It’s freezing, she thinks, slowly traipsing out of the waves, green robes clung tight against her shoulders. Already she's shivering, goosebumps popping out on her pale skin in the cool night air.
She's tired of traveling.
The girl carries nothing but three glowing blue jars and an odd, star-shaped necklace that contains both a demon with a silly name and an engravement of the last words her brother ever spoke to her. She makes her way to the cabin she’d rented in preparation for making the journey to the mortal realm and dumps her stuff down with a sigh.
She’d enrolled in a local college that’s small and adorable and the perfect disguise. It shouldn't be difficult to blend in, she decides.
The people who she met on her journeys, of which there were many, developed three impressions upon visitation. One, she was very intelligent. Two, she was extremely beautiful, and three, she was both female and American, with an accent that could've spooked a cat in the typical American fashion.
Two of these were incorrect. The girl was very intelligent, but her real form was not beautiful and she was both sexless and accent-less until she made an effort. Also, she didn't have a name. But for the sake of the story, we shall call her Annie, because Misery was terrifying and so is this girl.
Annie started college in the fall and picked up a job as a waitress at the local Red Robin to make money so she could buy things she hadn't been able to buy in either the Undersea, Hell, or the Providence. Wine, mostly. She’d missed wine.
Most books dealing with witchcraft are insistent that witches worked naked but this is because most books on witchcraft are written by men and if men had their way women would do everything naked. In Annie's case, she does work naked, but only because she was the odd sort who presented herself as stereotypes for her amusement.
Her classmates were absent to see it, but Annie worked late into the night stirring up brews and poultices that made her nipples green and singed off both her brows, occasionally glancing at the row of jars where faces writhed through the smoke. They were in torment, but Annie was doing Magic and would not be stopped.
He waited for her after class, flirtatious and traitorously handsome and perfect. He leans over her to peer at her notes, and she fights her annoyance through a fake, girly smile.
He says he's a good guy, and buys her flowers and jewelry and walks her home after school to prove his point, but she knows he's not. But it's okay because she doesn't want him to be nice. Deep down, nice guys and not-nice guys are exactly the same, but nice guys hide the facade in layers of niceness. At least the other sort didn't make it a secret on how much of a dick they really were.
She lets the weeks pass, intent on drawing him out further, making him trust her, making him love her. She watches for the flip: for his smile to become a little dewier, for the blush that would cover his tanned beach-boy cheeks when she laughed at his jokes. The day she saw it would be the last day of his life.
Annie isn't a bad person, by the way. Oh, no-no-no. Firstly she isn't a person so it's impossible; secondly compared to others of her kind she's Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony. She's completely terrifying, but most girls are at a certain stage.
No bad person here.
Annie is a delight for about twenty percent of the people she meets but she's also working towards a very big spell and she needs to collect love to complete it. Love from seven realms, to be exact, although the reader, with its dim, uncomprehending eyes can’t begin to guess at why/how these realms exist or how Annie could access them, and for that matter neither can the author. For the sake of the story, she teleported.
"You know," she says one night to her demon mage Humpenscrump, drunk and sleepy in her kitchen. "I did rather like the second one, from the Providence. Remind me her name again?"
Humpenscrump narrowed his eyes at his mistress. He'd never taken a particular liking to her, not only because she had given him a ridiculous name but because had given him Scrumpy as a nickname. "I think it was Marsha, Madam."
"Oh that's right," yawned Annie. "The biter. She was hot."
The only thing more demeaning than a ridiculous name--
"Remember her arms?" Annie traced her finger over the rim of her wine glass.
Was a ridiculous nickname, and--
"Bigger than tree trunks, they were. Used to squeeze me with them-- little too hard, but I didn’t mind," said Annie, dreamily.
As such Humpenscrump kept himself sane by picturing murdering his Madam in her sleep. Or any delightful, bloody scenario. Perhaps he'd stab through a green nipple to her heart.
"Humpenscrump,” scolded Annie. "You're doing it again. No more picturing my death, it makes your thoughts dreadfully gloomy to riffle through."
Scrumpy glowered. "Don't rifle then."
"If you want to kill me I’d need to know how to defend myself and invading your privacy is the best way to do that. Honestly, Scrumpy." Annie stood up to fetch another bottle of wine from the fridge. "Don't tell me you’re not expecting me to fight back?"
"If I'm honest, Madam, my most pleasant imaginings are that you're bound and gagged and -- quiet-- and all I need to do is drop the knife."
"Horrifying." Annie grinned at him. "But I promise you, Humples, that I will never go silently to the grave. Destroy that particular idea, please."
Humples. He closes his eyes against the pain.
"Anyway," Annie said, wobbling her way back over, a tub of ice cream under one arm and wine in the other. "I won't pretend I don't have some fantasies of my own. But they don't involve bloodshed as much as you." She grinned raunchily and poured the whole thing of wine into the container.
"While on the subject of bloodshed," said Humpenscrump, watching Fish Food ice cream drown in a torrent the color of Annie's hair with less distaste than dismay (he loved Ben and Jerry's,) "when are we done with this one? His smell irks me."
"Ugh I know, right?" Annie laughed, attacking the ice cream with a fork. `"It's all--" she waved a hand. "Moist. Like he's constantly thinking of sweating but his little brain can't make up its mind. That body is wasted on him." She makes a disgusted face. "Can't believe I have to sleep with him."
"You don't have to, Madam."
"No, I'm gonna." Annie brought the bowl up to her face and poured it over her mouth. "But after that," she said from behind the bowl, "we move on. Next realm. I'm thinking Dreams."
"Ugh," said Humpenscrump in disgust. "I despise Dreams. It's so confusing."
"It is," Annie agreed, using her fork to scrape the wine and melted ice cream off her face. Something in her fingers seemed to have melted and warmed the ice cream very quickly. "So many imaginations floating around seems like an accident waiting to happen. But we've got to go there eventually, and I figure sooner rather than later. You know the recipe. A heart--"
"From every realm, yes of course," finished Humpenscrump, rolling his demonic eyes. "Three down, four to go. And you're eating that wrong. You know that, right?"
Annie grinned like a knife. "That's your opinion."
Humpenscrump leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Society's opinion. It's insulting to ice cream."
"Oh, don’t throw another hissy fit." Annie ran her tongue over the fork’s prongs in a way that would have looked very cool if there wasn't a chunk of chocolate on her eyelash. "It bores me so."
"Madam, you are a menace to the rules of nature and--" He paused. “Hissy fit? I don’t--”
“You do too. Remember last week, you argued with me for an hour about that grammar conjugation?”
“I wasn’t arguing, I was proving a point!” Humpenscrump retorted, but Annie rolled her eyes and stood to wander off to bed. He shouted after her anyway. “It’s not its it’s it’s! Not “it’s paws were muddy and wet,” but “its paws were muddy and wet!” There’s a difference!”
“One lil’ comma hanging out by the ‘s’ never hurt anyone,” Annie called from her room. “Goodnight, Humpty-Scrumpty.”
“Do not call me that or I swear to Satan--”
“Goodnight, Scrumptilicious.” The light clicked off.
Humpenscrump glowered at the empty Fish Food container. Later he would think of some very impressive things to say, he was sure, but for now, he listened to her snores and pictured another entertaining way of causing her death.
Perhaps by setting her on fire.
Annie was like a shark in the water, though admittedly the type that was too dense to smell blood unless they were the one that had bitten their prey. But she’d bitten, hard, and her prey had finally bled.
He had smiled. A dewy boy-in-love smile. Unfortunately for him, the smile prevented him from seeing the insane light that lit up her eyes.
“I was quick like a bunny,” she told Humpenscrump as they dragged the body to their cabin. It faced the sea in a way that would have been romantic if its inhabitants had any interest in romance. Sometimes Annie did, but it was a mood. And she didn’t know what the hell went on in Humpenscrump’s head.
“Bloody annoying bunny, the kind that pees in your hands when you pick it up,” grumbled Humpenscrump, but Annie had become distracted with pulling her shirt off to begin witchcraft and didn’t seem to hear. She opened the body bag and carefully siphoned a droplet of blood from the marks on his neck. She dropped it into her cauldron and began to chant, with a lot of waving her arms and glowing green light. Humpenscrump yawned and settled against a wall.
Witchcraft was like driving down a deserted road and suddenly hitting a pedestrian. For miles and miles, it's boring: tumbleweeds rolling across an expanse of the earth like they were trying to escape, faded signs from forever ago, and the occasional dead thing, the kind you couldn’t identify.
You’re choking on your boredom at this point and wondering vaguely if the journey was worth it when suddenly-- BAM!! That pedestrian hits from out of nowhere, flying across the car, blood spraying, and it’s all you can do not to shit yourself. And then, just like in witchcraft, there are consequences a lot of the time but it’s all part of the experience of hitting your first person, so you can’t be bothered to care very much. Unless you have empathy, of course.
Witchcraft in a nutshell, except for the bit about shitting yourself.
“Jar!” Annie screamed about six hours in, and Humpenscrump opened one bleary eye, chucked it at her, and went back to sleep. He had learned long ago that, just like hitting people with cars, the situations in witchcraft are often much less dire than they appear.
Annie spent a few frantic minutes running around the room capturing essence while Humpenscrump snored. Shame he hadn’t thought to buy a camera, really. The sight of a naked woman running around with a jar and swiping at apparently nothing was extremely entertaining.
She slammed a glowing blue jar down beside the others chock-full of Tommy’s essence, the essence of love he’d had for her. “Four down!” she sang. “Pack everything up, Humpenscrump. We’re headed to Dreams.”
He pushed off the wall with a yawn.
“Body?” he asked, frowning at her ex on the floor.
He pointed. “Cauldron?”
“Ben and Jerry’s?”
“Leave it for Tommy.” She smiled fondly at his shape on the floor. “After all this, he deserves some ice cream.” She leaned down to press a kiss against his cold cheek. “Thank you, love. Your essence is going to help me get my brother back. I hope you know that it’s quite the worthy cause.”
Humpenscrump was frowning, probably over the idea of leaving his precious Ben and Jerry's to a corpse, but Annie grabbed his hand and a bottle of wine for each of them and within the hour they were gone.
The town she and her demon had lived in would never see anything so interesting again, except in a few years down the road when a toaster went ballistic and murdered five people. But even so, Annie was far more charming than a toaster and Humpenscrump was far more violent.
They had stayed there a little over two years, which was half the amount of time Annie had spent in the Undersea scrounging up another soul, but humans were more easily persuaded to offer up their hearts to one another. Unfortunately for them.
“How was it with Tommy?” Humpenscrump asked her as they trekked their way to a portal that would lead to Dreams.
“He whined a lot.”
“Better than Marsha the biter though, right?”
“Better than the biter,” she said agreeably. “But worse than the Sea Elf.”
“Maybe there’ll be a decent one in Dreams,” Humpenscrump said. He paused. “Do you think we’ll do it? Manage to finish the spell, I mean.”
Annie shrugged and smiled, but her eyes were sad. “Be a waste if we didn’t, wouldn’t it. I dunno. I hope we will let’s say that.”
“Hope is all you need.”
“Look at you,” she said fondly, poking his face with a fingernail. “Going all cheesy on me.” He scoffed, but his cheeks were red and she pretended not to notice. She wondered if she might marry him someday after she got sick of immortality. And after he stopped dreaming up ways to kill her, although she kind of liked some of them.
“Well,” sighed Humpenscrump, stopping at the portal. “To Dreams.”
“To Dreams,” she agreed, looking up at the stars and wondering if the spirit of her brother was there, watching her trying to save his life. She hoped he was and fingered the necklace of his last words: I’m sorry I punched your boyfriend, but I love you too much to pretend he’s good for you. Sweet and blunt and looking out for her, as usual. Annoyingly worth all this effort too, the arse.
A star seemed to wink at her.
“Three realms to go,” Annie said.