When the head goes against the heart, who really wins?
|Stiles wandered about in a daze, not even noticing the little Halloween goblin princesses scampering about taxing for candy. He wished he had had a traditional costume, instead of a gesture. The white coat and the pink carnation seemed over the top. Sure, Elaine loved the song, but the guy in it didn't get the girl. Maybe that was the point. He took the jacket and threw it in a dumpster. "That's what I think of your idea."
The wind flapped the door of the dumpster open and closed, nearly pinching him.
Stile shuddered at the flapping doors of the hungry dumpster. Part of him wanted to feed it, to burrow in with the rest of the trash. He shook his head and kicked at a flyer.
The shimmering letters sparked in the darkness as it rolled along the wet pavement. It finally stopped in a puddle and 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. 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 you 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. 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."
Certain something wrong had been said, he glared at her.
“Inside him, or inside his lover.” The lich 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 jumped out of the necklace and ran down his arm, shaking it. The next thing he knew, his hand grasped the necklace and refused to let go.
He pulled at his fingers but could not pry himself free.
"You need this." Eniale's voice followed at his heels and 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 a throbbing head, a dry mouth, and the smell of blacktop in his face. The necklace in his pocket throbbed as if part of him, aching with a hunger 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 rejecting him was more than just guilt or compassion for his woe. She would suffer far worse than he. Sure, Stiles surely would die alone, but he would live his own life. The pictures in her photo album would all be stained with tears. "A love potion would be almost a heroic rescue."
As he rose from the pavement, a snake wriggled away.
"A faerie tale ending." But, 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?"
"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 it always did. She was always messing around with all those women, but none of them ever wanted to leave their husbands for her. Why didn't she go for someone who was free, a woman who could love her right... or maybe even him. He guided Elaine 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 in love, 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?
He felt a tug at his pocket, something slithering into it.
"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."
"That 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 than she told you." 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."
"The magical day begins at sunset, ends at sunset." She pulled him close for a slow dance. She hugged him tight. "We were counting on your miscalculation."
His feet knew the dance moves. "You planned this all along?"
"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 still be a couple of losers." Elaine pinched Stile's lips into a smile. "Buck up. Ours will be a life beyond your wildest.”