Halfway Bitten

By: Terry Maggert

Chapter One: Mail Call





The moon hung full, meaning I would sleep on the couch to listen for the squeak of my mail slot announcing the plaintive request for a secret spell. That was where people who I rarely knew would push a handmade envelope through the slim space to fall into my home; the letter would slide across the floor with a swishing rasp, before coming to a stop. I would then open each letter in the moonlight of my kitchen, where I got down to the business of being a good witch.

In a sense, I grant wishes.

I have growing power. I’m a work in progress, I guess, and I feel it in my bones that every little bit of effort must be made to keep the most subtle kinds of evil at bay. Things like loneliness. Fear. A loss of caring. These are the things that all of my spell requests are built around; the words change, but the pleas are always the same. I think that because of this ability to use my magic, I understand that there must be goodness in the world in order to foster even greater kindness. I’m okay with that. It’s my calling.

My Gran taught me that goodwill should be freely given. The ability to be kind without strings is the mark of pure magic; its sole purpose can only be fulfilled when there is no expectation of reward. In a sense, the envelopes that fall to the wood floor of my foyer are the closest thing to a physical prayer that I will ever see. I treat each request with the care it deserves, and I am utterly committed to lessening the suffering of the people around me. Gran always told me that someday I’d think of myself as a priestess who cared for the world around me, and I think I’m starting to understand.

The moon slides across my kitchen in a soft pane of light for three nights out of each month, unless it’s cloudy, or snowing, or rainy. It’s during this transit of light that I wait in a state somewhere between dreams and reality. If I doze too soundly, Gus will wake me when an envelope arrives, but, for the most part, there’s a part of my mind that anticipates each quiet plea. To fill the hours between now and then, I went to the kitchen to graze. It’s a scientific fact that if you eat while standing over the sink, it is neither a meal nor does it count against your alleged workout plan. Fortunately for me, the diner keeps me in shape, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a twinge of guilt when I eat something that has no nutritional value whatsoever.

Like right now. I selected a spoon that is just small enough to fit in my mouth, opened the fridge, and pulled out a tub of homemade peach ice cream.

“Hello, beautiful,” I murmured. “We’re about to get uncomfortably close for the next half hour.” I spooned the first frigid bite of heaven into my mouth and let my eyes close with the kind of pleasure that only ice cream or a lingering kiss can bring. The spoon rested on my tongue, cold and brittle, and I was moving to dredge another bite when the mail flap opened and an envelope slid onto the floor. Gus eyed the ice cream with a feral speculation; he wasn’t above pilfering licks if I left the tub unattended, so the ice cream went with me to the foyer.

I bent to pick it up and my hand stopped in mid-air. The paper was marred by three dark smears, but I knew it wasn’t ash or ink.

It was blood.

Moonlight has a curious effect on many things. It can spawn romance, or poems. It can light the water at night, and the snow, too, spangling the frozen crystals with the second-hand sun from the other side of the world. In the fall, it can turn an innocent night into something sinister, looming over the harvest like a fat reminder that the veil between worlds is thin indeed. But for blood, it takes that which is crimson and makes it black, and I know this because it’s something I’ve seen before.

I reached for my power and let my senses drift across the innocuous paper, and I was sorry that I did. Fear, like blood, can stain things, and this message was fairly soaked with the kind of terror that can kill. Gus padded over and uttered a low growl from the depths of his throat; he felt the wrongness of the aura permeating the note.

“I guess I have to open it.”

Gus hunkered down next to me, an expectant look on his broad feline face. I stood and turned on the hallway light, then plucked the envelope from the floor and opened it in one smooth motion.

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