Freebie Mondays: Diary of a Modern Witch

Freebie Mondays: Diary of a Modern Witch

I don’t have much to say about this particular short. It’s one of those scenes that popped randomly into my head and I loved it so much I decided to write it down.

Before I forget, I was also interviewed by the lovely people over at NFReads! Please head over and take a look!
. . .

Many people believe the modern world to be devoid of magic, as if we picked it all up and tossed it in the trash when we discovered science. There are explanations now for all the hidden things we cannot see. And if there’s something we can’t explain, it’s because we simply haven’t discovered the answer yet. People couldn’t possibly bend the wild forces of the world to work for their whims.

Except no one who thinks that has met my beloved roommate Marina.

Most of us trudge through the world with our heads down and our shoulders square. We brace for whatever the universe intends to throw at us next, secretly hoping we can catch it in time to deflect it toward the mundane pedestrian trudging beside us. Life is an endless series of work days and careful calculations, hopefully eventually adding up to comfort in our older age. We build comfortable walls and hide from any looming crisis, waiting until the sun returns to the sky to show our faces again.

This is simply the way the world works for most of us.

But not Marina. She glides through life as though she is moving pieces across a game board. But the game she plays is not chess. It’s something far less structured, a chaotic mishmash of Parcheesi, Life, and Trivial Pursuit. Though it seems impossible that someone could fully understand the extent of the unwritten rules that govern this game, Marina is a master of all its aspects. Questioning her capability inevitably results in a patient but knowing smile before she turns to take her next move.

I know that Marina is magical because every morning, by the time I wake up, she has finished the newspaper’s daily crossword puzzle. She leaves them sitting face up beside the coffee machine with her pen set across the top as if to say, see, I have completed the day’s challenge. What do you intend to do with it?

I used to loathe seeing those pale squares of paper waiting for me every morning, filled with her looping scroll.

One morning, distraught by universal detritus I had not been able to deflect from my immediate path, I seized the paper from the counter and threw it onto the table so forcefully it caused ripples in Marina’s coffee.

She blinked and glanced up at me, her expression curious, but also knowing as if, with a single glance, she could see to the depths of my soul.

“Is there a problem?” she asked sweetly. Her lightly accented voice always fills my chest with a flutter. It seems to evoke some long forgotten past when it was the wilds rather than the crowds that we spent our days wrangling. But I have long since learned to break that spell with a shake of my head.

“How do you do it?” I demanded, jabbing a finger in the center of the completed puzzle.

“Practice,” Marina replied, pronouncing each of the letters in the world with great care so the hard c in its center seemed to linger in my ears long after the word faded.

“There must be some trick to it,” I grumbled. But I knew this was a losing battle. Marina does not share her secrets, not without good reason.

I shuffled across the kitchen and shoved two pieces of bread into the toaster while the coffee machine spit and gurgled as it dripped the rest of its fresh brew into my mug. Normally that would have been the end of it. The soft pop of the toaster finishing with my bread would have marked the end of our breakfast conversation.

But on that particular morning, I felt Marina’s eyes on my back as I placed the toast on a plate and slathered it with marmalade. They followed me as I moved all the way back to the table with my plate and mug in hand.

Normally, when Marina looks at me with the full force of her gaze, I shrug away from it, refusing to look at her until she subsides. But I was feeling feisty that morning, so I glared at her as I settled into my chair, searing through her gaze with my own.

Her answering smile assumed a different quality and she chuckled, a sound like distant bells. “You wish to know the trick?” she asked and, again, she held onto the k, making it echo oddly in my ears.

I nodded, though I expected nothing to come of the query. Usually, when I question her mysticism, Marina offers only a brief, cryptic parable, then sweeps away before it can be questioned.

For the first time, however, Marina offered me an appraising glance, as if trying to determine whether or not I was ready to enter her world. Then she straightened, closed the book she had been reading and fixed me with look that demanded truth. “There is something you desire?” she demanded.

“A lot of things,” I admitted without hesitation. It was easy to lament the things I did not have at the time. My job felt like it was rapidly approaching a brick wall into which it would slam, leaving me with little alternative in my search for larger personal space and a few vacation days that could be spent on leisure pursuits. But listing my current wants felt as if it would be whining.

Marina offered me a patient smile and glanced at the crossword puzzle beside her. “The key,” she said, is to distill it down into as few words as possible. Three, in fact, at most, though a single word is most powerful.”

When Marina swept to her feet, I thought that would be the end of it. She had left me with another of her cryptic riddles to contemplate until I decided it was no longer worth the effort. And on a day with the crushing weight of a twelve hour shift looming and no coffee yet down my throat, that time span was bound to be all of five minutes.

But then Marina returned to the table gripping the gloss of a magazine in one hand. I recognized the cover, though not which month it might have been from. For all I knew, it had been left on our doorstep yesterday, though it could also have been dug from the bin of random deliveries Marina kept to sort through. Some of the stuff in that bin had been sitting there for months, gathering dust, waiting to be properly discarded.

Marina licked her left thumb and began paging through the magazine with practiced ease while I stared at her with tired fascination. If I ever thought for one moment that the answer to all my problems would be found in the back of a nature journal, I’d have emptied Marina’s bin onto my desk a long time ago.

She stopped on a page near the back dotted with a few brief paragraphs between the sprawling squares of puzzles. And there, next to the Sudoku, was a fresh crossword puzzle, its empty white spaces gleaming with expectation between the black blocks that denoted its edges.

Marina smoothed her hand across the page before lifting her pen. She glanced at me, and I still swear her gaze pierced the foggy haze surrounding my mind to divine what I should, in fact, have been thinking about.

Then she regarded the squares in the puzzle and wrote the words first, last, and rent inside the crossword puzzle’s confines. After a moment of hesitation, she added my name. That was the most shocking part of the process, to see the careful letters of my name arrayed within the small spaces so that none of them brushed the edges and a few of them intersected the vowels from the other words she had written.

“You want to avoid placing the spell in direct lines, you see,” she said, indicating the way she had distributed the letters across multiple clues – I assumed because none of the words she chose to write would actually be answers in the puzzle.

“And now,” she declared as her eyes began scanning the clues, “we solve the puzzle.”

“But you’ve ruined it,” I protested.

“Did I?” Marina replied with another of those coy smiles.

“Well, how do you know any of those letters will match the clues?” I demanded, indicating the same words she had a few moments ago. “Did you read them ahead of time?”

“I most certainly did not.” Marina shook her head. “That would spoil the spell.”

I could think of no way to answer that, so I threw my hands in the air and let them drop before biting into my toast.

By the time I finished breakfast Marina finished the puzzle. I watched with stunned disbelief as she filled the last few spaces and shifted the magazine in my direction. I thought, perhaps, she had simply filled words into the puzzle to make it work. But when I read the clues, I saw that she had given the proper answers.

The first letters she had written were almost indistinguishable now that the rest of the squares were filled in. Marina used the same color ink to complete the puzzle. Only knowing that my name was hidden within several consecutive squares allowed me to find it now that they rested within the nest of smoothly inked letters.

I couldn’t even find the words to ask how it was possible that Marina added her own words to the puzzle, then solved it, so I simply set the magazine down and continued preparing for work.

I trudged from our apartment half an hour later and threw myself into the regular grind of nine to five – or as was the particular case on that day seven to eight – and forgot about the incident entirely.

For three days, at least. That was when my boss drew me aside shortly before my lunch break.

I thought I was doomed. The company I worked for at the time relied completely on efficiency for continued employment. And though my performance reviews were always positive, I felt as though I constantly balanced on the edge of being cut from the team.

To my pleasant surprise, my boss set a hand on my shoulder and announced, “We’re very sorry about the problems with processing your pay raise.”

It was all I could do not to choke on a what now?

While I spluttered, attempting to form a coherent response, my boss pulled a piece of paper from his desk and slipped it into my hand. “We think we should have everything sorted out by the end of the next pay period. In the mean time, we hope you will accept this bonus in lieu of back pay.”

The slip of paper was a check for a generous sum, and my boss ushered me back through his office door before I managed to recover any sense of language.

When I got home, I spread the check on the table in front of Marina. It seemed to me that her eyes already glowed with nuanced understanding and more than a little glee. But her response was, “I didn’t know you were getting a raise.”

“I didn’t know I was getting a raise,” I replied, though I could think of plenty of things to do with that extra money.

Marina made a soft, thoughtful sound and said, “It’s just enough for the deposit on that place we’ve been looking at across town.”

And then I remembered sitting at the kitchen table watching her write my name and the words first, last, rent inside the confines of a crossword puzzle.

It made no sense. Magic of this kind could not possibly be real.

But with that single act of modern witchcraft, Marina opened a door for me. A door that led to places I never could have imagined even in my wildest dreams.

My early attempts to cross the threshold into Marina’s world were clumsy at best. I tried three times that year to replicate her trick with the crossword puzzle. But no matter how carefully I tried to space my words across the crossword’s strict lines, I could never complete the puzzle. My letters did not line up with the clues the way Marina’s did and, mindful of her warning, I never dared read the clues ahead of time.

Perhaps my desires simply did not align with the universe’s. I thought maybe I focused too hard on trivial things. But why, I wondered, should the universe care if I got a new apartment when there were so many other more important matters of concern wandering the world?

I went back to Marina once and showed her that my letters did not line up. She offered me a sympathetic look and told me to try again.

“I don’t have your skill,” I insisted.

But her response was, “The universe has all the power. I simply asked politely for a favor.”

We were in the new apartment by then and I wanted to press. I wanted her to use her special abilities to trigger mine – for surely that was how these things must work. But I knew if I pushed her, I would get no more information and possibly earn a little scorn.

Some things, Marina would have said, have to be learned through trial and error by the person trying to achieve them. And though I wanted to rail against this seemingly impossible wall that now stood in my path – one that gleamed with promise, unlike the bricks I had encountered during my mundane travels – I knew that such efforts would be pointlessly wasted.

In my heart of hearts, I knew the truth anyway. If I had been able to pin her down and force her to speak, Marina would have pinpointed my problem with a few blunt words.

I believe she would have said that I simply didn’t believe enough in the spell to make it work. And at the time, she would have been right.

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