Welcome to October again! This year, I’m doing something a little different for my Witchy Weekends series. Instead of sharing movies or books or music with you, I’m sharing with you a story. A story I’m writing, a work-in-progress. (I’ve already written quite a bit of it, but not every last thing yet.) This is a bit of an experiment for me, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Here’s the plan: each weekend this month I’ll share a scene with you from this WIP (in which one of the characters is a witch), and you, dear reader, get to share with me your reaction to it. That’s right, I’m crowdsourcing a beta-read. I’ve never done this before, so I don’t really know what to expect — though you all are a very nice bunch, so I’m not expecting you to be rude. 🙂
Feel free to post in the comments what you think of the scene, any aspect of it, and what you think is going to happen next in the story. I’d love to know!
“The Frog Wish” (part 1)
Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him.
The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.
All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.
“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.”
The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”
“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”
“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.
Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”
Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.
“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.
“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”
Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”
“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.
Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.
“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”
Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.
The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.
Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week. I thought you might enjoy it.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.
Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk cloth covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.
Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.
“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said.
Moira wrinkled her nose in a cute smile and sipped, then said, “What do you think of the new cards?”
“They’re lovely. Have you used them yet?”
“Just some idle browsing.” Moira set down her tea. “Would you like a reading?”
Eleanor glanced at her watch. She still had half an hour before her appointment with the antiques dealer. “Maybe a quick one.”
“Go ahead and shuffle them then,” Moira said and spread the silk cloth across the table. After Eleanor handed the cards back, Moira laid out three in a row, face-down. She turned the middle one over. “The Empress.” She gave Eleanor a sly smile. “Where have we seen this before?”
Eleanor dismissed it. “Yes, yes, you’re very optimistic about my ability to effect control over my own life blah blah blah.” She drank more of her tea.
Moira shook her head. “Not with that attitude, I’m not.”
Moira sighed. “In your past…” She flipped over the left-most card. “You have the five of cups.”
Also no surprise. Neither of them said anything, because neither of them wanted to argue about Lucas. Not again. Eleanor looked at the figure on the card mourning the spilled wine and ignoring the full chalices just out of reach. Moira gazed at it, too, but rather than say anything, she buried her face in her teacup.
After a moment, Eleanor cleared her throat. “Go ahead,” she murmured. “Show me the future.” As if a deck of cards could do such a thing.
Moira flipped over the last card. Death. The card that meant not actual death, but change. Big change. The kind of change no one could help you with or see you through. The kind of change you had to deal with alone.
“Well.” Eleanor took another sip then placed her teacup down as quietly as she could. “I suppose that’s good news, then, isn’t it?”
Moira looked up at her and crooked an eyebrow.
“I mean, right now, almost any change has got to be good. Hasn’t it?”
Moira laughed then, and the tension in the room crackled into a broken web. “We can do a longer reading later, if you like.” She gathered the deck into her hands and began idly shuffling them.
Eleanor shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not sure I believe in all this stuff.”
Moira paused and gave her a skeptical look. “That would explain why I’ve done more readings for you than anyone else in the last fifteen years. Combined.”
Eleanor opened her mouth to speak but found she had no clever response, so she downed the last of her tea instead. “I need to go anyway. Work beckons.”
The wind chimes in the front room signaled a customer had come into the shop. “So it does,” Moira said and took both teacups back to the tiny closet she’d turned into a snack station.
Eleanor wrapped the cards carefully back in their cloth and returned them to the box, closed the lid. “I’ll call you later,” she said. Moira nodded and they both walked into the front room, where a skittery young man was looking through a small box of watercolor greeting cards.
“I’m looking for a gift,” he said before Moira could even ask.
She nodded. “I know just the thing.”
This caught him off-guard. “You do? But I haven’t told––”
Moira shook her head gently. “No need.” She smiled, and he suddenly stopped fidgeting.
“Oh,” he said, looking a little confused. “Oh.”
“I’ll show you.” Moira gestured to the garden just beyond the open back patio door. He nodded and stepped toward it.
Moira patted Eleanor on the shoulder and slipped something into her pocket. “Call me later,” she said and walked back toward her customer.
Eleanor felt a small hard something wrapped in ribbon next to her car key. “Will do,” she said and headed out the front door to a meeting that would be far more straightforward than this visit had been.
A single croak stopped her progress halfway over the threshold. She turned and saw the frog again, perched on the desk, watching her. She resisted the urge to tell it good-bye. It was a frog.
Eleanor paused. Then she shook her head. “Nope.”
She walked out.
Continue reading the story! Click here for part 2.
Thank you for reading! In the comments, I welcome your feedback:
* What did you like?
* What confused you, if anything?
* What needs work?
* What are you most interested about?
* What do you think will happen next?
Check back next weekend for the next installment in the story!
Want to read more of my writing that’s already finished and published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books in Houston at Blue Willow Bookshop!