Karen Sutton’s boyfriend, Michael Ross (a.k.a. Mike), had broken up with her the day after Halloween because he no longer wanted to be “tied down in a relationship.” Karen thought it was just a pleasant way of saying he preferred to date a slut—instead of someone who aspired to save herself for marriage. And no, she wasn’t some stick-in-the-mud Christian hell-bent on preserving her chastity; however, she had never forgotten her mother’s words of advice on her sixteenth birthday: If a man can get the milk for free, why would he purchase the cow? A crass aphorism with some degree of underlying legitimacy.
Anyway, she promised herself to defer all romantic pursuits—and obligatory revenge—until the first day of spring, allowing time for some self-care; accordingly, she had spent most of the long, bleak winter holed up in her dorm room studying psychology, reading her favorite romance novels, endeavoring to thwart the accumulation of excess weight to her lithe body, and unearthing all the material she could regarding the subject of witchcraft.
But the first day of spring was finally here.
Which meant Karen, especially after seeing Mike leave the college dining hall draped all over some blond bimbo, was anxious to implement some much-needed revenge on her past love interest. And thanks to a book titled 101 Spells for the Practicing Wiccan, she had the perfect bewitchment for the occasion. She just needed to enlist the assistance of her friend Jennifer, since the spell required two witches for proper implementation.
Karen picked up her iPhone and sent Jennifer—her green-bubble friend—a text message:
Karen: U there?
Jennifer: one sec
Jennifer: roommate bitching, SUP
Karen: Can it be 2NTE?
Jennifer: u sure?
Karen: Hell yes!!!
Jennifer: if you’re really, really sure?
Karen: Yep!!! CWYL
Karen tossed her phone onto the bed and grabbed the book of spells. She turned to a dog-eared page with a heading that read SPELL 57 – ALL IS FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR. She said aloud, “Yeah, ‘harm ye none’ my ass.”
Later that evening, Karen knocked on the door of her friend’s dorm room, and after several agonizing seconds, the door opened. Jennifer stood in a small and jumbled room lit only by a smattering of candles, her disheveled black hair an exclamation point to her sweeping gothic appearance.
“Damn, Jen,” Karen said, “you look like shit.”
“Eat me, bitch.” She stretched in an exaggerated fashion, yawned, and then added, “Ya bring the book, my pretty?”
Karen held up the tattered book for Jennifer to see. “Duh! You get rid of the roommate?”
“Yeah, told her I had a girl coming over for some carpet munching,” she said, shutting the door behind her. “Said she could stay and watch—if she wanted. Don’t think she’s much of a voyeur because she’s spending the night with her boyfriend.”
“Well, what the hell are we waiting for?” Karen asked, motioning toward a large candle. “He’ll pay for dumping me.” She growled under her breath. “And what the hell does that fling of his got that I don’t?”
Jennifer rolled her eyes and snatched a candle from the wooden table beside her bed, the label on the jar depicted a black cat arching its back, and the words MIDNIGHT DREAM printed underneath. The two girls sat in the center of the shadowy room with the candle alight between them. Karen had the spellbook in her lap open to SPELL 57.
“Hey, you know, it’s not too late to forget all this mess. Because I’m, you know, a bit nervous about using witchcraft for payback. After all, the Wiccan Rede says—”
“We already talked about this a thousand times, Jen,” Karen said. “You understand how important this is to me.” She thought for a moment and then added, “I’m lonely, and he’s screwing some freshman slut with bleached blond hair.”
“You got me, right?”
“Hell, no! He can’t get away with this shit. I’ve waited long enough, and now it’s time for some compensation. Are you going to help me or what?”
Jennifer took a deep breath and then said, “Okay, okay. I’ll call the corners.” She stood and faced east. “Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, I do summons and call thee to bless and guard this circle.” She did similarly while facing to the south, west, and north. And then, “The circle is now cast. We are between the worlds.”
Karen performed the ALL IS FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR spell. Afterward, Jennifer closed the circle, being careful not to knock over the bowls of salt and water as she traced the circle in reverse. Then, they sat quietly in the soft glow of the candlelight, sipping Diet Coke and eating a box of Wheat Thins pilfered from Jennifer’s roommate’s desk drawer.
Finally, Karen broke the silence, “So?”
“How long until things start to happen?”
Jennifer took a swallow of soda, released a prolonged burp, and then said, “I don’t know. It’s not an exact science. And that’s if anything happens at all.”
You don’t want it to work, Karen thought. You’re jealous—always have been. “Why wouldn’t it happen? Did you intentionally miss a step?”
“I didn’t say it wouldn’t, jeez. Out of all the spells I’ve cast the last couple of years, well . . . maybe only six of them didn’t work.” She averted her eyes. “And a few more . . .”
“What?” Karen’s brow furrowed. “A few what, Jen?”
“You know, like sometimes, when you cast a spell, you might not get the—what’s the word—intended result.”
Karen could feel her face getting hot; she inhaled deeply and then slowly released the breath through pursed lips. “What the hell does that mean? You better start talking right now, Jen, or so help me—”
“Damn, woman,” Jennifer said, “take a chill fucking pill.” She took another sip from her drink, but this time she didn’t belch. “Last year, for example, there was this really hot girl in my chemistry class.” She used her hands to indicate ample breasts. “She had nice boobs and wide hips. Wow, what a looker. Anyway, I did this spell to . . . you know, get her fire going for me.”
“And what happened?”
“Well, the next week, we were in the lab—Mr. Lindell had us doing an experiment. She, um, caught her hair on fire with a Bunsen burner. Must have used a whole can of hairspray that morning, ‘cause it went up in flames like nobody’s business.”
“Shit!” Karen said, clenching her hands into fists without realizing it. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
Jennifer didn’t answer at first, but then, “I-I did try to warn you. You just haven’t wanted to listen since you broke up with Mike.”
Karen got to her feet and began pacing the floor. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
“There’s more, too, because . . . when I was in high school, one time, I was at band camp—”
“Just stop it!” Karen dropped to her knees in front of Jennifer and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her face-to-face. She could smell a mishmash of perfume, body odor, and Wheat Thins. “What are you telling me? How many times has it occurred, Jen?”
“Fuck, I’ve never counted.”
“Damnit, Jennifer, how many times?”
A single tear meandered down Jennifer’s cheek, paused at the corner of her mouth, and then jumped from her pallid chin. “Most of the time, you know, things get”—she shrugged—"screwed up.”
Karen fell backward onto her butt with a thud. “What have I done?”
Jennifer tried to placate her, to tell her things would be all right, that she needn’t worry, but Karen knew better. She could already feel a nauseating spirit of foreboding growing deep within her gut, and she wasn’t certain if it would happen today, tomorrow, or a month from now, but she knew it would happen. Perhaps she’d fall down a flight of steps and break her neck. Maybe some psychopath would stab her with a knife while on a jog through the park. Or, if she was exceptionally lucky, perhaps a quick and painless car accident.
However, when the candles went out simultaneously and Jennifer screamed in bloodcurdling agony and the strong smell of urine filled the room, Karen understood. So, when an icy hand clutched her throat . . .
She knew it would happen tonight.