I kissed my first love and lost him the same night.
No one removed the rubble of Sarraze Manor. The scorched stone and warped iron gates stood as a reminder of the wildfire that night thirteen years ago. One moment the manor colored the backdrop of town, a beauty held dear to the citizens for many worked the grounds and Lord Sarraze was a kind and generous man, as was his ward, Sylas, but neither survived the flames.
No one knew how the fire started or grew so strong. Dozens of investigators looked into the deaths and found no clues. The lack of answers kept me up most nights, ripping through the morning papers and cursing the worthless bastards through my tears. All of them were gone, people I called friends, thought of as family, and the shy Sylas, my first friend, my first kiss, and the first boy who stole my heart.
Not saying goodbye worsened the anger that I never imagined could be so great from grief. Our kiss that night, rather than fearing losing a friend, of kissing a noble, rather than fumbling over a reason to run home, I wish I had told him he had my heart, then wished him goodnight. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t still have nightmares about chasing his terrified voice through creeping flames.
“Foster!” Davin snarls at the entrance to the pub, one hand on his wide hips and the other gripping the iron handle of the door. “I understand you need breaks, but stop daydreaming and get back to work.”
“Sorry.” I grapple with my necklace, once a vibrant blue and now faded by constant toiling. “I am nearly done out here.”
After sweeping leaves off the street, I give the manor one last glance. The gate had sunk like melted candles and half broken towers peek over the trees. Light and laughter once filled those halls, the scent of fresh bread and listening to Sylas tell me stories in the library. The memories fade in the face of work, the heavy aroma of ale, shouting customers, and aching feet.
The pub doesn’t close until a soft mist coats the fall air. Outside, a half moon reflects against the damp streets. Had the moon been full, the pub would have closed before nightfall. No one wants to risk running into a werewolf on the full moon. A pixie flutters by ensuring the fire lamps remain lit on every street corner and, once she’s out of view, I whisper a spell into my cupped hands.
Magic sings in my veins, thanking me for using it and calling for warmth that eases the chill from my fingertips. Then I shove my hands into the pockets of my jacket. I try not to use my magic in the open, even if my muscles and mind yearn to let loose. Mythical and mortals alike remain jumpy around witches, although the funny story is, we’re the first of all magic.
Vampires exist because a witch raised his lover from the dead and did not understand the magic in which he wrought.
Werewolves exist because cruel men put their hands on a young girl, and when she came into power, she cursed them to reveal the beasts within. On the full moon, they slaughtered their own families and knew pain like no other.
All mythical creatures stem from a witch’s spell, so history says, and it has led to a less than favorable reputation. For centuries, the world hunted witches. Though laws have passed in recent years to spare us, it has done little to erase the hatred, an immediate distrust. Many still say, “a witch’s blood is bad luck.”
I can’t say I disagree. I’ve had horrendous luck, and that may show itself again tonight. A figure follows me through the mist, slipping in and out of shadows. The streets aren’t as safe as they used to be. A lot changed after Sarraze Manor burned. Many lost their jobs. Even more lost prized business from Sarraze’s consistent guests. There are plenty of muggings, although I haven’t had many issues. Most in town know what I am. This could be a thief new to town, or the past choosing to catch up with me. The possibility hastens my steps and worsens my labored breaths.
When I round a corner, fire sparks at my fingertips. I lick my suddenly dry lips and stifle a wheezing breath, but as I raise my hand, I recognize the face of my stalker and have the abrupt urge to break his nose, then burn him.
“Why are you following me, Colton?” I keep the flames flickering purely to enjoy the abrupt paleness to his otherwise snarky expression.
“I wanted to talk and figured you would certainly turn me down if I showed up at your work.” Colton nods at the flame. “Mind calling off the flames, love?”
“Don’t call me love.” And the fire roars a little higher.
“Foster, please, we haven’t talked in nearly a month.”
“Yes, one rarely wants to speak to their cheating ex-partner.”
“I said sorry.” He scuffs the tip of his shoe against the street. “I know it was a mistake. It won’t happen again.”
“It shouldn’t have happened at all, and I don’t care if you apologize a thousand more times. We are done.” I release a cough that tears at my lungs. “Nothing will change that.”
Colton does what I hate most. His eyes rake over me in that judgmental manner. His lips curl into a knowing smile. He is no fool, and neither am I. Few want a witch for a lover. Their interest, more often than not, is curiosity, and it ends after a night or two.
“Time will change your mind.” Colton smiles, sweet, if I didn’t know better. He takes a couple of steps back. “I will wait until you’re ready.”
“Then you will wait forever.”
“We’ll see.” He turns the corner and his footsteps fade.
“Asshole,” I mutter, while closing my fist to douse the fire.
I was a fool to date him. Should have known the cute guy flirting with me had only done so because he noticed how nice my clothes were. Should have been suspicious when he asked for money, when he started staying at my place and I let him because I liked the attention. I know better. I’ve been through this before, but I liked the way Colton spoke to me, about me, how he had his hands all over me, even if the next morning he wanted something. I’m not rich by any means, but in this town I have more than most thanks to a rather mysterious benefactor.
One day, money arrived with no return address or letter. Every month for the last six years, an envelope appeared under my doorway filled with cash. Enough to pay for the bills, but I do not know who this stranger is or what they want. I do not trust it, so I do not rely entirely on it. I donated most of the cash and the rest I use sparingly. No one knows how I get the money, only that my clothes are nice for a mere pub worker. Some approach with ill intent. From time to time, I fall for it because loneliness is a fierce monster.
After the usual ten-minute walk, I reach the cottage I’ve called home all my life. Wind chimes sing in the evening breeze. Mother loved them and I never had the heart to take them down, even if they wake me in the middle of the night. The cottage is cold, and it worsens my wheezing breath. One word from my lips and a fire roars in the hearth. Herbs grow on a box in the windowsill. I crush them into a fine powder, whispering healing words, then set the powder aflame. A blue glow hums to life and I breathe the fumes in deep. With every inhale, my lungs expand and fingers shake as if I’ve had a dozen coffees. The heaviness of my chest lessens to little more than an occasional pinch, although the guilt always stays as burdensome as ever.
Someone knocks on the door.
“Damn it, Colton, I said we’re done,” my words catch at the stranger standing on the porch. The firelight illuminates half his face, a thick black beard covers his strong russet brown jaw.
“My, my, with that tone, I am happy to say that I am not Colton.” The stranger laughs and removes an emerald colored top hat from his bald head. He rests the hat upon his broad chest, bringing attention to the incredibly fine tailoring of his suit. No seamstress in town has the talent necessary to stitch such intricate floral patterns.
“My apologies for shouting, sir.” I sense magic flowing within him, calling like a songbird. No doubt he has noticed, too. Witches have always been able to pinpoint another. “Are you lost, perhaps?”
Over his shoulder, a sleek black carriage sits along the edge of the road. It nearly blends into the night, if not for the moonlight casting the silhouette in silver. A driver sits at the front, slouched slightly, and two dark steeds tethered to the carriage huff.
“No, I am exactly where I want to be,” the stranger replies. “My name is Harvey Halbert, and I would very much appreciate having a word with you, Foster.”
The doorknob creaks beneath my vice grip. There are three exits in the house; the backdoor, the window in my bedroom, and the window in the kitchen. The kitchen window is closest. If I slam the door in his face, I could make it out the back and into the forest. If not, there is a fire to call upon.
Before making any rash decisions, I ask, “How do you know my name? Have we met before?”
“Not personally, but one has to know who they are sending money to every month.”
“Money.” My grip loosens on the door. “You’re my benefactor?”
“I am employed by your benefactor.” Harvey gestures towards the door. “May I come in? It is chilly out here and that fire looks mighty warm.”
“Forgive me, sir, but it wouldn’t be smart for me to let a strange man into my home so late at night. Tell me, first, who is my benefactor? Then I may entertain your visit.”