By Victor D. Infante
Sophomore year of high school, Stephanie Harper wanted me to show her some witchcraft, so I had her lay on my bedroom floor – no moving, like corpse pose in yoga! – and visualize a warm, white light. She twitched nervously, eyes darting to the posters of Shirley Manson and Ani DiFranco adorning my wall.
“Shhh,” I said. “Close your eyes. Relax. Take a deep breath.”
Stephanie’s chest rose and fell, rose and fell, and frankly, I was afraid she’d hyperventilate. “You’re working way too hard at relaxing, Steph,” I said, finger to my lips. “Shhh.”
Stephanie fidgeted, but did as I said. I told her to visualize the light again, to feel it at the base of her toes, moving slowly up her body.
How someone rolls closed eyes is beyond me, but somehow Stephanie accomplished it. I told her to feel the light burning in her belly.
“You skipped a spot,” she said, giggling.
I said nothing, occupied as I was with reaching into her head and pulling out the ghost I’d seen lurking behind her eyes for weeks. It strained like wet spaghetti, fluorescent blue light strung from my friend to my grandmother’s old pendant, which I’d found in the attic. Mom said I could keep it, and I wore it out for weeks, so it wouldn’t arouse any suspicion.
Mom didn’t know what it was.
“Nothing’s happening, Whit,” said Steph, quickly succumbing to boredom, as the ghost howled in a voice that nearly deafened me, but to which she was entirely unaware. “When’s something cool going to happen?”
“It’s not like Dungeons & Dragons,” I said, as the last of the blue energy poured into the pendant. “It’s not like you roll dice and summon a Rock Troll or something.”
“Well, this is plus-six for suck,” said Steph, snapping open her eyes. “I’m bored. Let’s go to the mall.”
And we did, my friend and I, and the ghost hanging from my neck inside my grandmother’s pendant.
The ghost is talking to me now, as I sip espresso in a quiet little coffee shop and pretend to read Cosmo. The ghost – whose name is Philomena – and I have long come to an accord. I treat her nicely, and she tells me things I need to know. She tells me when the moon is right to harvest electricity from sleeping power cables, and how to read augers in the gibberish of SPAM e-mail subject headers; how to take the eyes of traffic-safety cameras, and how to see omens in reality TV shows.
Philomena complains a lot. It’s in what used to be her nature.
“Whitney Bierce,” she says, carving my name into an accusation. “You are the worst excuse for a witch I’ve seen in 200 years of haunting. I have half a mind to leave you on your own.”
“You can’t,” I say softly, looking side-to-side to see if any one’s watching the crazy blond girl mutter to herself, despite the fact that I’m wearing my Bluetooth headset and smiling as if I’m talking to a friend.
“So,” I say, the smile not leaving my face. “Tell me what it is I missed this time, and please, not so much with the cryptic. I’ve had a very long day.”
Which was true, so far as it went. I mean, I don’t actually work, but everybody thinks that I do. I scout out antiques, rare books. I’m usually looking for something, natch, but I turn a little profit, enough so no one questions the condo.
Witches in the good-old days had it easy. A shack in the woods, a gingerbread house. No one said a word. They never had to deal with a condo association. I want a gingerbread house to call my own.
Philomena makes a clicking sound with her tongue, which impresses, because, well, ectoplasm.
“There’s another witch, Whitney,” she says in low rumble. “There’s another witch in the city.”
I frown, and the lights flicker. The sound on the radio cuts out for a moment, startling the cute barista, until the cool sounds of Yo La Tengo reassert themselves. Seriously. Yo La Tengo. I’d swoon if I weren’t so pissed off.
“So,” I say thinly, my voice a sinking whisper to match the ghost’s, “I guess we’ll just have to see how this plays out.”
But I know how it’ll play out. Because I’m a witch, and I know stuff.
And this is my city.