Melissa would do anything to make her daughter happy. But has she gone too far?
| Melissa heard sobbing as soon as she walked through the door.
She plopped her purse on the counter and peered down the hallway. Light from Cassie's room flooded into the corridor. She glanced at the clock. 5:46. Cassie's work schedule, hanging on the refrigerator by a Garfield magnet, read CASSIE SANBORN 4PM – 9PM.
“Honey?” Melissa called, venturing into the hallway. “Honey, why aren't you at work?”
She peered into Cassie's room. Cassie sat on the bed in her work clothes, black work shoes haphazardly discarded on the floor next to balled-up white ankle socks. Cassie's cheeks were red and damp. Her blond hair was in a messy ponytail. Her eyes were locked on her phone, the bright pink case matching her manicured nails. She tapped the screen furiously.
“Cassie? Are you okay?”
Cassie sniffled. “I'm fine.”
Melissa leaned against the door frame. “You don't look fine.”
Cassie continued tapping.
“Cass. Tell me what's going on.”
“I hate people.”
Melissa smiled. Cassie looked up. Her expression hardened. “It's not funny!”
Melissa wiped away the grin. “Why aren't you at work?”
Cassie nodded. “I quit. I hate working at Barnaby's.”
“Because people are assholes, that's why,” Cassie snarled.
“They are. But you can't just quit every time – ”
“Yes I can!” Cassie shouted, looking up. “I wish people would...would be nice.”
Melissa approached Cassie and rubbed her shoulder. Cassie avoided eye contact. “I wish they would be nice too, Cass. But you have to learn to handle these things. You can't just quit every time someone is mean.”
Cassie fumed. “Whatever.”
“Are you hungry?”
“I'll eat later,” Cassie grumbled, picking up her phone again. “I want to be alone right now.”
“All right,” Melissa said. “Let me know.”
Melissa stepped out of the room. Once out of Cassie's eyeshot and earshot, she sighed and rubbed her eyes.
Melissa stood before Spell's Bells the next day. The place was a hole in the wall. Over the past few years, the city of Granger had turned its attention to tourism. Dive bars had added dance floors and expensive drinks. Restaurants had started serving twenty-four-dollar lobster dishes. Main Street featured a dozen souvenir shops. Spell's Bells was off the main street in what one might mistake for an alley, probably a deliberate effort on the part of city planners to keep out-of-staters from thinking Granger was home to witches and occultists.
The bell over the door jingled as she stepped inside. Various aromas, mostly incense, bombarded her. The light was dim and mostly green and purple. The shop featured two windows, both of which covered by black shades. The shop's wares appeared as her eyes adjusted – stacks of books on the occult, ravens perched atop shelves, Tarot cards, crystal balls.
Melissa ventured to the first table and picked up a Genie-style lamp. It was made of cheap plastic.
“Help you find anything, dearie?”
Melissa jumped. An old woman in a black dress stood to her right. Her hair was long, gray, and stringy. Her hands were clasped before her, fingers gnarled. Her smile revealed cock-eyed yellow teeth.
“Oh! Hi!” Melissa said, replacing the lamp. “Sorry. I didn't see you there. I – I don't know if you can help.”
“What are you seeking?” The woman's voice was high-pitched, like a bird's squawk.
“I – it's my daughter.”
“Something for your daughter?”
Melissa shook her head. “Sort of. My daughter – she's emotional.” Melissa scratched her forehead. “Like I was, when I was her age. Last night she quit her job because someone was mean to her. And I wish she could handle these things better.”
The woman nodded. “Hmmm. You think magic will help?”
“I don't know,” Melissa repeated. “I mean...I've tried talking to her. I don't know what else to do. And when I was a teenager, I kind of fancied myself a witch...” She blushed.
“No need for shame!” The woman cackled. “You think you can use magic to help your girl, yes?”
“Maybe,” Melissa said softly.
The woman shook her head. “I don't,” she said flatly.
Melissa frowned. “What?”
“You've forgotten confidence,” the woman clarified. “The first ingredient to successful magic is confidence, and you've forgotten your confidence! But fear not, dearie. I remember. Tell me your wish and I will make it so!”
Melissa frowned. “I don't – ”
“Hush!” The woman interjected. “Close your eyes and speak your wish. I will make it so. I've extended the invitation, and the laws of magic say that I must therefore grant it.”
Melissa swallowed and closed her eyes. “Fine.” She took a deep breath. “I wish...I wish my daughter was strong. That she could withstand anything. That nobody could hurt her.”
She paused in the heavy silence, then opened one eye. The woman still stood before her.
“Is that it?”
“Yes, dearie. Go to your daughter. See that your wish has come true.”
Melissa adjusted the strap of her purse on her shoulder. “Okay...”
With that she turned on her heel, pausing at the door to glance over her shoulder. “Thanks, I guess,” she said. Then she left the store.
Melissa heard water running as soon as she walked through the door. She entered the kitchen. Cassie was getting a drink from the faucet.
“Hi Cass,” Melissa said, setting her purse on the counter. “Feeling better today?”
No response. The water kept running. Melissa turned around, opened her mouth to speak, and froze.
Cassie stood motionless, fingers on the faucet's handle, water overflowing out of the glass over her other hand. One foot was cocked against the floor on the tiptoes and her waist rested against the counter. She was gray.
“Cassie?” Melissa touched her arm. It was cold and rock-hard. Literally.
“Oh my God,” Melissa said, covering her mouth with both hands. “Oh...my God...”
Cassie was a statue.
Melissa banged so hard on the Spell's Bells door that the CLOSED sign hanging in the window bounced.
“Open up, you old bat!” Melissa cried. “Open this damn door!”
She examined the ground and spied a stone. She picked it up. As she drew back and aimed for the window, the witch appeared inside, smiling. The lock clicked open.
“I told you it would work,” the witch sneered.
“You turned my daughter to stone!” Melissa exclaimed, pushing her way inside. “Turn her back!”
“You wished for her to be able to withstand anything,” the woman chided. “And now she can.”
“This isn't what I wanted. Turn her back!”
“I can't reverse it,” the witch said. “What's done is done. To reverse it is to go back in time – and that's impossible.”
Melissa planted her hands on her hips. “So Cassie is a statue forever?”
The woman cackled. “No, dearie. But you can wish someone else was made of stone! Perhaps your boss. Or...” the witch glanced at Melissa's hand. “No ring? Perhaps the man who stuffed his cock between your legs and left you to raise the girl alone. Probably shouldn't have. You're doing a poor job...”
“Then yourself,” the witch hissed. “Take your daughter's place.”
Melissa stopped. “Myself?”
“It's painless,” the witch cooed. “Over in an instant. I'll take good care of you. I'll set you up in my gallery with the others.”
“I can't leave Cassie by herself...” Melissa lamented.
“You want to toughen the girl, yes? The loss of a mother toughens a girl. Your disappearance will strengthen her. Her doubt will harden her. She will be able to handle anything.”
Melissa swallowed hard. “And all I have to say is...”
“...that you wish you'd been turned to stone instead.”
Melissa paused, and the side of her mouth curled into a smile. “...that's all?”
“And you extended the invitation, so you must make my wish so?”
“That's correct, dearie,” the woman affirmed. “Now make it happen! I don't have all night!”
“All right. I wish you'd been turned to stone instead.”
“I wish you'd been turned to stone instead!”
“That won't work, bitch! Do it right!”
“I wish you'd been turned to stone instead!” Melissa shouted, voice stony as she stalked toward the woman. “I wish you'd been turned to stone instead!”
The witch snarled, eyes furious. “B – ”
The insult went unspoken. A flash of light compelled Melissa to close her eyes. When she opened them, the witch stood before her – now made of stone.
It had to work. The woman said that Cassie would turn back if someone took her place, right? And someone had taken her place.
Perhaps Melissa was a witch after all, she thought with a smile.
She raced out the door. She had to get back to Cassie.