentence. It looks painful and vaguely obscene.
His eyes move from anger to pleading as the back of his throat closes. I try not to remember how that feels from my own experience annoying Eunice.
"Cat, I know you're there. Come out!"
Oh, so that's it. It's me who's not allowed to hear what he has to say. She always sniffs me out. I lope forward briskly, hoping to avoid the treatment her other pet is getting.
As I rub my cheek against her leg in greeting, Kevin goes to his knees.
"Will you hold your tongue?" she asks him. Her lips twitch into a smirk at her own dark pun.
He nods frantically. She waves a hand toward him as she pivots away. When his tongue shrinks back into his mouth, it reminds me of a snail pulling into its shell.
"Good. As I said, we'll talk later." She doesn't glance back at him, just starts a slow trek along the path through the woods. The chilly night air is never a friend to her knees. I think about pouncing on the hem of her trailing robe, but then I think better of it. I turn back to watch Kevin where he kneels, leaning heavily on his hands, still trying to catch his breath. He raises his head, and I meet his gaze as he glares after us with bloodshot eyes.
That's right, buddy. Look who's the favorite now.
The next day, it's business as usual. I'd like to take a nap, but Cat is distracted by everything: a passing shoelace, the shop broom moving across the floor, the sound of paper bags crinkling.
. First my ears and then my eyes are drawn to the source of the sound. Eunice's granddaughter, Cassie, plops a brown paper bag onto the counter, and it rustles again as she rests a dainty hand on it.
"Thanks for the pickles, Gran. You know how Dan loves them. You're sure there's nothing else before I go?"
"I'm fine. Run along."
"I'm not convinced," Cassie says, turning her head to the side, her brow pulling downward, her pale blue eyes narrowing as she scrutinizes her grandmother's face. "You don't look well to me."
"Just off my feed. Nothing to concern yourself about. Back to Boston with you, and don't forget the pickles." Eunice pushes the paper bag toward her. It makes the scrunching noise again. I try not to let the sound excite me, but it does. My haunches tingle. I want to spring.
"Okay, but call if you need me." She leans over the counter to plant a kiss on Eunice's withered cheek with her full, candy-pink glossed lips, then turns and leaves the shop, her long brown hair swaying gently across her back as she goes. If she'd been wearing stockings on those shapely, skirt-clad legs, Cat would have been off the counter like a shot to shred them for her, taking me along for the ride.
I track her departure until I spot an iridescent, feathery pigeon strolling along the back of a bench just outside the plate-glass window where Eunice showcases her magical wares. My entire being follows its every movement, lust for the hunt rising, but I'm trapped inside and can't get to it. I can only stalk it with my eyes as it struts along beyond the display of colorful potions and powders.
Another day, I'll tear into that pigeon: I have hope. I have nothing but hope. The hope I'll someday be a man again is the only thing that keeps me from running out my nine lives one after the other after the other.
But no matter how much hope I cling to, I won't be having pigeon dinner today. The swaggering bird shifts on its perch, flicks its tail, and drops a load of splat on the bench before flying away uneaten. That's what you get with hope.
My ex-wife Gillian interrupts my bird-watching the next time the shop bell ting-a-lings. She strolls in, disappears behind a shelf, then reappears with a jar in her hand. She heads for Eunice, who's been glaring at her since the door opened, and holds the jar outstretched for her to see. From where I lounge next to the cash register, I can't tell if it's vervain or bat wing.
Good. It's time for the weekly skirmish. Although Gillian is a powerful witch, she's never been invited to my mistress's rituals beneath the Black Moon. She and Eunice are worlds apart as witches go.
"Eunice, what are you asking for this?"
"The price is on the bottom. The same place it is every time you ask."
Gillian turns the jar over and lets out a low whistle.
Eunice responds, "Go to Salem if you have a problem with the prices. They cater to the drugstore witches over there."
"You've always been an opportunist!" Gillian replies in the remnants of her British accent. The wording never changes. My sweet Gilly has become a creature of habit.
"And you're a fat, old witch," Eunice reels off from the tape the two of them have played over and over again through the years. She's a creature of habit now, too, although her accent has become more refined over time. To hear her, you'd think she's one of Boston's Brahmins. She certainly wants the residents of our dysfunctional hamlet to think so.
I only half-listen these days, particularly when I've got a good groove going with the paw-lick / ear-swipe combo. The fight never varies much. Over the years, they've both frozen into their own idealized versions of themselves. Gillian's colorful, long skirts swish along the ground enticingly, and her flowing embroidered tops make her look approachable but sloppy. She still wears her white hair long, but most days she twists it and holds it up with a clip on top of her head instead of letting it hang loose down her back. Eunice is a sharp contrast: she's all lines and angles in tailored, beige perfection with short, carefully mussed gray hair that frames a face weighed down by frowns.