The dark trees loomed over the clearing where the small fire burned.
The rainy gray daylight barely penetrated the thick canopy of forest. It was afternoon in the rest of the world, but in the trees a murky twilight filled the air.
Two figures hunched near the fire and peered into the small iron dutch oven that hung above the flames.
“You’re doing it wrong,” said the first, a pudgy blond girl wearing jeans and a green polo shirt.
“I am not. I’m doing it exactly like the book says,” the second said, tossing her tangled dark hair over her shoulder. She sat on a boulder next to the fire, a black leather jacket over her blood-red, velvet dress. A heavy silver pendant—a five cornered star enclosed in a circle—hung from her neck. It brushed against the large dusty book balanced on her knees.
“Then why does it look like cat barf?” The pudgy girl stuck an iron spoon in the dutch oven and scooped up a sample. “See?”
“Well, maybe if you took this more seriously . . . ”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Maybe if you tried to dress for the part a little? At least I’m trying to look like a witch.”
The pudgy girl snorted. “It doesn’t matter how you look.”
The other girl twirled a strand of hair around a black-lacquered fingernail and squinted at the book. “Maybe if you’re not doing real magic.”
The pudgy girl sighed. “Heather, you don’t—”
“Circe,” the dark haired girl said impatiently. “Don’t call me Heather. Real witches aren’t named Heather.” She looked up and glared at her companion. “Or Dana.”
Dana rolled her eyes. “What about Kady? Or Natalie? You’re telling me Natalie doesn’t do real magic? I’ve seen Natalie do big scary magic in sweaty running clothes. Using Gatorade in place of ram’s blood.” Dana grimaced at the dutch oven. “I bet Natalie’s version of this wouldn’t look like cat barf.”
Heather ignored this comment. “We have to make this work. How else will I convince him to pick me?”
Dana rolled her eyes again. “He’s like thirty years old. And he’s gay. That was his boyfriend who died when his world blew up.”
“I don’t think he’s all that gay,” Heather said. “I’ve seen him looking at me.”
“Yeah,” Dana said. “Along with everybody else and the wall and the floor and—”
Heather slammed the book shut and glared at Dana. “Why do you always have to be so negative about everything?”
“Accepting reality isn’t negative. It’s grown-up. Like having a job.” Dana pulled a cell phone out of her back pocket. “Like the job I’m gonna get fired from if I don’t leave now.” She looked up at Heather. “Can you clean this up without me?”
Heather refused to meet her eye. “Whatever. I’ll clean it up. Go to your stupid job. If you really cared about the craft you wouldn’t bother with a job.”
“We’re not in high school anymore. Witches need to eat and pay rent just like everybody else.” Dana paused a beat. “At least everybody not still living with their parents.”
Heather gave her a sour look, but said nothing.
“Thank you,” Dana said in a syrupy voice. She ran to her small, beat-up car, and drove away without a backward glance.
“She’s just jealous,” Heather muttered.
“Of course she is,” a feminine voice purred. “All women are jealous. Particularly witches.”
Heather squealed, dropped the book, and nearly fell off her boulder. She looked up and saw a woman, dressed in black, standing on the other side of the fire.
The woman had thick flowing blond hair. She wore a tight fitting black leather jacket that plunged into a low v-neck. Underneath, black lace peeked through, accented by the emerald green satin scarf wrapped around her pale throat. Her black skirt was velvet like Heather’s dress, but tighter, falling to mid-calf. A slit in the front revealed a pair of black leather laced-up boots with a high spiky heel.
Around her neck, the woman wore a silver pentacle necklace identical to one Heather wore. Her eyes glanced on Heather's pentacle, and she smiled, small white teeth glistening behind dark red lips.
“You scared me,” Heather squeaked.
“I’ve been looking for you,” the woman said, in a low musical voice.
The woman nodded. “Yes. You. I can feel your power from where I stand. I could feel it before I arrived. Your power, your potential, led me here.”
Heather’s mouth dropped open. “How do you . . . who are you?”
“Someone who understands that real magic requires real witches. Someone who honors the traditions of the craft. Someone not afraid to show the world what she is.”
“You’re a witch,” Heather said, breathlessly. “A real witch. You . . . you get it.”
The woman nodded. “I do get it. Much better than those work-a-day drabs who infest this town, with their sloppy demeanor and slipshod spell casting. Natalie Segretti, for instance. She is powerful, I’ll give her that, but she sorely lacks style. It denigrates the craft.”
Heather nodded. “Style matters. That’s what I keep telling everybody and they laugh and treat me like a dumb kid.”
“Even your friend,” the woman said in gentle voice. “The one who ruined your spell and left you behind to clean up her mess.” She shook her head. “Shameful, the way standards have slipped in this town.”
“Will you teach me?” Heather asked in a rush. “Please? I’m with this stupid rich woman who wears pastels and plays golf. She’s awful.”
The woman smiled. “Perhaps, but first you must prove yourself. Raw talent is not enough. You must show me that you have the necessary cunning and strength, that you understand the sacrifices that must be made to achieve true power.” She paused a moment. “And true love.”
Heather flushed. “He’s . . .” She stared down at her lap. “They all want him. They tell each other he’s gay, but I know they all think they’re the one woman who can make him forget all that.”
“While they squabble, do you have the will to take him? To fight for him?”
“Dana says it’s a crush, not love, but she’s wrong. I know I can make him forget that man and forget all of them too. If I could only get the spell to work.”
“Here, little one,” the woman said. “Let me help you.”