My family hates to call what we do “magic.” That conjures, well, conjuring. Casting spells and manipulating elements, possessing the power to smite ones enemies and conjure cupcakes from the ether. Given the choice, I’d probably take that last one. Which is a good thing it isn’t an option.
Lacking more accurate terminology, we do refer to our wider community as a “magical” one, but people are only blessed with a single power. Not a spell, per se. Just an ability. I know a few others, courtesy of Unstable’s residents, but even there, the average psychic doesn’t possess any power beyond the skills of a very good entertainer. Those who have actual skill live in harmony with those who fake it, and there’s no ill-will or envy. Let’s face it, even those of us with powers fake it most of the time.
We aren’t witches or wizards, though I may have convinced Hope otherwise when she was six, in bed with chickenpox and I read the first two Harry Potter books to her. I then borrowed Mrs. Salazar’s pet owl to deliver Hope’s invitation to Hogwarts, sending my sister into tears thinking she was about to be packed off to an English boarding school. I staunched those tears with the reassurance that, for American wizards, Hogwarts was an online education, and I recruited Ani to devise lessons. Ani still grumbles about it, and Hope still has all her Hogwarts achievement certificates framed on her bedroom walls. I call that a win both ways.
But no, we aren’t wizards, and if such a thing exists, even Jonathan doesn’t know about it. Jonathan King is the local librarian and Ani’s best friend since toddler-hood. After Hope and I marathoned Buffy the Vampire Slayer during a dual bout of mono, we started calling him Giles. No one in Unstable knows more about our secret world than he does, and he has declared there is no such thing as witches or wizards. Also, to Hope’s eternal disappointment, no brooding vampires or sexy werewolves either. Just a bunch of families who’ve inherited one specific power. Like ours.
All those powers, though, have one thing in common. Balance. You cannot create in a vacuum. Weave a curse on one object, and you must unweave another. To uncurse an object, you must cast another curse, preferably on a different object. If this sounds simple, let me assure you, it is not. Ani keeps actual spreadsheets to track cursed and uncursed objects. My method is a little . . . less rigorous.
I’m also not much for casting curses on purpose, unless it’s a prank, which may be why my area of expertise is the joker’s jinx. If I have to undo a major curse, that requires creating a major one. As any proper April Fool’s Day aficionado knows, there’s a fine line between a fun prank and a cruel one. A major joker’s jinx too easily skips over that line and becomes a misanthrope’s malice.
That leaves me with one somewhat risky option. Okay, maybe more than somewhat. Ani swears she breaks out in hives every time I mention my particular system for achieving balance. I’ve stopped talking about it, and she pretends that means I’ve stopped doing it.
Once in the solarium with the door firmly closed, I prepare. Then I cautiously approach the mirror and pick it up. Even through my gloved hands, the ugliness of the curse throbs.
Damn it, Connolly, what did you do to this woman?
The answer comes slowly, as I whisper the words of my trade, asking the object to share its secrets. It doesn’t speak, of course. That would be weird. Although, that said, there’s an old story of a doll that actually did tell a curse weaver her secret. As a kid, I overheard Mom and Gran talking about it, and then promptly turned it into a bedtime horror story for Hope . . . who now has an entire collection of formerly cursed dolls and declares that her specialty.
This mirror, thankfully, does not talk. Instead, it sends out little tendrils of psychic power that slide through me and reveal their truth in sibilant whispers.
He would not stay.
And now he will.
Whether he wants to or not.
Ah. Okay, that makes sense. Connolly failed to provide the commitment his lover desired. He doesn’t seem like the smooth-tongued devil type, so I’m guessing he didn’t lead the woman on with lies and empty promises—she just wanted more than he was willing to give.
It’s a nasty curse for a relatively minor relationship “crime.” But Mom always said curse weaving is like selling someone a gun. You can ask what it’ll be used for. Or you tell yourself you’re just the middleman and sell it without question. This is why we Bennetts weave curses with great reluctance. We feel obliged to ask for the reason and then make a judgment call.
Connolly’s lover wanted a commitment. He didn’t. As the curse suggests, he “refused to stay.” Perhaps the fitting curse would be that when he finds a woman he does want to be with, she’ll leave him. But that’s risky—what if he never finds that woman or what if he sells the mirror before then? Instead, the curse causes him to “stay” with whatever he deemed more important than his lover. If he refused to move in with her, he’ll be stuck in his current residence forever. If he found their relationship interfered with his career, then he’ll be trapped in his position, his business never expanding.
Such a quiet little curse. One could live a long life and never realize what happened, knowing only that they failed to move forward in life. An insidious and nasty curse, particularly for an ambitious young man like Connolly.
I set to work unweaving the curse. It takes time and energy, far more so than if it’d been a joker’s jinx. By the end, I’m dripping sweat and mentally wiped out.
“You’d better appreciate this, Connolly,” I mutter as I clean up.
Which is ridiculous. He’ll never know the mirror was cursed—much less uncursed. Which is for the best, really. Just call it my good deed for the month and—
The door opens. Not the door into the hall, which I’ve set my bag against, blocking easy entrance, but the other one. The locked door into Connolly’s office. It swings open and the man himself walks through, still dressed in his funeral-director-gray suit, as if he never left.
“Ms. Bennett,” he says. “What a surprise.”
I stammer my excuse about camera shots and measurements. I barely get out a line before he waves me to silence.
“I know why you’re here,” he says. “Unweaving the lover’s lament on my mirror.”
“I believe curse weavers colloquially call them ex-hexes? Very kind of you, and much appreciated, even if the mirror wasn’t actually mine. I borrowed it. Stage setting. A little test to discover if you really are what they say you are. I wanted to see whether you’d recognize it as a cursed object. You didn’t seem to, which was terribly disappointing. But now you’ve returned to unhex it for me. Far more than I expected . . . and an excellent demonstration of your skills. I appreciate that.”
“You . . . set a trap for me?”
“A test,” he says. “As a prospective client, I needed to know whether you were the real deal, as they say. So many who claim your power are not.”
“Prospective client . . .”
His lips curve in what I presume he considers a smile. I see only teeth. Perfect white shark’s teeth. “Yes, I have a job for you, one that suits your particular talents far more than redecorating.” He opens the door into his office. “Come have a seat, and we’ll talk.”