Careful whom you take as your fairy godmother.
|Trigger Warnings ▼ |
The little goblin princes and alien ninja knights, scampering in their Halloween protection racket, had to watch out for Stiles, who would have tripped right over them. He glared at his white coat and pink carnation, wishing he had picked a real costume instead of a silly gesture. Sure, Elaine loved the song, but the guy in it didn't get the girl. Maybe that was the point? In the movies, sappy stunts had real power. He stripped off the jacket and tossed it in a dumpster. "That's what I think."
The wind flapped the door of the dumpster open and closed.
Stile jerked his hand away at the last second, shuddered at the biting doors of the hungry dumpster. Part of him wanted to feed it, to burrow in to the reject pile. He shook his head and kicked at a flyer blowing across the pavement.
Shimmering letters sparked in the darkness as it rolled along the wet pavement and stopped in a puddle where it sagged till he could read. "Love-lust? Unrequited? All is not..."
He snatched the page. "The great Madame Eniale knows all, sees all. Love potions, curses: custom work. Halloween only."
He chuckled and tossed the flyer.
A gust of wind blew it back into his hand.
"Free and Guaranteed. Warning: do not approach out of costume." His white sport coat hung on the corner of the dumpster, fresh as in his closet.
His jacket had gone in; he was sure of it. Shaking his head at his own silliness, he slid his arms into the too-short sleeves, rubbed his finger over the rubber scar under his jaw.
Madame Eniale’s 'magic’ gibberish reminded him of the heavy metal kids in fifth grade. With a roll of his eyes, he crumpled the flyer and threw it behind him. "Address, Eniale?"
"My address is here, Stiles."
He waved his fist. "Nobody calls me Stiles."
Behind him stood a woman. Stitches and glue held the sackcloth skin of her costume together. Her colorful skirt and scarves went well with the glass ball sitting on the table.
"Cute trick, setting up that fast."
The zombie witch shrugged. "It does add to the atmosphere."
"All this for me?"
"You are a weary special client." Her mouth jerked into a smile.
A gust of rotten meat forced Stiles to step back. “Ugh.”
"Conclude quickly, yes? In lich form, am not pleasant."
"Did your costume need to be so thorough?"
"Costume?" Eniale's eyebrow raised. "Oh, yes. The elder wise ones have retreated into entertainment."
Stiles coughed and measured the steps to his truck. "I really have no business here."
"No? You are preferring to die single? Maybe today? Crawl into trash?"
"Madame Eniale knows all. Foolish woman cannot see your classic beauty. Prepared for you long time." She placed a jewelry box on the table. "But if you do not need lady, keep this, I can."
He put his pocket square over his mouth and approached the jewelry box.
The lid bounced off his face. An emerald necklace glittered on the table.
"What to your eye merely sparkles, no woman can resist." Eniale backed away, circled downwind. "The woman who wears it, Stiles, never will resist."
He reached out.
Green-tinted static tickled his fingers.
He laughed. "That is one cute trick."
"Yes, trick." Eniale cackled. "I am playing. Do you want the power, or will you be alone all winter?"
Stiles reached for his wallet. "What is this going to cost?"
"I ask only, find beautiful woman. Put it on her neck before the stroke of dawn."
Stiles chuckled. "Dawn? It should be midnight."
"Hallow’s eve ends at sun. When new day begins, veil closes."
Stiles looked at her. "You take this stuff too seriously."
"Discuss after you have found your wife, my beautiful boy." Her rheumy eyes glared at him.
He stared at her. That's not a costume, is it? Her eyes, filled with lust or hunger, belonged in a penitentiary or walled into a crypt. Every inch of him prepared to run. He reached for the necklace. "She'll love it."
"Remember, love and attraction are not choices. You're helping her."
"The love spell is a celebration of choice, of mastery over the elements."
Something wrong had been said, and he glared at her.
“Inside him, or inside his lover.” The cackled. "Remember, this is just a trick, a bit of tomfoolery."
"Tom?" The air burned and squeezed his skull from inside, but he had the presence of mind to shake his head. "No, thank you."
Green lightning out of the necklace ran down his arm, shaking it. The harder he tried to drop the necklace, the tighter his fingers gripped it.
He pulled at his fingers but only tore at his skin.
"You need this." Eniale's voice chased him, came from every direction. "Choose your quarry. Put it on her of your own free will before the rising of the sun, to be sure. She will be yours."
Stiles woke up with the smell of blacktop in his face. The necklace in his pocket throbbed in time with his head, aching to wrap itself around the object of his desire.
Eniale had been right; Elaine struggled with love. She could not love him as she wanted. How often had Elaine smiled at him and sighed, saying “Why can’t I ever meet a girl like you?” The pain she felt when letting him down was more than just his. She would suffer far worse. Stiles surely would die alone, but he would live his own life, while the pictures in her photo album would all be stained with tears. "A love potion would be almost heroic."
As he rose from the pavement, a snake wriggled away.
"A faerie tale ending." Did he really know any of that, or was his mind playing tricks? He ran his fingers through his hair and pulled the emerald necklace out of his pocket. With a longing look, he tossed the necklace into the trash bin. "Too bad that's not what Eniale’s offering."
At that, the wind started blowing.
Stiles ran to the pickup and drove off as fast as he could.
Elaine staggered to the punch bowl and poured herself another generous drink. "I can't... believe Kiele."
Stiles took a sip of his own drink and frowned at the alcohol content. "Who would have thought?"
"Nobody, Mark." Elaine always called him mark; he didn't like his name. She smiled and winked. "In secret we met, in silence I grieve..."
“Gotta love Lord Byron.” Stiles took her drink and offered her a bottle of water. "That quote is about how easy it is to predict."
She struggled to keep from crying as she twisted the water bottle open. "Oh, Mark, you're so smart, and true. Why can't any of the girls be like you?"
That hit him in the gut. Like always. She spent her life messing with stunning, brilliant women, none of whom would leave their husbands. Why didn't she go for someone who was free, a woman who could love her right... or maybe even him. He held her up when she fell as he guided her to the bench. "We know how to pick them, I guess."
She laughed and threw her head onto his shoulder, letting her weight rest entirely against him. "You got that right. Do you think we'll ever find our faerie godmother?"
Stiles thought back to the cul-de-sac and the evil undead who had offered him a miracle. It would probably be the closest he would ever get to a deus-ex-machina. With the first rays of dawn visible through the window, he shook off the urge to run for that precious necklace. Halloween was ending; the offer, expiring. "Probably not, Elaine."
Elaine looked up at him, and patted him on the shoulder, the way he hoped one day his own true love might. "Visit me in the old folks’ home."
He shook his head. "I'll be living next door. You visit me."
"If you save your pudding for me."
"Somebody had a love potion, and they used it on you. Would that be fair?"
Elaine pulled back and gave him an odd look, then looked down at her water bottle and laughed. "You mean if you could make me love you just by giving me a bit of medicine? I mean, we've got all kinds of choices, but whether to love?"
Stiles lifted her chin so that she would look up into his eyes.
She smiled. "If you get the chance, and if I am what you really want?”
She looked him in the eyes. “You can't take away a choice I never had."
"Would you take the bottle even knowing what it was?"
She lifted her water and toasted him. "I would snatch the bottle from your hand."
He winced. Had he made the wrong decision?
Something that slithered up his leg tugged at his pocket.
"I have just the thing. Only, it's not a potion; it's..." He grabbed the necklace, now so cold it froze his fingers. "Probably too late. I'm supposed to do this during Halloween."
"A love necklace?—a choker, no doubt? Naughty." She elbowed him.
"I know. It's silly."
"I think it's fun. Right? All in good fun. Try your hoodoo on me." She turned her back on him.
Slowly, with shaking hands, he put it around her neck, then pulled away before clasping it.
"It's a beautiful necklace. Please, let me try it."
Finally, as the sun peeked out over the mountains, Stiles pulled it together.
Elaine grabbed her neck as if she were choking. "What have you done?" She scampered around the bench, and then suddenly straightened, beaming. "That's what you thought would happen, isn't it?"
"I didn't know."
"Eniale really had you wrapped around her rotten little finger."
"So, get down on your knee." Elaine palmed a ring box, empty.
"There's more to it." Elaine flashed her own, emerald ring--on her engagement finger. In a loud voice, she proclaimed, "Of course I'll marry you."
Elaine pulled one of the emeralds from her neck and placed it over Stile's wedding ring finger. The ring formed as if it had always been there. She took his hand and pulled him up and dragged him out to the dance floor.
"I thought the spell wouldn't even work. It's supposed to be before the end of Halloween."
"Begins at sunset, ends at sunset." She pulled him close for a slow dance. She hugged him tight. "You set the alarm a little early."
His feet knew the dance moves. "You planned this?"
"Since before your birth, Stiles."
A knot formed in his stomach, and his vision dimmed. He pushed away, but his arms went weak, and he seemed to float out of his body. "You don't know my name. You think I'm Mark."
"Don't worry. The four of us, we're going to have a wonderful life together."
He reached up and pulled at the necklace, which scattered all over the floor. His scream came out as a whisper, "I will save her. I will stop you."
“The spell is complete.” Elaine ran her fingers through his hair. "It's just so many rocks. And my beloved prefers the name of Stiles."
Stiles ran to the window, intending to jump. His body stopped and pretended to heave.
"Jitters! My lover really is a nervous one." She walked up, stroked his back, and whispered in his ear. "We truly are great lovers. So long as you behave, you can be in our bodies."
"She's still in there?"
"I used Kiele's book, Mark.” She grimaced. “They said they could help you."
"If it hadn't been for my arrogance..."
"You'd be a couple of losers." Elaine pinched Stile's lips into a smile. "Buck up. Ours will be a life beyond your wildest.”
Kiele slammed through the door, and ran into the center of the room. "Mark, Elaine!"
A flick of Elaine's finger left Kiele getting dizzy.
Everybody pointed out the back door, and Kiele ran after their delusions.
The new Elaine pulled her new lover close. "Oh, Stiles, you dance divinely."
As his toes moved in time to the music, Stiles smiled down on them. He had always wanted a simpler time, wanted someone to solve all his problems. Dancing like Fred Astaire, he could get used to that, to watching his own life as if behind a screen.