A Vampire and a Witch Walk Into a Crack House
Being a witch for hire has its pros and cons. Pro: I haven’t had a day job in five years. Con: The hours suck. Pro: Most people only think they want a witch and I put on a show and give them the same advice their mother gave them, collect a hundred bucks and they go away happy. Con: The hours suck.
Two years ago, in a fit of frustration, I mounted the following sign to my door:
Hours of Operation: 9 a.m. to Midnight
Hours I Will See Clients: 9 a.m. to Midnight
Hours I Will Open the Damn Door: 9 a.m. to Midnight
Hours I Will Sleep: Midnight to 9 a.m.
If you arrive between Midnight and 9 a.m. you may either wait quietly or Go Away. Those are your only two options.
Do Not Knock. I Will NOT Answer.
So, that night, the night that I met him, the night my life went and got complicated, I laid in bed and tried to ignore the pounding on my door. It was 1:15 and I was exhausted. Three clients that day, including one who wanted me to raise the dead. I hate raising the dead, then I spent the largest part of my evening putting a curse on a nonpaying client. Word to the wise, don’t try to screw a witch.
My policy of “just ignore it and it’ll go away” wasn’t working, though, and after ten solid minutes of pounding, I got up and stumbled to the door. On the way there, I imagined all the ways I could kill whatever psychopath was keeping me awake.
I threw the door open and blinked in rapid succession against the glare of the streetlights. Suddenly, all the visions I had dancing through my head were replaced with one big vision of me bleeding out in my own doorway. I took one small step backward to ensure that none of me was exposed outside the doorframe.
“What?” I asked the vampire.
“Um. I’m here for the witch?” He was unnaturally and annoyingly beautiful. You don’t meet that many unattractive vampires. I’ve never been sure if it was something with the process or if vamps only turn pretty people. But this guy could have been on the cover of Vampire Quarterly and made all the other vampires cry with envy.
He was well dressed, poised. And worst of all, awake.
“And?” I demanded.
“And, um… Is she home?” His milky skin contrasted with his slick dark hair and a collection of all black tattoos that seemed to be everywhere but his face. The tats were striking; mostly runes and sigils, snaking up his arms and around his neck.
“Number one, I am the witch. Witches wear pajamas, okay? When they are sleeping. Which is what I was doing. As per the sign. And if my pajamas are covered with cartoon characters, that’s none of your business. Number two, I don’t work until nine. No exceptions. Go away. Again, as per the sign. And number three, I don’t work for vamps. That isn’t on the sign, but I’m guessing you knew that. All the clans in this city know that. I have a strict policy.” I began to shut the door, but he held up his hand in a “wait” gesture and his eyes were... Damn it, they were just so desperate.
I debated slamming the door in his face anyway, but eventually, I relented and nodded. I am such a sucker. I could always charge double, I guess. Or triple. Hazard pay.
“I know all that. But this is an emergency. I need you and I don’t think anyone else can help.”
I can’t help but like people who think I’m awesome. “Come back at nine and I’ll give you a list of other witches who do work for vamps.”
“I’m sorry. Do you know what emergency means? I can’t wait until nine. The sun will be up and she’ll already be dead. And who knows how many with her. And you know as well as I do that every other witch on your list is a hedge witch, at best. You are the only real thing in the city and I need you.”
He was right. Damn it. I traded with the other witches and sent work their way on occasion. I had started the trend of cottage industry witchcraft, but many other covenless practitioners had picked it up. Of course, they were largely covenless because they didn’t have enough natural power to be attractive to a coven. The real witches had mostly left the city in favor of places with active covens.
None of that changed the fact that I didn’t take vampire jobs. The last one hadn’t gone well and had almost ended with me missing my carotid. As a general rule, vamps and witches don’t get along so well. We touch different kinds of magic and they aren’t exactly complementary. All that said, I had a reputation in this city and only part of it was kicking serious ass. If he was desperate enough to come for me, the one witch in town who wouldn’t take a vamp job for love, money or blood, it must really be serious. And I didn’t miss what he said about “how many others.” That did not sound good. As a witch, part of my job is to protect the mundanes. From all the stuff they were afraid of and all the stuff they didn’t even know to be afraid of.
“Fine. I’ll hear you out, but I make no promises,” I let the door swing wide. “But first, coffee. There may not be enough coffee.” I started toward the kitchen, hitting the light switch in the hall as I went.
I turned and saw him still framed by the doorway. “Oh, yeah, come in.” I dropped into a mocking bow. I had done smarter things, but I just wanted to go back to bed and he was not going to let me. “Coffee.” I repeated, heading toward the kitchen.
My apartment looks like it’s inhabited by a bipolar teenager. By which I mean that it is divided into two halves: the witchy half and the regular person half. Mundanes and other supernats tend to expect a certain look from their hired witches and if a few well-placed scarves, a lack of overhead lighting and a plethora of old books meant that I got to charge twice the price for my work, who was I to argue. The kitchen, however, is part of my living space, not my working space, so as we walked into it, the vamp gave me a doubtful look. We stepped from the dark hall, complete with reproduction gas sconces and crocheted lace curtains on the window to the cheery kitchen, all bright white and red cherry wallpaper. I rolled my eyes and set the coffee maker running.
I motioned to the bar and reached in the cabinet for two mugs. The two in front said “I got 99 problems, but Witches ain’t one,” and “Do you wanna be turned into a toad?”
“Do you want coffee?” I asked, heading to the fridge for cream.
“Yes, please.” He sat on one of the barstools at the far end of the room. “Cream, no sugar.”
“Are you fed?” In some circles, it would be exceedingly rude to ask that, but I was alone in my house with this guy. I needed to know.
“Well that’s something.”
“A few days ago, I found this girl…”
I cut him off. “I said, ‘After coffee.’ If you want me to help you, you are just going to have to sit there and allow me to caffeinate myself.”
He looked down at the bar and pushed his hands through his hair. I busied myself preparing for coffee and he busied himself looking annoyed.
The coffee maker gurgled and then chimed and I poured it in on top of the cream I’d added to the mugs. I sighed as the clouds of cream swirled, like bad weather and watched the patterns for a moment. When I started toward him with the mugs, I noticed he was watching me curiously.
“It’s like tea leaves. Cream in the coffee,” I responded. “Not as precise. When you drink away the tea, the leaves left behind have had contact with you, the magic relies on the connection. Cream clouds are vague and all about intentions, because it’s only who the cup is intended for that tells them what to do.”
“What did you see?”
“We’re going to have a long, hard night.”
“I could have told you that without cream.”
“I wouldn’t have believed you. I believe the cream.”
I stood across from him at the bar and took a long, slow sip of the coffee. It was almost hot enough to burn and it calmed me down. I took a deep breath and placed my cup carefully on the white tile bar.
“Maggie,” I said. “I am Madam Magdalena Catarina Petrova. From the Romanian witch line. You,” I nodded to him, “may call me Maggie. In fact, you may only call me Maggie. The rest of it’s just pretentious.”
“Pleased to meet you Maggie. I’m Owen. Owen Randall, currently.”
I nodded. Most vampires keep their first names and change their last names every decade or so. It makes them hard for the mundanes to track, but easy for the vamps to recognize, or at least easier.
“Okay, Owen. What say you let me know what we’re dealing with here?”
In the end, after he had told me everything, I realized that none of my rules, or reservations mattered. This case was not optional. When you are born into the sisterhood, there are certain things that you cannot turn away from. This was one of them.
Owen, it seemed, had a daughter. Not in the traditional sense, vamps can’t do that. But he had accidentally sired a child. That happens from time to time. Vampire blood has healing properties and occasionally a vamp will feed his blood to someone mortally wounded in an attempt to heal them and they’ll die anyway. Then they become a vampire. On the rare occasion that happens, it’s usually a child. If a vamp runs into an adult about to die he’ll just take his fill and leave. Easy prey, going to die anyway. No harm, no foul, basically. But kids. Well, vampires may not have much of a soul but they remember what it was like. They remember the basic human instinct to protect children.
This girl had lain in Owen’s house for two days, waiting to rise. He had hidden her. Children typically can’t control their urges as easily as adults. As such, they become a problem for the clan. It’s also easier to notice that a child isn’t aging properly, which puts the clan at risk. They tend to just kill them. Owen felt… responsible. He figured that he could keep moving, take her with him. It was a terrible plan, but I understood why he made it. He had made a big mistake trying to save this girl. But it was his mistake and he wasn’t just going to let her be killed.
But something had gone wrong. He had left to get blood, because she’d need it when she rose. And when he returned, the place had been tossed and the girl was gone. He’d tried to use his own tracking skills but came up empty. Possibly she’d been put in a vehicle. That made it much harder to follow. Or there could have been a cloaking spell or even just something to throw off the scent. Vamps were marginal trackers, not as good as a werewolf, but much better than a cop.
He knew that I had the skill to track her. That’s what he was there for.
“I promise, Maggie. Find her for me and I’ll take care of everything else. I’ll go get her and you’ll never hear from us again.”
I sighed. The cream hadn’t just told me this was going to be a tough night. It also told me that his intentions were pure. He wanted to save the girl and I had to help him, no matter what. This was not going to be as simple as turning over an address and heading back to bed. And even if it wasn’t for the cream, I understood something that he couldn’t. This wasn’t simply about finding the girl. Yes, that was our first step. To get her in before the sun rose, to keep her from feeding on innocents. She had to be risen by now. But someone had taken her. We needed to know why, and that was going to open up a whole new can of worms.
“Do you have something that belonged to her?” I asked.
“No. Everything of hers was on her body. Do you need that?” He sounded worried and for the first time, I felt real pity for him. Stupid plan… shortsighted… whatever. He was trying really hard to do the right thing. Most people, once they start drinking blood, they just give up on the right thing. Most people, honestly, even without the bloodsucking, can’t manage the follow through with the right thing. Too much work.
“Well, it would have been easier. For you. The fact is that I have something of hers, right here. Your blood. You’re her sire and your blood runs through her veins.”
Without hesitating, he raised his wrist to his mouth.
“Wait!” He dropped his hand and looked at me expectantly. “Look, I appreciate your enthusiasm. But there are a few things we have to settle first.”
“I’ll pay anything, but we need to hurry.”
“Money later. This is important. I know you said that you had fed, but I don’t have anything here to give you. And I think you realize that drinking me dry would be counter-productive.”
“I can control myself. You have my word.”
I wasn’t at all certain that his word was something that mattered much to me, but I wasn’t sure how much time we had and I had even fewer options. I couldn’t see myself demanding he run out and kidnap some dinner and eat it in front of me to prove my safety. I was just going to have to trust him.
“Okay.” I walked into the study and came back with a silver chalice. “Fill this cup. And follow me.” I turned my back just as I heard something rip behind me. I didn’t stop and turn. Some things just don’t need to be seen.
My study is the opposite of the kitchen. Where the kitchen was bright and clean, the study was dark and dusty, full of knickknacks (most of them no more magical than your average antique mall clearance item), lamps draped in gauzy silk scarves and heavy upholstered furniture. I crossed to the large cabinet in the back of the room and began opening doors and pulling out everything I would need. The bloodstone, several maps of the city, and a spool of silk thread. I cleared the large round table at the center of the room and began rifling through the maps. I decided to start with the map of downtown and carefully spread it out. Finally, I tied the thread around the stone, leaving sure to leave a long tail and dipped the stone in the chalice that Owen held out to me. Closing my eyes and standing tall, I began a chant.
Chants and spells are funny things. Magic, in general, is a matter of connection and emotion. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to learn if you aren’t born a witch. Being born into the sisterhood doesn’t give you automatic magic, per se. Instead, it gives you a stronger connection, to the mystical, to nature, to the afterworld, and to the basic magic that runs through our world. This connection exists to various degrees in different witches and almost not at all in normal mundanes. So, then spells and chants aren’t about the words so much as deepening the connection and centering the soul. In other words, you can chant, “Yabba, dabba, doo,” if you want, it’s not going to change the spell. But even so, families and covens often pass down spells. It helps young witches understand what’s possible and how they need to concentrate their energy.
As I chanted , “Here and there and all around… Here and there and all around,” the stone began swinging at the end of its pink thread and I could feel it begin a wide sweeping circle over the table.
I held my body ridged. Any movement from me could throw off the stone’s pattern. As I chanted, the stone’s movement became first a little erratic and then began to spiral down as its circle became tighter. That was exactly what was supposed to happen. What wasn’t supposed to happen was for it to begin flipping around erratically all over again. After a few seconds of that, the stone stopped swinging, instead spinning in place on the map. I opened my eyes and looked down. As usual, there was a spiral traced in the blood on the map. It closed in and heavily circled a street corner. Madison and Upper. But, less typically, above the circle, a single word was written in generous script: Sister.
“Damn it all to hell!” I whirled on the vampire. “You turned a witch child?”
He looked panicked. “No. I mean, I don’t think so. I mean, I… she was all alone. There had been some sort of accident and she was bleeding to death. There was no one near. I have no reason to believe that she was a witch.”
I held up the map so that he could see. “Well, it looks like you should have looked a little harder.” I sank heavily into my overstuffed chair and looked up at his concerned face. “I knew this was bad,” I said, “but this is so much worse than I thought.”
He sat across from me and furrowed his brow.
“Well, let’s hope she’s had some training,” I said. “Give me five minutes to get dressed and we’ll go get her.”
It took a little less than a half hour to get across town. Public transport in this town closes up at 1 a.m. and my neighborhood isn’t exactly full of cabs. I don’t drive. I actually don’t know many witches who drive. Driving is chaos. All the other cars and road conditions and the mechanics of a car itself. Witches tend to be control freaks. It comes with all the control. So, we walked. I could tell that Owen was busting at the seams, but since he didn’t have another option, we walked.
The locator spell can be pretty specific but the more specific you need it to be the better your tools need to be. Since all I had was a map we had four corners to pick from. I shouldn’t have worried about it, though, because it’s never as hard as you think to tell where the evil lair is going to be.
The neighborhood was run down, but not destroyed. The occasional busted street light or graffitied wall let you know that they were pretty far down on the city’s priority list. But it had the feel of a neighborhood that took care of its own. Most of the houses were old and in ill repair, but neat with clipped lawns and tidy porches. Most tellingly, though, was the lack of people on the street. If the neighborhood had really been a bad one, it would have been hopping at quarter to three, but the street was nearly deserted.
At our pinpointed crossroad’s northwest corner there was what looked like a crack house. I mean, clearly, it wasn’t. The neighbors would have shut that down and you could feel the magic floating off of it. But it looked like a crack house and there were some pretty heavy look-away spells going on. My guess was that whoever was holed up in there was temporary and hadn’t taken a lot of time in their recon efforts.
I rolled my eyes and turned to the vamp. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to walk up to the door and knock and tell them I want the girl.”
He looked at me expectantly and his eyes widened. “That’s it? That’s not magic! What about when they say no?”
“Look, I’ve got magic. I’ve got plenty of magic, but I can’t know what I need until I know what I’m up against. I can’t go in like a wrecking ball or I’ll hurt her and I can’t be more targeted until I have some information. Who are they? What are they? How many? How are they armed? Magic isn’t as magical as you think. It’s a tool, right; a weapon. It can kill as well as save. I wouldn’t go in with guns a-blazin’ and I won’t go in with spells a-blazin’ either.”
Owen nodded reluctantly. “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to stand right behind me. I want you to be brooding and intimidating as hell. I want you to leer and look threatening. Just in case. What I don’t want is for you to talk, move or threaten anyone unless I have instructed you to do so. Also, try not to look so vampirey.” I marched up to the door and knocked three times, hard. My dad had called that my mom’s “cop knock.” He said it would scare anybody into flushing the stash and saying ma’am.
I thought I was ready for anything but I was not ready for who opened the door. She was about five foot nothing and covered with a curly mop of gray hair. Her plump figure was camouflaged by a hideous flowered housedress. She looked like the granny from Little Red Riding Hood. The real one, not the wolf dressed up in her clothes.
“Yes, can I help you?” the woman said, her voice as syrupy sweet as her face.
“Um… Well… Uh, we’re here for the girl,” I finally sputtered.
“Well, then you should come in. And that includes your friend, dear.” She stepped out of the way and I walked into a dark, cavernous room outfitted with nothing but a card table and a mismatched selection of folding camp chairs.
“Tea?” she asked, crossing the room to the newest looking of the chairs.
“No, thank you,” I said. “Just the girl.”
“Well, that’s a problem. You see, the girl is ours. She is a Maison, from the French witch line. We are her people, despite what’s been done to her.” Her glare cut to Owen and he flinched. I flinched too. Maison. There was only one Maison in the city and that was Renee. My dear Renee. Why didn’t she tell me she was dead?
“Ma’am,” he started.
She shook her head. “No, no, I’m sure you were trying to be kind. Her parents are both dead and you saw a child on the verge of death. It was the wrong thing to do, but how can anyone expect a soulless feeder to make the right choice.”
Without sparing a glance at Owen, I stepped between the two of them. Her insults were either ignorance or baiting, and either way, the best medicine for the moment was ignoring them.
“And who are you? That you lay claim to the child?” I asked.
“I am Madam Seraphina Fontaine, from the French witch line. And you?”
“I am Madam Magdalena Catarina Petrova. Romanian. And the oldest and dearest friend of Renee Maison, Catie’s mother. Also, I’m Catie’s godmother, and the only human living or dead with a valid claim to the child.” From the corner of my eye, I could see Owen flinch slightly. His night was just getting better and better. “So, you see, she will be perfectly safe with me. And although the vampire made a grave mistake, his presence here should be enough to prove that he had every intentions of protecting both her and the mundanes.”
“If you are indeed Renee’s old friend, then why did you call her ’the girl?’?”
Well, she had me there. I cursed the spirits for telling me that the child was a witch and failing to mention that it was Renee’s. Renee and I had what could kindly be referred to as a tumultuous relationship. She was my best friend, my oldest friend and I loved her more than the air in my lungs. We had grown up together, studied together, been trained together. I had thought that we would practice together, be together, forever, but she had gotten knocked up and married a mundane. She had given birth to Catherine Marie Maison, eight years ago. Through heartbreak, I had smiled and cooed through her naming ceremony, being selected as her godmother and then had not spoken to Renee since. Which sounds bad, but when you have every hope of living to be 300, it’s really just a drop in the bucket. My hope had been that enough time would dull the sting. I had always intended on reconnecting. But then the coven had come apart and everyone had scattered. Renee was the only other member who had remained in the city and by all accounts, she had quit practicing.
The fact that Renee hadn’t come to me for help, before or after or her death hurt more than learning that I’d never again see her alive.
“Catie, Catherine is my goddaughter. That’s all you need to know.” It was almost a whisper, but I found it difficult to speak. I was pushing down the rush of emotion to the best of my ability, but I still found myself fighting tears.
Seraphina was clearly having a difficult time controlling her emotions too, but what I saw welling up in her eyes was rage. "Catie is a French witch and she will stay with us.”
“You know that’s not how it works. You can’t just ignore the ancient laws because your ancestors were countrymen. I have the coven records, I can provide proof if that’s what you require.”
“Do you? You salvaged the records of the coven you yourself destroyed? How nostalgic of you." Her voice dripped with venom and honey in equal measure. "The coven no longer exists, so its records are useless."
"The coven has been decimated, that is true, but witch law states that the ancient rites still hold value. I will take her if I must, but she belongs to me."
"You know that you can’t take her from a full coven.”
I closed my eyes and concentrated, feeling the magic surrounding me and pulling apart the threads to examine them. “Perhaps,” I said. “But you aren’t a full coven, are you. You are what? Nine? Catie will only make ten and you’ll have to wait five years before she is of age to stand in the circle. What do you plan to do in the meantime? Continue to kidnap witch children?”
“Kidnap? From a vampire? Surely you are kidding. This witch child would have been wasted and killed by the vampire clan if we had not intervened.”
“And now she’s quite powerful. A nice prize for a broken coven.”
“I think we are done here,” Madam Fontaine said. “I think it is time for you to leave.”
“Yes, I believe it is. If you will just fetch Catie for me, we’ll be on our way.” I stepped toward the door.
Seraphina shook her head sadly. "The child is not going anywhere with you. You cannot be trusted. You are associating with a vampire for the love of the goddess."
I took a step toward Seraphina and breathed in deeply, drawing power up around me like a cloak. But before I had even enough energy for a shield, she flung Owen out the door with a small flick of her wrist. He ran back, but skidded to a stop at the door. I gaped at her. With so small a number, she shouldn’t be able to draw the full power of the coven, but that was some tricky magic to do without so much as a moment.
"I can’t... I don’t know how, but I can’t come back in,” Owen gasped.
"Your invitation has been revoked, monster," Seraphina smiled. "And if you don’t leave directly, you’ll find that even the threshold makes your blood burn."
“Maggie…” Owen lingered at the door, but I could tell that he was already feeling the pain.
“Very well,” I said. "Blessed be, witch. We’ll meet again." I turned and marched out the open door and grabbed Owen’s arm.
"I know, I know," I whispered, "but we need a little distance. Just walk."
Within a few minutes, the two of us were tucked on opposite sides of a red vinyl booth in an over-lit 50’s themed diner. The poodle-skirted waitress had blessedly brought coffee before even taking our orders and I was clutching the black and white checkered cup between both of my hands, letting the steam roll up my face.
Owen looked around the diner. “Why is it that humans insist on nostalgia for time past? I lived through the 50’s, the hatred and fear. Why emulate it now?" Owen added cream to his coffee, but left the cup on the shiny linoleum tabletop.
“They don’t care about the time or even the history, just the aesthetic. You know, poodle skirts and saddle oxfords. It’s easy to remember things the way they weren’t. Especially when you can just surround yourself with pretty, pretty pictures and mid-century modern architecture. So, not to change the subject, but what are we going to do?”
“I was hoping you’d have that answer.”
“I’m afraid that this time, it’s up to you.”
“Up to me? You must be kidding. I came to you because I had no idea what to do and that was before I knew she was a witch-child.”
“The way I see it, we have a few options. Option one: We can go back to our lives. The coven, even though they are incomplete, out of their element and obviously anxious to return to whatever city they come from, will keep her from harming anyone, will train her as best they can and will protect her at all costs. She is their best hope of survival, so she will be cherished. She will also be used and sheltered and never have anything approaching a normal life. She will be more or less the best weapon of the coven. Children everywhere, right now are living better lives and other children, everywhere are living worse lives.
“Which leads me to the second option. We can go back in there and take her. I am relatively sure that will be hard and bloody, but they are weakened and split. From what I could feel, she is sleeping. She should have risen, so they are probably funneling most of their resources into keeping her asleep for the moment. That could be good for us. If that’s the route we take, it’s not just for tonight, but forever. She’ll need to be trained. By a vampire and by a witch. And we will not pull her away from people who will take care of her without a plan to do the same.” I paused and drank deeply from the coffee, now cool.
I waited for his response. In truth, I didn’t know what I would do if he walked away. I desperately wanted him to, so that I could go back, mourn Renee and then pretend none of this ever happened. But I knew that I couldn’t do that. Renee would never forgive me.
“Is there a third option?” he asked, looking anxious.
“Oh, there’s always a third option. You could kill me and run away into the night. She could fight through their sleep spells and take out the whole coven with her mind. The sun could explode and save us all from ourselves. The third option encompasses everything we can’t plan for and is obviously the one we’ll end up taking. But to proceed, you’re going to have to make a decision between the first two.”
“Why me? Why is it my decision and not ours?”
“Because I need to know what your decision is before I can make mine.”
“She’ll be cared for if she stays with them?”
“But she’ll be weaponized?”
“To an extent.”
“How long will they keep her asleep?”
“Probably at least until they get her where they are going. Maybe a day or a week. I’m not entirely sure, but it’s the choice I’d make. Of course, there’s no guarantee that they think like me. Coping with a magical vamp child is going to be tricky at best and I’d rather be on my home turf before I started trying. Especially since they don’t have a vampire on their side to help with that half of her.”
Owen dropped his head. His hair fell in dark curtains around his face and he let out a sigh. Vamps don’t need to breathe, but they often do for effect. He sat there, drooping over his coffee for a long time and finally looked up at me. I saw nothing but shame in his eyes and I was pretty sure what he would say.
“We do the only thing we can,” he said. “We go get her.”
I blinked at him a few times in rapid succession. “We… go… wow, this night has held way too many surprises for my taste.”
“I have already made her life complicated. I have taken away her humanity and doomed her to an eternity of hunting. I have put her in this situation and now I have added you to the mix. I have altered her life and yours forever and changed the course of what should have been with no regard but for my own selfish whims. I did what I did because for once, I wanted to be the hero and not the villain. And now, I must either abandon her to the employ of those of who see her as an advantage, rather than a child, or I must see through my own stupid inclination and be a hero.”
“Let’s be heroes, then,” I said.