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 Halloween costume, not some stupid gesture. The white coat and the frilly 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's body shuddered as he looked at the flapping doors of the dumpster, biting, as if hungry for his flesh. It wanted to eat him alive. Part of him wanted that. He could crawl in there and just be quiet, get buried with the rest of the trash. He shook his head and kicked at a flyer.
On the flyer, shimmering letters sparked in the darkness, reflecting the street light as it rolled along the wet pavement. It finally rolled into a puddle and stayed, the water weighing it down enough that it laid flat enough to make out. "Lost Love? Unrequited? All is not..."
He picked it up. "The great Madame Eniale knows all, sees all. Love potions, curses, custom work. Halloween night only."
He chuckled and threw the flyer toward the dumpster.
A gust of wind blew it back to him, and he caught it.
"Free and Guaranteed. Warning: do not approach out of costume."
The white sport coat hung on the corner of the dumpster as if it had been placed there carefully.
Stile took a long look at the corner of the dumpster. He swore 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 fake scar on his jugular, and looked at the flyer.
Nothing else written on it but some unconvincing 'magic script' that 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, maybe?"
"I don't need an address, Stiles."
He balled up a fist. "Nobody calls me that."
Behind him stood a woman. Stitches and glue held the gray, sagging sackcloth skin of her costume together. Her long, colorful skirt and mismatched scarves went well with the glass ball sitting on the table.
"Cute trick, setting up that fast."
The zombie gypsy, if that were what she was supposed to be, shrugged. "It does add to the atmosphere."
"All this for me?"
"You are a weary special client." Her mouth suddenly twisted into a smile.
The aroma of rotting flesh gripped Stiles, and his stomach lurched.
"Conclude the business quickly, yes? Am not pleasant in this form."
"You needn't be so thorough in your costume."
"Costume?" Eniale's eyebrow raised. "Oh, yes, the wise ways are treated as entertainment."
"I really don't have any business with you."
"No? You are preferring to die single? Maybe crawl into trash and leave today?"
"How did you..."
"Madame Eniale knows all. Foolish woman cannot see your eternal beauty. Prepared for you long time." She placed a jewelry box on the table. "But if you do not need lady love, keep this I can."
He put his pocket square over his mouth and approached the jewelry box.
The box opened up, revealing a dazzling emerald necklace.
"To you, it merely sparkles. But no woman can resist it." Eniale backed away from it, circled downwind so as not to offend him. "The woman, Stiles, who wears it will never resist you."
He reached out to touch it. Green-tinted static tickled his fingers.
He laughed. "That is one cute trick."
"Yes, trick." Eniale cackled. "I am playing trick. Do you want the power of star-crossed love, or will you be alone all winter?"
Stiles reached for his wallet. "What is this going to cost?"
"I ask you find beautiful woman and put it on her neck before the stroke of dawn."
Stiles chuckled. "Dawn? I thought 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."
"We shall discuss that after you have found your wife, my beautiful boy." Her rheumy eyes glared at him.
A long horrible moment passed as he thought, that's not a costume, is it? The look in her eyes could have been lust or hunger. It could have been the eyes of a convicted predator. 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 man's mastery over the elements inside him, and inside of his mate."
Certain something wrong had been said, he glared at her.
"And remember, this is just a trick, a bit of tomfoolery."
"Tom?" The air in the area, all around that little cul-de-sac, turned noxious and robbed his brain of will, but he had the presence of mind to shake his head. "No, th-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 it free.
"You need this." Eniale's voice came from every direction as Stile ran. "You must choose your quarry, must put it on her of your own free will before the rising of the sun if she is to be yours."
Stiles woke up with a throbbing head and a dry mouth. 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, complaining how she could not love the person she wanted, the way he wanted. The pain she felt when rejecting him was more than just guilt or compassion for his woe. She would be harmed far worse than he. Sure, Stiles would die alone, but he would live his own life. Elaine would be subjected to a long string of heartbreaking relationships. "A love potion would be almost a heroic rescue."
Where he stepped down, 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 she'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..."
Stiles took her drink and set it down, offering her a bottle of water. "I think the Lord Byron quote is about how easy it is to predict that sort of thing."
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 them 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 sign of dawn visible through the window, he swallowed down the urge to run back and dig through the trash 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."
"Only if you save your pudding for me."
"If somebody had a love potion, and they used it on you, do you think that would 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.
"If you get the chance, and if I am what you really want... you can't take away a choice I never had."
"So 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 thing, now so cold it froze his fingers off. "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. So 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. I want to 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, didn't she."
"So, get down on your knee." Elaine palmed a ring box, empty.
"There's a little 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."
He gasped, smiling.
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 that."
"You planned this all along?"
"Since long before either of you were born, Stiles."
A knot formed in his stomach, and the lights began to dim. He tried to push away, but his arms went weak, and he seemed to float out of his body. "You don't... don't know my name. You think I'm Mark."
"Don't worry, 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."
Elaine ran her fingers through his hair. "The spell is complete, it's just so many rocks. My beloved prefers the name of Stiles."
Stiles ran to the window, hoping to jump, but 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. I thought 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. You'll get to live a life few even dream of."