Urban Fantasy Suspense Contemporary

Raymond’s camcorder beeped, causing him to nearly fall out of the tree he was perched in.

How long had he been asleep? He’d checked to make sure the camcorder was working, and then…

Shit. The moon had been much lower last he’d seen it.

The camcorder beeped again. Low battery.

He rummaged through his ski jacket’s puffy pockets, hoping his past self had thought to bring extra AA batteries. He hadn’t. Shit.

Well, maybe there was enough time to run home and grab some. Snow still covered Dr. Haberworth’s driveway, which meant—

The front door creaked open, eerily loud in the snowy silence. At the same moment, the camcorder beeped one final time, winking out. Shiiit…

Dr. Haberworth peeked out like a spooked squirrel, head darting left, then right, then left, then right. Raymond couldn’t say for sure from within the tree’s leafy canopy, but he could’ve sworn she was glowing faintly.

The woman continued scanning the area for a full two minutes. The camcorder might’ve been dead, but nothing could stop his good ol’ analog watch. He had to squint to read it in the darkness, but it looked to be 3:02am. At least the snowstorm meant there’d be no school tomorrow. Probably. The mayor was pretty random about snow days.

Finally, Dr. Haberworth stepped out from the entryway, full body coming into view. And… she was definitely glowing. Lit against her unlit house, there was no doubt about it.

Weirdly, she wasn’t wearing snow-worthy clothing—no jacket, no boots, no gloves. Were those… Twilight pajamas? And pink bunny slippers? Raymond hardly knew the woman—she was new in town—but he had to hold back a chuckle.

Still, he worried as she walked out into the snow. Dressed like that, she was prone to get sick. It was a good way to get out of school, but work was different. And if doctors like Dr. Haberworth didn’t show up to work, who took care of sick people?

The snow wasn’t deep enough to sink into more than up to your ankles, but Dr. Haberworth didn’t seem to sink at all. Trick of the light, maybe—but what light? The moon, or the increasingly bright light coming from her body? Raymond had just learned about bioluminescence in biology, but he didn’t remember people lighting up like fireflies.

She stopped at the edge of her driveway, car safely parked in the garage. That left Raymond unable to see what she was doing with her hands, since her back now faced him. So far as he could tell, she was gesturing at something, mumbling to herself. Creepy. She—

A flash so bright it was as if the sun had punched through the moon.

Blinded, Raymond dropped the camcorder.

When his vision cleared, the snow in the driveway was gone, and Dr. Haberworth was looking straight at him.



Raymond rang the new neighbor’s bell. He saw a car through the garage window, but that didn’t mean anyone were home.

Thankfully, someone answered a moment later. Tall as a basketballer and skinny as an empty toothpaste tube, the woman’s eyes were a striking blue. Hard not to get lost in. “If your parents sent you over with a housewarming gift,” she said, “tell them I appreciate it, but I have enough cookies to feed an army.”

“Enough cookies to start a bakery” would’ve worked better, but Raymond just chuckled. “That’s not why I’m here, but I wouldn’t count my mom out from coming later. Her pastries are to die for, just saying.” He cleared his throat, extending a hand. “Anyway, I’m Raymond. You can call me Ray.”

The woman didn’t take his hand right away. “Dr. Cammy Haberworth,” she said, accepting the hand. “I prefer Dr. Haberworth.”

“Will do, Dr. Haberworth.”

“How old are you?” She looked him up and down with those eyes of hers. Luckily, he could pass off the resulting shiver as induced by the cold. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Seventeen. Be 18 in a week.”

“Mm. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Well, as you can see,” Raymond began, pointing at her snowy driveway, “you’ve got a snow problem. As you can also see,” he said, lifting his trusty shovel, “I have a solution. My rates are fare and I have a no-snowflake-left-behind policy. If you’re unsatisfied, I give you half back and guarantee a better job next time—also at half price. If you’re unsatisfied after that, there’s always Johnny Wilkins down the block… but just between us, he charges more than I do and leaves your driveway looking like an avalanche. You won’t find a better deal than mine if you try.”

Dr. Haberworth folded her spindly arms. “I smell business school in your future, young man.”

Ooh, he hated when people called him that. But the customer was always right. He nodded, plastering on a smile.

“As much as I appreciate your magnanimous offer, however, I prefer shoveling the driveway myself. At night, when the world is quiet.”

“I can respect that, Dr. Haberworth,” he said carefully, “but I insist: leave it to the professionals. Because you’re new around here, I’m even willing to start you off at half price.”

She pulled her arms in tighter. “No thank you, young man.”

“Last chance offer: one quarter my usual rate. I—”

“No thank you,” she snapped, gritting her teeth. Something flared in those blue eyes. Something dangerous. Raymond unconsciously backed up a step.

Dr. Haberworth collected herself. “My apologies. I… don’t want to start things off on the wrong foot. We are neighbors, after all. Please, take some of the excess cookies by way of apology. Are you allergic to nuts?”

Raymond shook his head, forcing himself not to look as scared as he felt. What had ticked her off? He’d given his snow-shoveling spiel dozens of times, and not even those who ultimately refused ever reacted like that. The worst before this had been Johnny Wilkins’s mom, who Raymond hadn’t known was Johnny Wilkins’s mom because they looked nothing alike. She’d just said no and closed the door on him—didn’t even slam it in his face. Just closed it.

A minute later, Dr. Haberworth returned with a small Tupperware filled with pecan cookies. Only weirdos liked pecans, which meant his sister would happily take them. She’d be home from college this weekend with her new boyfriend.

“Thanks, Dr. Haberworth,” he said with another—hopefully convincing—smile. “And if you ever change your mind, I’m five houses that way. Supposed to be a snowy winter.”

“Yes…” she said, eyes narrow as she handed him the cookies. He gulped. “I imagine so.”



No way Dr. Haberworth could see through all those leaves. No way.

“Come down, young man.”

… Shit.

Her eyes had been difficult enough to tear himself away from before, but now? Her body had stopped glowing, but her pupils still shone like two stars set into her skull.

Still blinking away the effects of that flash, Raymond eased his way down the tree, taking it one branch at a time. It was treehouse-worthy, so it held his weight easily enough.

Unfortunately, his camcorder had fallen toward Dr. Haberworth, which meant he had to get closer to that deathly stare. Stupid gravity. Why couldn’t the camcorder have fallen the other way? Maybe he’d learn next year in physics.

Mustering his deepest reserves of courage, Raymond moved toward the camcorder, step by step, feet sinking into the snow in the yard. Dr. Haberworth stood where the driveway met the walkway, the latter of which had also been cleared. No snowflake left behind.

“To what do I owe the pleasure this time… Raymond, was it?”

He came to a halt as she spoke. How could anyone’s voice be colder than the air around it? Well, he had a job to do with his own voice: speak clearly, so she couldn’t sniff out the lies. “I was filming nocturnal animals. Call it a hobby.”

“Would you mind if I called it a lie instead?”

Not his best work. Could he salvage it? “I’d show you, but my camcorder broke when it fell.”

Dr. Haberworth plucked it from the snow, a bird confident in its ability to catch the worm. “It doesn’t appear to be broken.”

“Well… battery’s dead, anyway.”

“So, you were filming suburban nocturnal wildlife with a dead camera? Fascinating.” She handed him the camcorder, eyes finally losing their glow—but not their intensity. “You’ll have to tell me all about how you achieve such a feat. Do come in. It’s getting nippy out here.” She strode inside in those ridiculous pink bunny slippers, not bothering to check if he followed.

Somehow, though, Raymond didn’t think running would be wise.

He entered her home, shutting the door behind him. All the lights were off. Where had she gone?

“My apologies,” her voice said from somewhere nearby. “Filming nocturnal creatures does not transform you into one yourself, does it?” She flipped a light on in the room to his left—a living room. A completely normal, completely average, completely livable living room. That was almost disappointing, considering the odd circumstances. Almost.

Dr. Haberworth went to sit on the couch, but thought better of it. “You must be freezing; I’ll put on some tea. Or would you prefer hot chocolate?”

“Um… hot chocolate, please.”


“Sure. If you have them.”

“I would not have asked if I didn’t,” she said, gesturing to the couch and walking off toward the kitchen. She didn’t turn on any lights.

“Should I take off my boots?” he called after her. He was dead in the middle of Scary Central, but he needed to treat this interaction as normally as he could manage. Maybe then she’d decide against sucking his blood or whatever.

“Please do. You wouldn’t want to track snow on my clean floors, would you?”

“No. Of course not.” Reluctantly, he did as asked. Escaping without boots in the snow would suck, but it was better than being dead.

Dr. Haberworth returned a short time later with a pawprint mug of hot chocolate Raymond was admittedly looking forward to drinking and a small platter of… pecan cookies. “I know I asked earlier, but no nut allergies, correct?” she asked as she took the recliner across from him.

“Nope. I probably won’t have any, though. I like to keep snacks with me when I’m out filming. Keep the cramps away, y’know?”

“Naturally,” she said, eyes locked on to his. Did she have to? “Hunger is a terrible thing.”

Raymond nodded, blowing at the hot chocolate. “Thanks,” he said, summoning every ounce of willpower he had to avoid averting his own eyes. “So, nocturnal animals. I’m a big possum fan, myself. Did you know they—”

“Cut the chatter,” Dr. Haberworth interrupted sharply, gritting her teeth as she did when she’d snapped at him earlier in the day. “We both know it wasn’t nocturnal wildlife you came here to observe.”

With the illusion shattered, Raymond finally allowed himself to look away. He stared into the depths of his mug, hot chocolate not as comforting as it would normally be.

“I could have you fined or jailed for invasion of personal privacy, you know,” the woman said, voice returning to its former coldness. “And that would be generous, considering how punishment is meted out where I’m from.”

“Where are you from, anyway?” he asked. It was easier to keep his voice from quavering when he wasn’t looking at her, but he forced himself to anyway; he’d had his reprieve. “Obviously not from around here.”

“That doesn’t matter. But you saw what I did.”

It wasn’t a question. Raymond nodded. “Never seen anything like it. Not in real life, at least.”

“How do you mean?” she asked, seeming genuinely curious. So strange, how her emotions flipped on a dime.

“Well, you see that kind of stuff in fiction. It was like you had superpowers.”

Dr. Haberworth snickered, leaning forward, her pink bunny slippers following suit. “I’m no superheroine, young man. I’m what you might call… a witch.”

“So you have magic?”

“I don’t ‘have’ magic, child. I use it. And sometimes…” She trailed off, thankfully taking a moment to stare into her unlit fireplace. “Sometimes it uses me.”

Raymond shivered—this time without the bite of cold wind as an excuse.

“This frightens you,” Dr. Haberworth said, sitting back.

“Wouldn’t it frighten you?” he asked. “You go over to your new neighbor’s place, ask her if you can shovel her snow, get yelled at, then—”

“No need to recount today’s events. My memory is sound.”

That actually got a laugh out of him, which he covered by sipping his hot chocolate.

Silence passed, Dr. Haberworth tapping her chin as if deep in thought. “Then it’s an explanation you seek.”

“Well… yeah. That’s what I came for, though this isn’t how I intended to get it.”

“You instead intended to get it by spying on me.”

He scratched his neck sheepishly. Thank goodness he wasn’t striking a deal; his body language was all over the place. “Sorry. You said you shoveled at night, so I wanted to see what techniques you used. I’ve been shoveling snow for a long time, see, and I’m always trying to improve my technique.”

“It’s the same as shoveling during the day—only, I put on a little light.” Her smile was as chilling as her voice. “You are not as good a liar as you believe yourself to be, Raymond. In fact, I’d say you could use a great deal of practice. I could help with that.”


“Worry not,” she said. “As you did not manage to capture footage of my feat, I don’t much care that you witnessed it. Who would believe you?”

Shit. She saw right through everything he said and did. Who was this woman?

“Does my offer interest you?” Dr. Haberworth asked.


“Improving your lies. An enterprising young man like yourself could certainly use such a skill.” She paused, considering, but Raymond could tell she already knew what she was going to say next. Quite the saleswoman, this Dr. Haberworth. Maybe he could learn a thing or two. “We’ll make it a bargain: I could teach you how to ‘shovel’ at night, as well.”

“Deal,” he said, extending a hand.

For a moment, she was taken aback; she hadn’t expected him to say yes—not so quickly, at least. He could still gain the upper hand, here.

If,” he continued, “you agree to let me help you become more… personable. Turn up the charm a little, y’know? You have potential.” He scooted closer, hand still out. “You scratch my back, I scratch yours.”

“You will not touch my back.”

“See that?” he asked. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. That’s how you scare people. And if you live in this neighborhood, scaring people is the last thing you want to do. You’ll end up behind bars before you can say, ‘I’m not a witch!’”

Her brow furrowed. “But… I am a witch.”

It took everything Raymond had not to roll his eyes. “Just shake my hand. I promise this will be as worth it for you as it is for me.”

Lady Luck must’ve been watching, because Dr. Haberworth finally shook his hand. “We have a contract, then, Raymond.”


“What was that?”

He smiled. “When we first met, we introduced ourselves. You told me to call you Dr. Haberworth, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I told you that you could call me Ray, but so far you’ve only called me ‘young man’ or used my full name.”

Dr. Haberworth nodded slowly, shifting one of her pink bunny slippers sideways and adjusting her Twilight pajamas. Good. She was easing up a bit.

“That being the case,” she eventually said, “you may call me by my true name when we are alone: Camyna Hablewenth.”

“Cammy Haberworth is already a cool name, but that’s even cooler.” When she didn’t respond, he quickly followed up. “That was a compliment.”

“Yes,” Camyna said. “I just… do not know how to reciprocate.”

“No need; compliments are usually one-sided.” He waved a hand. “But we’ll get there. For now… am I free to go?”

“You always were, young m—ah, Ray.” She stood. “We can iron out the details of our arrangement at a later time. It’s late, and I’m sure your parents are worried.”

“Nah. My mom wouldn’t wake up if a nuke went off right beside her bed.”

Raymond expected Camyna to misunderstand the joke—and she might have, but what she said next he did not expect. “This is the second time I’ve mentioned your parents, and you responded by speaking only of your mother. Do you not get along with your father?”

Raymond knew by now not to lie to her, so he spoke the truth. “My dad died when I was still a baby. Murdered. Don’t get along with my stepdad, though.”

Camyna actually had the decency to look sorry. No… he had to stop thinking about her like that, especially if he wanted to help her act more like a person. She did look sorry.

“As long as I’m speaking truths,” Raymond continued, “I should tell you… I was going to record you to make an ad for my services. With a ‘this is what you shouldn’t do’ voiceover layered over you shoveling snow at night. I’m really sorry. That was wrong of me.”

“It was,” she said. “But I accept your apology.”

He nodded. “Thanks for the hot chocolate.”

As he went to put his boots on, he heard Camyna behind him. “You forgot something,” she said.

The camcorder.

“Right,” he said, sticking it in his jacket pocket. “Wouldn’t want to leave evidence at the scene of the crime.”

“With magic,” Camyna said, “that will become even easier.”

Joke or not, Raymond met her eyes and smiled anyway.

December 09, 2022 22:22

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Wendy Kaminski
05:04 Dec 20, 2022

This was a terrific story, Benny! (I do so enjoy a little grift between friends! ;) Loved the pacing, and, really, just everything about this. It was an unusual pairing, an elder marm witch with a young adult male pupil. You made it work quite well. Nicely done story, and great writing, too!


Benny Regalbuto
18:14 Dec 20, 2022

Thanks much, Wendy! I originally intended the events to play out quite differently, but we all know there's magic in writing, and sometimes it controls us!


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