by Gerri Leen
I’m that girl. You know the one: black clothes, heavy boots, thick kohl eyeliner, hair dyed raven. I wander around the school, and you move away, afraid you’ll get cooties. You’d call me a goth, but there’s something off—I’m not just some kid trying to be counter-culture cool.
I’m also alone, and that’s a problem. Not because I need some stupid BFF to sit in the caf with and bitch about the mean kids. But because my magic—and it’s super strong—only works when I do it with someone else.
It’s a major pain in my ass, and I know the hag in the magic store in the East Village who gave me the talisman did it because she could tell I was a loner. It was like: here, have the coolest magical powers ever—oh, but good luck finding someone to make it work with you.
I did, though. I had someone. At my last school. It was freakin’ awesome. And then it wasn’t.
I’m not going to think of that.
I walk down the halls of school like class is a secondary reason for being there. And today it is: I’m looking for new meat. Heard there were some transfer students from Iowa. Perfect. Fish out of water in this “I could live in Manhattan, but I wanted the kids to have space” suburb.
A brother and a sister if I heard the gossip right. I see the brother down the way. I may not act like I know most of these kids, but I make it my business to keep track of who’s who. In my last school, it helped me prioritize who was getting magic worked on them first. The mean kids, the smart one who wouldn’t let me cheat off her, the jocks who made fun of me in P.E.
I’ve started a list for here already, but obviously I can’t do shit with it without a willing partner.
It’d be cool to mix it with sex. The lady didn’t say it would work better than way, but I bet it would. Maybe I’ll see what this new guy is like.
I get closer, and I see he’s a jock. He’s joking around with some of the baseball players, and I hear him say his arm is pretty good. He’s got that All-American Boy thing going big time. He’ll be safely ensconced in a clique I can’t reach in no time.
“Who’s that?” I hear him ask as I pass.
“Frickin’ weirdo, that’s who.” Jason. Quarterback. Shortstop. Forward on the B-Ball team. Mister Sports. He’s pretty high on my list. “Her name’s Alyssa,” he tells the guy, who says, “We didn’t have goths in our school.”
I can’t hear Jason’s reply. But that’s okay because I see the sister down the hall. If her brother is a hottie, she’s the opposite. She’s got her hair in a ponytail, but it’s not a cute one like the cheerleaders wear. Her hair is sort of frizzy, and she’s really thin and tall. She holds her books to her chest like they’re going to protect her from something, and manages to hunch over them, too. Probably trying to look not so ginormous.
Yeah, not working, toots.
The other kids are ignoring her. Everyone’s talking and laughing, and soon they’ll be moving off to class, leaving her to try to figure out where the hell her first class is.
I see Manda eyeing her. She adopts all the newbies but they inevitably leave her when they realize how boring she is. I finger the talisman—I wear it on a long chain, the two parts of it clinking softly as they move together and apart as I walk. If I had a partner, I could make Manda turn around and walk away. Then again, if I had a partner, I wouldn’t care what Manda did with Norma Newgirl.
I walk over to the newbie. “Hi.”
She almost jumps out of her skin, then turns. I can see her take in my look, and for a moment, she looks like she’d rather go anywhere alone than hang with me.
“I was new at the start of the year. Sucks, huh?”
She relaxes and nods; it’s the right thing to say.
“So where’s your first class? I can show you where it is.” No one expects me to get to class on time. In fact, I think some of my teachers hope I won’t.
I get good grades, though, when it’s a class I like. I’m not dumb and I actually do the homework when the teacher treats me like a human.
“I have English Four.”
“With Thorson?” At her nod, I smile. “Me, too. I’m Alyssa, by the way.”
“That’s a pretty name.”
“Thanks.” I wait and it takes her forever to finally cough up, “I’m Theresa.”
I get us headed to Thorson’s classroom. He actually really likes me, so this is working out great. He’ll be happy to see I’m helping the new kid.
“Give me your phone,” I say, and she looks uncertain. “For my digits. In case you get lost or have questions about something. I doubt your schedule is synced up with mine all day.” I smile, the breeziest smile I can give her—the one that says “not a stalker, really.”
And she’s in. She hands over the phone, and I put my number in. I don’t ask for her number, but she gives it to me and says, “If you want to hang out…?” Her voice is so tentative, I feel sorry for her.
It’s best if the partner is a real friend. That’s what the old lady said at the shop. I think maybe Theresa could be, not like Lacey was, but then nothing will be like that.
I shouldn’t think of Lacey. I’ll just get pissed. I put her out of my mind and lead Theresa to my favorite class of the day.
We’re sitting at Theresa’s dining room table, doing homework. Her parentals were pretty unsure of me at first. I could see the concern in their eyes as I clomped into their colonial box of a house. But our conspicuous studying is putting their mind at ease—even if Theresa has started to wear more black, to let me do her eyeliner, and I’m trying to talk her into some black streaks in her hair.
That might be pushing it. Her mom isn’t thrilled about the changes, and the idea that hair grows out never seems to pull much weight with older people when hair dye in weird colors is mentioned.
“So, I hear that Jason is having a party,” Theresa says softly.
“Yeah, he generally is.” And I won’t be invited. I was invited to one of his massive parties when I first got here. As a freakin’ joke. They wanted to see how much they could screw with the weird new girl.
People don’t screw with me; I screw with them.
I didn’t freak, didn’t get mad, but I did wish I could use the talisman’s powers and pay them back, but that was a no go. I settled for slashing some tires as I walked out of Jason’s house with as much dignity as I could manage after being the butt of his stupid joke.
Jason cornered me about it later the next week at school. “My friends didn’t appreciate having no rides home. I know that was you.”
I gave him the creepiest smile I could. Then really loudly—and as frantically as I could manage, I said, “Quit following me around, Jason. I said no.”
It was like there was a sudden spotlight on us. Even the cheerleaders were looking our way.
I slammed my locker, pushed him past him, and muttered “Perv,” in the loudest way I could and still play it like the victim.
“In your dreams, freak.” He slammed his hand on the lockers, and I tried to hide my smirk.
I turned. “Really? I say no and now you insult me. Pathetic.” I walked off, hearing tittering of the kind that meant this would be all over school by the end of the day.
Not that anyone reached out to me. Except Manda. Who I finally avoided by sitting in the bathroom and smoking, rather than eating in the caf in the corner with my earbuds in.
“Did you hear me?” Theresa asks.
“Do you want to go?”
“No. I’m not invited. Are you?”
“Well, not by name.” She turns red, the way she does a lot. Bad habit. Too easy to read. I’ll have to toughen her up some. “Mark is going, and he said I could come with him.”
“Yeah, I’ll pass. Jason is kind of a…” I swallow hard in a dramatic way and then look away.
“Jason is what?”
“He’s pretty much a douche.” I refuse to meet her eyes, and she leans in. “He tried to…” I take a long, extra shuddery breath. “It doesn’t matter. He’s just not a nice guy, okay?”
“Look, if you don’t want to go, I don’t either.” She smiles at me and it’s an honest smile, a caring one. She’s stuck by me. After three weeks, I’ve made her mine.
“I’m so glad you moved here, Theresa. I was really floundering without a friend, you know? No one else understands me—or wants to try.” I pull the chain holding the talisman over my head, then unhook it and slide one piece of the talisman off. “Lean forward.”
“Al, no. You wear that everyday.”
“I know. But it’s in two parts. So it makes sense you know. Like a friendship thing. Two halves of the same whole. And not in an ‘I’m hitting on you way.’ I like boys.” Not strictly true, but she doesn’t need to know about my equal opportunity lust. Especially since it’s not for her.
She smiles, and it almost makes her look pretty, then she leans in. I hook the necklace around her and say, “There. Perfect. Go look in the mirror.”
She heads to the bathroom, and I unhook the shorter chain I’m wearing and take the charm that’s hanging from it off and drop it in my backpack. Then I put the talisman on it and hook it back around my neck.
Power flows through me. I lean back and let it take me like a hit of Xanax. Then I get up and sort of weave to the bathroom.
Theresa is leaning against the mirror, her eyes half closed. “I don’t feel so good.”
“Just ride it out.” I stroke her hair, then slide onto the counter. “I got the necklace in the East Village—one of those shops…you know the kind, right?” Of course she doesn’t, but she nods anyway. Theresa doesn’t like to appear not in the know. “The woman running it said once I had a friend I could really trust, that we’d be able to do magic.” That wasn’t what she said. It was more that I need a person who trusts me to wear it for it to work.
“Magic?” She sounds like she’s going to throw up.
“Yeah. Isn’t that cool? In my last school, I thought I’d found someone who was really a friend. But then…” I sigh, and it’s a sound of loss and disappointment, and it works like I thought it would.
“I am your friend. Really.” She takes my hand, and power rushes through me.
I wonder what she’s feeling.
I quit wondering when she hurries to the toilet to throw up. The power can do that. Last time… no, not going to think of that.
She keeps throwing up. It’s a little excessive and I really want to go back to the dining room table and leave her to it, but a good friend holds a puking pal’s hair up for her. So I do that, even though the smell of vomit makes me want to hurl, too.
Once she’s done and has wiped her face and gargled, she takes a deep breath. “Besties forever.”
“Forever.” We pinky swear—dumbest tradition ever.
I’m bored out of my mind pretending to be some newbie at this magic thing. But I need to be careful. Don’t want Theresa getting spooked like Lacey did at my last school.
Lacey was so damned good at this. Much more a natural at the magic than Theresa is. It’s slow going with Theresa, and truth to tell, I don’t need her. I mean, yes, I need her wearing her half of the talisman, but I can control the magic on my end. But Theresa will feel it, so I need her to part of this, body and soul. I need her to be hooked on how fun and innocent magic is before we do anything major. But if I have to spin one more pencil or make water boil without turning on the burner, I’m going to scream.
“So,” Theresa says as she floats a feather in the air. “The first dance is coming up.”
I don’t answer. Dances so don’t concern me.
“This guy asked me if I wanted to go.”
I feel a jolt so deep that I think Theresa may get aftershocks through the talisman link. But she doesn’t seem to.
One of the football guys. Not a particularly cute one, but still, going to the dance with him may up her popularity more than I can risk.
“He’s ugly.” I say it as if it’s just a fact and all the world knows it. “So not good enough for you.”
“Have you looked at me?” She frowns, and the feather stops floating and wafts gently down to the table.
“Totally. You’re smart and you have pretty eyes and you’re magical, baby. You don’t need a guy like Jeff.”
“But maybe I want one. Maybe…” She sighs. “I’d just really like to go the dance. You know, have the experience…”
“So we’ll go together.” I hate dances, but if it shuts her up, I’ll suck it up.
“I don’t want to go with you. That’s only marginally better than going with a cousin.”
I feel a sting from that. Not that I want to dance with her or anything, but we’re friends. I should be enough for her. “You know he only asked you to make Mark happy.”
“He seemed pretty sincere.”
“Yeah, cuz Mark asked him to be sincere. Not ‘Hey, be my pity date.’”
She stands up and looks like she might throw something at me. “You’re mean, you know that?” Then she walks out, and I hear the front door slam.
I start to laugh. Storming out doesn’t work that well when you leave the person you’re mad at in your room.
But then I hear her car start up, and I rush to the window and see her backing out of the driveway. She flips me off when she sees me and then she’s gone.
I’m in her room, waiting for her, when her mom finds me there. I say Theresa just ran back to school to get a book she forgot. That works great for the first half hour or so, but then when a full hour has passed, I realize she’s not coming back anytime soon.
I get up and walk out to where her mom is watching TV. “Hey, I guess she got held up. I’ve got some things to do at home so…”
“Okay, dear. I’ll tell her to call you when she gets in.” Her mom is way into some talk show thing. Just for grins, I nudge her with the magic, getting her to turn the channel to something with telenovelas.
She looks down at her remote in her hand and makes a questioning sound. Then she changes the channel back.
I resist the urge to make her do it again.
I’m sitting on our front yard, mainly because it pisses off Mrs. West, the nosy lady that lives across from us. If I were dressed like a “normal girl” as I once heard her tell my mom, she wouldn’t mind. But doesn’t my mom think all that black might mean I’m dabbling in devil worship?
Mrs. West is on my list, too.
I reach for the magic, touching the talisman, and let the power build just a little as I imagine what the best payback would be for a woman who can’t help herself from telling on me to my parentals. It won’t be floating a damn feather, that’s for sure.
It’s going to hurt.
My hand suddenly goes numb and I let go of the talisman and try to rub the feeling back into my fingers. I’m so caught up in that, it takes me a moment to figure out something is gone.
I try to keep my breathing normal. No reason to panic. Theresa was probably at the mall trying on dresses for the dance. She took the necklace off—even though I’d told her not to—probably ’cause the tag said to remove all jewelry and she likes following rules.
It’ll be fine.
But then the talisman begins to vibrate against my neck, and it’s turning warmer. Warmer and then hotter and I yank the chain off my neck—which really freaking hurts; it’s not as easy as when they do it in TV shows—and drop it in the grass.
The talisman begins to melt. The chain turns black. “Nooooo,” I say, the sound coming out as a moan.
My neck is killing me where the talisman rested against skin, and in the back where I yanked it apart, but worse than that is the feeling of emptiness where the magic was. I touch what’s left of the talisman; it’s just a lump of metal.
I’m not sure how long I sit there. Long enough for the neighbors to start coming home, many of them giving me not-so-friendly looks.
And then an old blue car pulls up to our house.
Theresa gets out of the passenger side; Lacey climbs out the driver’s. She walks right up to me with Theresa lagging behind, and kicks what’s left of the pendulum.
“I destroyed the other half.” She’s smiling in a triumphant way and I want to slap her.
“You know why.” She pulls Theresa so she has to stand next to her. “We were in the same shop trying on dresses. I saw the talisman. I knew what she must be to you.”
“Not a friend,” Theresa murmured. “Some kind of prop you need to make you feel powerful.”
“She was powerful with it. Trust me on that.” Lacey shares a long look with me, and I’m transported back to the homecoming football game. The cheerleaders had been particularly bitchy to Lacey and me that day. And one of the popular boys had asked Lacy to sit with him, but it was all a joke.
They laughed at her. They laughed at my best friend. We were friends long before the talisman. I didn’t get to know her just to use her.
Didn’t the cheerleaders deserve it when they went under the bleachers to grab some water and the struts holding that section suddenly gave out?
Didn’t the guys who were with them under there —guys who thought it was okay to hurt someone’s feelings for no reason—also earn the punishment?
They were mean. They didn’t care about anyone but themselves.
Killing them wasn’t the worst thing I did while Lacey and I wore the talisman. She couldn’t take it; she panicked and said she was sick of the anger inside me, that we had no right.
No right? And they had a right to make fun of us? I had the means to get back at them: why couldn’t I?
I had the means to get them back. Not anymore.
“When did you get out?” I ask the question as snottily as I can and see the reaction on Lacey’s face.
“At the end of the summer. I stopped talking about magic and evil best friends, and they said my psychotic break was over.”
I should have used the talisman to shut her up forever when I first put it on Theresa. Stupid, stupid move.
Theresa looks stricken. I realize she actually cares for me. Loves me, maybe. In that friend way that never seems to really last for me.
“Did you get a nice dress?”
She looks confused that I would ask, then finally nods.
“Have fun, then.”
“She will. Free of you. You’ll never hurt anyone again.” Lacey is all in my face like she’s Buffy or something. Her voice is getting louder and I think I see the curtains flicker at Mrs. West’s.
I pick up the talisman and walk into the house, leaving them on the lawn. Let’s see what Mrs. West makes of that.
I’m in the East Village. I don’t stand out here and I love that. This is one of the weirder parts of Manhattan, and I feel at home, the energy pulsing at me. I walk blocks happily, nodding at people passing by me who look at me with a curiosity that isn’t hostile.
I see the magic shop ahead and slow my pace. I want to kill the old bitch who runs it, but that won’t help me. Gotta get rid of this anger, or at least push it down where it won’t be quite so apparent.
She’s working the counter just like the first time I came in. She doesn’t even look up as she says, “Figured I’d see you again. How’d that talisman work out for you?”
“If you’re so magical, you tell me.”
She laughs and digs into the display case under the register. A talisman just like mine hangs from her fingers.
“Yes. You can’t really destroy it.”
I hold my hand out.
She puts it back in the display case and studies me. “Once you’ve lost it, it will never work for you again. Sorry.”
I move closer, trying to get in her face even though there’s a big display case between us. “I need the magic.”
“And I understand that. How far are you willing to go to get it?” She rubs her hand over my hair. “Oh, my. You went even further than I imagined you would.” Her hands feel like snake scales as they run down to my cheek.
“I’ll go as far as I have to. Totally all the way.”
The woman smiles, then digs under the counter and hands me a book. “This is what you need. Everything is spelled out. No friends needed. In fact, they’re counter productive unless you want to use them for the spell.”
I look at the book and run my hand over the embossed black lettering. It says Blood Magic.
I can feel power teasing me from the book. I start to laugh and she grins at me, like one ugly sister to another.
“I can work this alone?”
She nods with a grin that would be unpleasant if I wasn’t so stoked. “You can do anything—hurt anyone. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
I imagine Lacey and her “I’m a supernatural hall monitor” ‘tude. Yeah, it’s totally what I want. “How much?”
“For you, it’s free. I’m a fan of mayhem.”
“Cool.” I touch the book lovingly and feel a sigh of magic back from it. “I know just where to start.”
Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has work appearing in Nature, Flame Tree Press’s Murder Mayhem and Dystopia Utopia anthologies, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Grimdark, and others. She recently caught the editing bug and has finalized her third anthology for an independent press.