Witching and Moaning
The yellow taxi’s brakes squealed as it rolled to a stop outside the ten-story brownstone. Blair peered out of the back window, her heart leaping with joy inside her chest.
“There it is, Maeve.” She turned her dark-tressed head to the side to grin at the young blonde woman on the seat beside her. “Isn’t it great?”
Maeve pursed her lips as she leaned over Blair’s lap to stare at the apartment building.
“It’s so—so old!” Maeve gasped.
“It’s New York City, Maeve. Everything is old.” Blair gestured at the shallow steps leading up to the front entrance. “At least there’s no crumbling masonry or passed out drunks on the stairwell.”
Maeve opened her door, allowing a blast of crisp Autumn air inside the taxi. She glanced over at Blair and cocked an eyebrow. “That’s our bar?”
Blair chuckled as she exited the taxi, the wind stirring her hair into her face. She moved it away from her eyes with a practiced flick of her finger and approached the taxi’s open trunk. Maeve dragged her suitcases out and set them on the street while Blair slipped on a backpack.
“We were lucky to get a furnished apartment in Greenwich Village, Maeve.” Blair looked up at the perfect azure sky between the rooftops overhead. “I mean, just look at this place. So much history, so much character! Everything is so big and sprawling. You could fit most of Middleton right here in this neighborhood.”
“That’s not saying much,” Maeve grinned. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited. I’ve just heard a lot of horror stories about rental properties in New York. Did you get everything?”
“Everything but Felix,” Blair said. She reached into the back seat of the Taxi and carefully extracted a pet carrier. Blair peered through the mesh porthole at the curled-up bundle of white softness inside.
“It’s no use being quiet, I’m already awake.”
Blair chuckled. “Did you have a nice nap?”
“As nice a nap as one can have confined in a portable prison cell.”
Blair unzipped the side of the carrier and Felix trotted out. He leaped adroitly up onto her shoulder and curled around her neck with a practiced familiarity.
“You know the taxi driver wouldn’t let you in without a pet carrier.”
“I know. I also know you could have cast a Suggestion spell and changed his mind—literally.”
Maeve pursed her lips as she stood on the sidewalk nearby. “Um, Blair? People are staring?”
Blair shrugged. Several pedestrians and the Taxi driver himself eyed Blair with cautious suspicion.
“I’m sure in a city with more than eight million people, I’m not the only one talking to her pet kitty.”
“Pet?” Felix sputtered. “Pet? I am a familiar. Calling me a pet is like calling a shark a big fish.”
“I’m sorry, Felix,” Blair said, scratching him behind his ear.
“No! Stop it! I want to be angry—” Felix’s eyes closed, and he leaned into Blair’s scratching fingernail. “Ooooh yeah, that’s the spot.”
They entered the building, luggage wheels bouncing up the steps. A black cat looked up at Felix from atop a garbage can with curious eyes.
“Hey, watch yourself,” Felix hissed. “This is MY street now.”
“You’ve got to set the record straight with the big city cats. Otherwise, they think they can just walk all over you.”
The building’s interior enveloped them in the smell of Murphy’s wood polish and a sickly sweet aroma Blair couldn’t place. To the left of the entrance sat a small, caged-in security office. A balding, heavyset man with a pencil thin mustache and a sleeveless shirt which displayed how muscular his arms weren’t stood up swiftly. Blair noted the Swisher Sweets butts crushed into the nearby ashtray, the likely source of the pungent smell.
“Hello, ladies,” he said in a husky voice while he looked them up and down with what he no doubt thought were bedroom eyes. “You must be my new tenants. The Barrow sisters?”
Blair forced a smile onto her face, even though the man creeped her out on almost every level.
“Yes, we are. I’m Blair, and this is my sister Maeve.”
Maeve’s smile displayed more strain than Blair’s own. Felix’s ears went back as he regarded the man.
“I’m Gary, your building super and property manager.” He opened a drawer under his desk and rummaged around. “Let’s see…here we go. Fourth floor, corner apartment.”
He withdrew old-looking brass keys with a rattle and laid them on the desk. Instead of sliding the keys through the security hole at the bottom of this mesh cage, however, Gary cocked his head to the side.
“Sisters, huh?” He leered at each of them in turn. “Was your dad by any chance a traveling salesman?”
Maeve put her hands on her hips. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, nothing, I’m sure blondes and brunettes crop up in the same family all the time.” He slid the keys to Blair’s waiting grasp. “You have any problems with your apartment, maintenance issues, or you just want to talk…just let old Gary know. I’ll take extra good care of you.”
“Thanks,” Blair said, baring her teeth in what she hoped was a smile and not a grimace. The sisters gathered their luggage and strode to the elevator.
“What a creepo,” Felix said. “Want me to cough up a hairball in his underwear drawer?”
“You’ll do no such thing, Felix,” Blair said. “We’re new here. We aren’t in the Midwest anymore.”
“I think this is our apartment,” Maeve said, pointing at the paint-chipped but sturdy-seeming door.
“You want to do the honors?” Blair asked, holding up the jangling keys for Maeve.
“Wow,” Maeve said as she took the keys in her hands. “This is really happening, isn’t it?”
Maeve turned the key, undoing the deadbolt first, then the lock on the spindle. She pushed the door open with some difficulty until it shuddered into the apartment. Sunlight spilled in through a large bay window, pigeons cooing outside on the concrete edifice. Polished hardwood floors cast the window’s reflection in blurry, upside down effigy. Blair sighed in relief.
“No mildew smell, that’s good.”
“Yeah, it’s surprisingly clean,” Maeve said. “Just, um…small.”
“It’s New York City, Maeve. This is a palace compared to some places we looked at.” Blair turned her gaze about, taking in the open concept kitchen/living space, the doors on either side of the apartment which likely led to the two bedrooms. The black skeleton of a fire escape hung outside the window.
“How thoughtful of them to put in an entrance stairway just for cats,” Felix quipped.
Maeve went to the wall and flipped the switch, but neither the ceiling fan nor its attached lighting array stirred.
“Oh no,” Maeve said. “It’s busted.”
“I guess we better tell Gary,” Blair said with open distaste.
Maeve cocked an angular golden eyebrow. “Are you sure there’s not some other way you can handle this?”
Blair nodded. “Yes. I’d rather not give Gary an excuse to come up here.”
She laid her hand against the smoothly painted drywall and let her senses shift from the mundane realm into the Arcane. Her Electromancy talent let her sense the currents and wires moving through the walls and ceiling.
Blair sent a pulse of her innate Eldritch power pulsing through the outlet, and found the problem; a short in the wires some four feet from the switch.
“It’s not the whole apartment, just this switch,” Blair announced, sparks crackling in her eyes.
“That’s good news,” Maeve replied. “Can you fix it?”
“Yes, it’s a simple application of Transmutation magic to mend the wires back together.”
Felix twitched his tail. “You better let me back you up. You know Transmutation isn’t your strongest Discipline of magic.”
Maeve chuckled softly. “For a self-taught witch, Felix, I think she’s pretty darn impressive.”
“I’m not self-taught,” Blair said with a frown. “My bio-mother’s Grimoire had lots of notes. I almost think she was trying to prepare for…well, you know.”
Felix brushed his cheek against Blair’s ankle in a show of solidarity. “We going to cast this cantrip or what?”
Blair nodded. She linked her mind, her essence with Felix’s. As usual, his thoughts leaped out at her like flashes of synaptic lightning. The brightest pulse of all bore the words and somatic gestures of her mending cantrip.
Blair held her hands out to the sides, then brought them together slowly as she muttered the words of power under her breath. When her hands met before her sternum, fingers entwined, she finished the incantation and sent her intentions into the metaphysical realm of magic.
Three of the lights flicked into sudden brightness, and the fan swished into life.
“See?” Felix purred as he rubbed against Blair’s calf. “Thanks to my help, the spell went off without a hitch. You sure were lucky when I showed up to serve as your familiar.”
Maeve and Blair chuckled.
“Your modesty is underwhelming, Felix,” Maeve said.
“I’m a cat. If you want modesty, you’re looking in the wrong place.”
Blair chuckled as she extracted her phone and looked at the screen. A gasp escaped her lips when she saw the time.
“I’ve got to get going. Don’t want to be late for my first day of work!”
Blair stepped out of her bedroom, a look of distaste on her face as she gestured broadly at herself.
“How do I look?”
Maeve pursed her lips. “Good…”
“You look like the love child of Hillary Clinton and Tilda Swinton cosplaying as Elaine from Seinfeld.”
Maeve gaped at Felix in shock. “That wasn’t nice!”
Blair sighed, looking at the plain gray skirt suit adorning her lithe form. “This isn’t my style, but I’m trying to look professional.”
“What does it matter how you dress if you’re a writer?” Felix asked, his tail twitching in annoyance. “Come on, your fine feline familiar shall once again save the day by picking out a better outfit.”
“No time, Felix,” Blair said, checking her phone. “I’ve got to get going.
She glanced over at Maeve. “When do classes start?”
“Next Monday, why?”
“You should stop by the University and pick up your schedule.”
“Already downloaded it,” Maeve said with a wink. “Knock ‘em dead.”
“Not literally, of course,” Felix called as Blair headed out the door. “Unless it’s an Atragon Demon in disguise.”
Blair squinted at her phone as she closed the door behind her, calculating the fastest trajectory to TheShoot.com’s office. According to the map, she could shave off five minutes of her walk by exiting the apartment building through the rear.
Blair exited the elevator on the second floor, where the rear exit was located. Reservations prickled her mind as she walked down the worn hallway, past gutted apartments still under renovation. It didn’t seem to be the most inviting path out of the building.
She pushed open the heavy rear door and found herself at the top of a two-tiered wooden stairway, obviously a recent edition which didn’t match the other architecture. Blair thumped down the steps, growing aware of harsh voices speaking from under the stairwell.
“Hey, if you’ll just tell Maroni to give me another week, two tops, I’ll have it all turned around, I swear.”
Blair’s eyes narrowed at the sound of Gary’s pleading voice.
“Gary, we gave you an extension already. You know the drill. We’ve got to set an example.”
“Yeah, Gary. We know you’ve got to work on the building and stuff, so we’re not going to break nothing. You might be peeing blood for a while, though.”
Blair peered through the timbers of the stairwell, seeing two men pinning Gary up against the brownstone. While she wasn’t exactly friends with Gary, Blair’s upbringing and conscience wouldn’t allow her to just walk away.
She summoned up her eldritch power, augmented by a ley line overhead—one of the reasons she’d wanted to live in the Village was because of that ley line, a power source for witches and warlocks. To the mundane folk on the street, it was invisible. To her it pulsed and throbbed with a light akin to the aurora borealis, even in broad daylight.
Blair muttered the words to a Glamour, weaving the incantation together with some difficulty. Without Felix to help focus her mind, Blair struggled as she wove the spell.
In the end, her Glamour didn’t quite come off without a hitch. A cop car pulled into the rear lot of the apartment building, the two officers inside staring intently at the scene under the stairwell. However, the illusion was visual only. The car’s engine made no sound, and if the thugs threatening Gary had taken the time to inspect it carefully, they’d have found other flaws.
The cop car lacked an exhaust pipe, and instead of saying NYPD on the side it read Middleton Police Department. Fortunately, the thugs were mundane and had never encountered illusion magic before.
“This ain’t over, Gary.” The men released him and strode swiftly up the stairs. They frowned at Blair as they moved up past her, but she was careful to act studiously oblivious.
Blair walked out into the street and let the illusion dissipate. She checked her phone and found her magical stunt hadn’t cost her as much time as she’d thought.
She walked to the building where TheShoot.com rented office space. Unlike the apartment brownstone she shared with Maeve, the office building had seen better days. Blair noted the elevator was out of order and walked the six stories to her new office.
The frosted glass door leading to TheShoot.com was easy to find, thanks to the logo painted on the smooth surface. Blair opened the door and peered anxiously inside, finding twin rows of cubicles with people furiously typing away in all but one of them.
Blair entered the office and glanced about until she saw a door with the word ‘management’ emblazoned across its surface with big black letters. She made for it, walking swiftly over the thin carpet and reaching out to grasp the doorknob.
“Oh, hey, are you Blair?”
Blair turned about to find a small, brown skinned woman with frizzy red hair excitedly approaching. Her infectious smile quickly spread to Blair’s face.
“Yes, I am. Blair Barrows.”
“Jessica Forrester.” The woman pumped her hand enthusiastically. “I’m so glad to meet you. Our office manager Delia is going to be out until late this afternoon, so she asked me to get you oriented.”
Blair followed Jessica to the empty cubicle. A dusty monitor and tower set up awaited her, complete with a sticker denoting the username and password for access.
“So, are you familiar with TheShoot.com?”
Blair frowned. “A little? It’s come up on my news feed before.”
Jessica snorted. “Yeah, well, I wouldn’t call us a news site. Anyway, I’ll show you how to log onto your company email. That’s where you get your assignments every day. If you can’t do at least six articles a day, you get a warning. Then you get written up and fired.”
“Wow, okay,” Blair said. “I’ll do my best.”
“You’ll do fine,” Jessica said. “Pardon me for asking, but you’re not from the City, are you?”
“No,” Blair felt a tinge of color and warmth come to her cheeks. “Is it that obvious?”
“To me it is. You seem too sweet and nice to be a New York native. Don’t worry, stick with me and I’ll have you kicking butt and taking names in no time.”
“Thanks, Jessica,” Blair smiled. If her boss were as friendly and helpful as Jessica, TheShoot.com might turn out to be a nice place to work after all.
Until she opened her email and saw the articles on her itinerary. She was disheartened to realize that she was going to be writing little more than vapid clickbait articles.
“Top ten Hollywood Hotties?” she muttered, staring at her screen. “The Summer’s Most Coked Out Celebs? Seven things in your house right now that can kill you?”
“Told you,” Jessica said from the next cubicle over.
Blair worked on her ‘articles’ for the rest of the afternoon. At four o’clock sharp, her fellow cubicle denizens began packing up to head home.
“Um, did the manager ever come back?” Blair asked Jessica.
“No, but don’t worry. When you log in for your assignments you essentially clock in. Delia’s not the most softly spoken of leaders, but she’s pretty good when it comes to payroll.”
Jessica and Blair walked down the steps to the street together, Jessica chatting up a storm.
“Have you ever done yoga? Danielle and I do yoga three times a week, you should join us sometime. I think you’d like her; she wants to be a big time journalist like you. How long have you been in the city? No kidding, just moved today? This is kismet. We’re going to be the best of friends, you and I. Plus, you’re really cute. All the guys will flock over you, and I’ll get all your cast offs. Don’t look at me like that, you’re in New York now, sweetie. Time to enjoy life!”
Despite the non-stop barrage of speech, Blair decided she liked Jessica by the time they reached the bottom level. She was…sunny.
“Say, do you want to get a latte? There’s a neat little coffee shop down the street, hole in the wall really, but they’ve got the best biscotti.”
“Thanks, but my sister is waiting on me,” Blair said. “And if I don’t get home and give my cat some tuna, there’s going to be Hell to pay.”
“Aww, you’ve got a kitty? I’d love to see him sometime.”
Blair noted the implied request and smiled. “Sure, that would be great.”
“Awesome sauce! See you tomorrow, Blair.”
Blair felt a strange mix of emotions. Contentment that she’d completed her first day of work, joy at having achieved her dream of moving to New York City, and that strange feeling of disconnect which goes hand in hand with being in a new place.
She came around the last corner before home and saw flashing emergency vehicle lights.
Did I forget to banish my illusion spell?
Blair quickly realized the police cars, ambulance, and coroner’s wagon were all quite real…and parked directly behind her building.
Her mouth gaped open when she saw the body bag being loaded onto a gurney. Someone had died…
“Excuse me, are you Blair Barrows?”
Blair turned about to see a tall, dark-haired man wearing a frumpy suit and somber expression which diminished his otherwise handsome features. She noted one of his ears had a slight fold, and he had the walk—and build—of an athlete.
“Yes, I am.”
The man flashed a shiny badge at her. “Detective Christopher Farrow, NYPD. Do you have a sister named Maeve?”
Blair’s knees grew weak. She looked over at the body bag as it was loaded onto the coroner’s black wagon.