Seriously Shifted

Sneak Peek: Seriously Shifted by Tina Connolly

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Seriously Shifted by Tina ConnollyTeenage witch Cam isn’t crazy about the idea of learning magic. She’d rather be no witch than a bad one. But when a trio of her mother’s wicked witch friends decide to wreak havoc in her high school, Cam has no choice but to try to stop them.

Now Cam’s learning invisibility spells, dodging exploding cars, and pondering the ethics of love potions. All while trying to keep her grades up and go on a first date with her crush. If the witches don’t get him first, that is.

Can’t a good witch ever catch a break?

Tina Connolly’s Seriously Shifted—available November 1st—is a sparkling new adventure about teen witch Camellia and her mother, wicked witch Sarmine, introduced to readers in Seriously Wicked. Please enjoy this excerpt.

1

The Do-Badders Club

I was hanging up the snakeskins to dry when the first witch rang the doorbell.

“Coming,” I called as I folded the skins on my shoulder and hurried to the door. It does not do to keep witches waiting. They get cranky.

A tall, pale blonde wearing a lot of perfume swept into the room. Ugh, Esmerelda. “I see Sarmine hasn’t managed to get any good help,” she said. “Are you the familiar?”

“You know perfectly well I’m her daughter,” I said through gritted teeth. I’m not what you’d call happy about having a witch for a mother, but that didn’t mean I was eager to be insulted, either.

“Mm,” she said. “Here’s my coat. It’s pure unicorn; don’t let that werewolf of yours sit on it.”

“His name is Wulfie and he is housetrained,” I said.

“He’s three,” she retorted. She stalked over to the coffee table in the living room of our ordinary old split-level, clutching her emerald-green purse tight. “And hurry up with the drinks. Vodka martini, no vermouth, one eye of newt.”

I had no sooner dumped the coat—and the snakeskins—in the spare bedroom upstairs when the doorbell rang again. “Sarmine,” I hollered down the hall. “Your witch friends are here.”

My mother, Sarmine Scarabouche, the wicked witch of the neighborhood, etc., etc., appeared briefly from her bedroom. We both are tall and white but otherwise don’t look particularly alike. For starters, my regular outfit is jeans and a vaguely amusing tee. Hers is a starched button-down and a pencil skirt of the most unflattering length possible. My hair is nutmeg that does whatever it feels like, and hers is a perfect silver bob. She was sorting through the herbs and powders she kept in the white leather fanny pack she always wore. “Camellia, how many times have I told you not to shout? I will be down after I replenish my packet of dried beetle wings.”

“That can’t wait till after they go?”

She rolled her eyes. “Would you trust any of them not to start throwing hexes?”

She had a good point. I didn’t trust any of them one bit. Witches are nasty, paranoid, sarcastic creatures—and the list gets worse from there. Sarmine is maybe, perhaps, one of the ever-so-slightly better wicked witches, if such a thing can be said to exist. I mean, she frequently imposes horrible punishments on me like turning me into a windmill and making me power the house for the day, and there’s that whole thing about how she wants to take over the world, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

The doorbell was now screeching like a peacock in heat, and since our doorbell didn’t normally do that (witches usually try to blend in), apparently the witch who was waiting was a tired-of-waiting witch. Wulfie had run up from the basement and was now howling at the door.

“Coming, coming,” I shouted. I scooped Wulfie up, put him back in the basement, and hurried for the front door.

This time the November wind blew in a short, stout lady all in black, with brown skin, heavy black eyebrows, and frizzy, graying hair. I had met Esmerelda a few times at various witch functions Sarmine had dragged me to over the years. But this lady was new to me. She had a cane and she stabbed it at my feet as she walked in. I jumped backward.

“Took you long enough, girlie,” she said. “In my day we jumped to when our elders asked us to do something.”

“When was that?” I said politely. “Around the time of Christopher Columbus?”

She looked at me side-eyed, as if trying to figure out if I was being rude or not. “Around the time of you can get me a bourbon and soda and make it snappy,” she said. “With two maraschino cherries and a newt eyeball.” She tossed me her black wrap and headed for the couch, mumbling something about how back in her day, there were ashtrays everywhere and everyone kept cartons of cigarettes on hand for their guests. Now that she mentioned it, the wrap I was holding reeked. I put it on top of Esmerelda’s coat.

Esmerelda inclined her head toward the stout lady while I wheeled out Sarmine’s minibar. And yeah, yeah, fifteen-year-olds are not supposed to be serving drinks to their mother’s friends, I’m sure, but in the grand scheme of all the things Sarmine had me do, making a martini ranked low on the leading-me-astray scale.

I poured the vodka out of the cocktail shaker for the blonde, plopped in the eye of newt with a shudder, and passed it over. It’s not that I’m squeamish—it’s just that the witches have this real callous disregard for human and animal life. One of the many things my mother and I disagree on. I started to look for the soda for the shorter lady when the door knocker banged three times and then the door blew open. The freezing November wind swept through the house, bringing in an eye-watering gust of crumbling leaves and chilling me to the bone.

Esmerelda and the stout lady froze, their wands at the ready. I froze with the soda siphon in my hand. Everyone froze at the apparition confronting us.

Her cheekbones were sharp. Her hair was purple. She appeared to be wearing a scarf made out of an entire snake. If this were a movie there would be a dramatic music cue right now that said that Evil Had Arrived.

Sarmine chose that moment to appear on the staircase. “Malkin,” she said in a super-not-excited-to-see-you voice. It sounds a lot like her regular voice, actually, but if you’ve been around the witch as long as I have you can pick up the minute changes in expression. “How nice of you to drop in.”

“Bowling night was canceled,” quipped Malkin.

Sarmine continued down the stairs. “I thought perhaps we’d never see you again.”

“Your lucky day,” said Malkin. I guessed she was Caucasian, with a surprisingly deep tan for November. Maybe she’d been at the beach. She strode casually to the living room, surveyed the other two witches—who were both staring at her with varying degrees of wariness and stink-eye—and me. Her eyes drilled through me. “This one belongs to you, doesn’t it?”

Sarmine did not deign to answer the obvious.

Malkin did not move, but such was the power of her presence that it seemed as though she were an inch away, studying my brain or witch blood or whatever it was. A gust of cold wind from nowhere brought a musky, animal scent. “Bats,” Malkin said at last, in a voice like imminent death. “The upside-down tree. Rivers, running.” It sounded like I was a tarot card that she was reading. “Potential, unrealized.”

Sarmine sniffed. “You’re telling me.”

“Excuse me,” I managed. “I don’t belong to anybody. I’m my own.”

A bark of laughter. “Funny kid.” Malkin’s gaze let me go and she raked the rest of the room.

“Last I heard you were in Borneo,” said the blonde.

“That was three years ago,” said Malkin. “Sorry to disappoint you, Esmerelda.”

The short witch chuckled. “She’s just hoping you’re not still ticked about that time in college that she hexed you with five hundred green warts right before a date.”

“Please,” said Malkin. “Swept under the rug.” She leered. “Surely you’re not afraid I’ve come back to get you?”

“Nonsense,” the blonde said coldly.

“And you, Valda? Still worried about that time you betrayed me to Student Housing for my side business of infectious diseases customized to your professor? Gonna peel out before the festivities start?”

The short witch snorted. “You think I’d miss this? Not likely.”

“Good,” said Malkin. “Then I’ll put my drink order in and stay a while. Whiskey, neat, one eyeball.” She plopped down in Sarmine’s rocking chair and propped her combat boots on the table. They appeared to be made out of a gray wrinkly leather with insets of ivory.

I set down the soda siphon and switched over to making Malkin’s drink. There was silence for a minute while I poured the whiskey and all the witches stared each other down, trying to suss out everyone’s real motivation, and waiting to see who would make a move first. It was like watching a poker game between tigers.

Esmerelda tried another angle. “Revenge business getting slow?”

Malkin shrugged. “Too good. Fact is, I’ve been so busy the last decade I haven’t gotten a chance to see my dear old friends.” She smiled broadly at the three other witches. Nobody smiled back.

“You mean, you decided to take a break from hunting the lindworm,” said Valda. “Having had no luck.”

“They’re extinct, Malkin,” said Esmerelda. “Give it up.”

“That hunt has consumed your life,” said Valda.

Sarmine said nothing, eying Malkin suspiciously. “She’s never going to give that up,” she said. “Not as long as the Witchlore claims the fangs of the lindworm can be used to … what is it, Malkin? Cause pestilence, plagues, famine? Et cetera, et cetera, no doubt.”

Malkin smoothed down her snake scarf. “Oh, that old thing,” she said.

That old thing?” said Valda from the couch. “You once called me at two a.m. because you heard from a friend of a friend that they’d once met a French shopkeeper whose grandmother had heard a rumor of a single lindworm scale. You were positively squealing with excitement.”

“Bosh,” said Malkin. “I never squeal.”

“Squealing,” said Valda.

“At any rate,” said Malkin, “it seemed like a good time to pop in and see my old friends.”

“Sounds suspicious,” said Esmerelda.

“As you get older, you miss those good old college days,” said Malkin, trying to look wistful. “The old gang.”

“The club,” said Valda.

“So what is this, a reunion?” I said.

“You could say that,” said Esmerelda. She finally sat down on the edge of a wooden chair, her back stiff and straight.

I looked around the room again, realizing that these women who looked thirty (Esmerelda), forty (Malkin), sixty (Sarmine), and eighty (Valda) were all actually the same age. It was hard to imagine them all having been in college together. Harder still to imagine the poor college.

“We meet once every two years,” explained Valda, “come from whatever parts of the globe we’re now in for a week-long vacation, catch-up.…”

“And a reenactment of our favorite old game,” said Malkin. “A little bet we have between us, to see who the most skilled witch is.”

“Malkin, we haven’t done that in years,” put in Esmerelda.

“This year was Sarmine’s turn to host,” continued Valda. “But it’s been at least a decade since Malkin bothered to show up. I didn’t think we’d ever see her again.”

“Lucky you,” said Malkin. She began cleaning her nails with a darling little two-inch dagger, no doubt carved out of tiger teeth or baby rabbit bones. “Shall we get started?”

I handed Valda her drink. “If you don’t mind my asking … what is the name of your club?”

Valda grinned. Esmerelda showed a tight-lipped smile.

Malkin rocked casually back in her chair, flipping her little dagger around. “The Do-Badders Club,” she said.

“I suppose it would be too much to hope that the Do-Badders Club meets in order to bring peace and joy to the world?” I said.

“Yes,” said Malkin. “It would.”

Sarmine slapped her hand down on the coffee table. “And I keep telling you, the Do-Badders Club has outlived its purpose. It was a lark when we were nineteen…”

“Hence the silly name,” put in Esmerelda tartly.

“But there are real things to focus on now,” said Sarmine. “The world is going to hell in a handbasket, women. The oceans are rising, the air is burning, the sixth extinction is upon us…”

“I knew you’d be difficult,” Malkin said. “You’re all so soft without me.”

“I’m not,” Esmerelda said indignantly.

“Peer pressure,” snorted Valda.

Sarmine rolled her eyes.

Malkin tucked the little dagger away and held up her hands. Her silver rings flashed in the lamplight. “All right, all right. Will this sweeten the pot? I’ve got something extra-special to ante up for the bet.” She pulled a small envelope from some hidden pocket and waved it at us.

“And what’s in that?” said Esmerelda.

“Pony up one of your mermaid fins and you can find out.”

“I only have one,” protested Esmerelda. “They’re terribly hard to source.”

“Afraid you’re losing your touch?”

“Well, I’m in,” said Valda. “What is it you want from me?”

“Still have your Bigfoot claw?”

Valda sucked in breath. “Hard bargain, Malkin,” she said. “Still, I’ll play the game. Whatever’s in that envelope better be worth it.”

“It’s something you all will like,” promised Malkin. “Even fuddy-duddy Sarmine over there. It’s related to a spell I’ve been putting the finishing touches on. Works along the principles of sympathetic resonance.”

Sarmine looked more closely at Malkin. “Is this what you were working on in college?”

“Yes,” said Malkin. “Interested now?”

“Perhaps,” conceded Sarmine. “I’ll offer up a vial of dragon tears to find out, anyway.” She sat down on the couch next to Valda. “Straight gin, please, Camellia.”

“Excellent,” said Malkin, writing all the wagers down on the back of the envelope. “Now. It’s my turn to pick the area of havoc for the game.” She stretched out her leather-clad legs, casually considering. She appeared to be reasonably well-muscled all over—no doubt from her time spent hunting those things she was wearing—and I thought that she would be pretty darn foreboding even if it weren’t obvious from the other witches’ reactions that she was powerful, too. “I did have an idea on the broom ride over, but I wasn’t all that fond of it. And now, I think I suddenly have a better idea.”

Her eyes fell consideringly on me and I suddenly found that my fingers were trembling on the gin bottle. What was this witch going to propose?

“Don’t drag it out, Malkin,” Sarmine said crisply. “Where are we going to set the game?”

Malkin pointed at me, a finger like a gun going bang. “Her high school.”

My knees started to go. “Now look,” I said, as firmly as I could. “I just stopped a demon from eating a boy’s soul, and I stopped a phoenix from exploding. And that was all in one week, so I think my school’s earned a bit of a break.” Resolutely I turned away and poured Sarmine her gin.

Malkin jumped up, and suddenly she was near me, actually was this time. The animal musk smell was stronger. “Soft,” she said. “Untried. Full of dangerous ideas about ethics and morals.”

“Correct,” I said, plopping the requisite newt eyeball into Sarmine’s gin. I took a deep breath. It turns out that it is hard to state your opinions to someone who not only thinks they are ridiculous, but who can turn you into a potato to boot. But I tried. “I believe that there is such a thing as a good witch, and that I can be one.” I handed Sarmine her gin, pleased with the firmness of my voice.

Malkin laughed. “Oh, you’ve got a live one here, Sarmy,” she said. To me: “And just how do you propose to do that?”

“Not plot to make their lives miserable, obviously,” I said. The first flush of temper shot through me. I didn’t know what the Do-Badders club did but I could make some educated guesses.

“Stop bothering the girl, Malkin,” said Valda. “I’m delighted to revisit high school. Come tell us the rules for this year’s game.”

Malkin pulled a deck of cards from yet another hidden pocket and tossed them to me where I stood in the center of the room. “Cut the cards and shuffle them,” she said. “While you’re doing that, tell me what classes you have at school.”

“Er,” I said, because this obviously sounded like a trap. But witches usually work spells by combining powders and ingredients and then touching them with their wand, and so far she hadn’t done either of those things. “Algebra II,” I said. I thought about the day only a couple weeks ago when Jenah and I had first seen Devon in our class. And I had been failing, but Mr. Rourke and tutor Kelvin helped me get caught up.… I realized Malkin was looking intently at me.

“Good, good,” she said. “What else?”

I rattled the rest off more quickly. “French, English, American history, AP biology, and gym,” I said.

“Any extracurriculars?”

I snorted. I spent all my “free” time catering to the witch’s crazy demands. When would I ever do clubs or sports or things? “They exist,” I said, envisioning some of the lucky kids headed off to them after school. “Drama club, football, debate. You know.” The cards smelled vaguely of cinnamon. “Did you put something on these?”

“Cut the cards.”

I did, placing the deck on the table.

Malkin flicked her gaze around the room. “You may all draw a card,” she said. “Do not show anyone else.”

Esmerelda drew the first one. Her eyebrows rose, then she smiled. “Oh, this one looks perfect,” she said.

Rage and fear flashed up to my eyes. “What are you doing?” Before they could stop me, I grabbed a card myself and flipped it over. The wide, pale face of my math tutor was imprinted on it. On the top and the bottom, where the numbers and suit usually are, was his name: Kelvin. Below it ran a list of his classes and clubs: drama club, 4-H, calc I …

“If you’re quite through with the dramatics,” said Valda. She took the next card and peered at it over her plastic glasses. A snort of laughter escaped her nose. “Well, this will be entertaining.”

“Stop it!” I scooped up the cards, holding them tightly. “I don’t know how you did that without a wand, but you can’t.”

Malkin flashed her palm at me. I saw now that a small wand was fitted under several rings on her second finger, like some sort of conjuring trick. The casing must be made out of fabric or something flexible that bent with her hand. “Plucked plenty of good images of students from your memory,” she said. “You can’t even shield properly.”

“Tsk,” said Esmerelda, presumably just to annoy me.

Sarmine rose to her feet. “Mind reading was outlawed by the Geneva—”

“The Geneva Coven, I know, I know,” said Malkin. She leaned casually back in her chair. “So were a number of other things, weren’t they, Sarmine?”

Her sentence clearly held some deeper meaning, a reminder of something in their past. Sarmine’s mouth closed, an angry, thin line.

Malkin gestured to the other two witches. “Those will be your students,” she said. She pulled out her phone to check the time. “Let’s see, it’s Sunday evening, eight forty-two p.m.… You have exactly five days to make their lives as miserable as possible.”

“You can’t do this,” I said, standing. “You have no right. Sarmine, tell them they can’t do this.”

Sarmine sighed. “Put the cards back on the table, Camellia.”

“But…”

“No permanent harm will come to the students, correct, Malkin?”

Malkin shrugged. “If that’s how you want to play it.”

“And you will only go after the student on your card?”

“Rules,” groaned Malkin. Her manner was flippant, but her eyes were so cold I could not tell what she was thinking.

Sarmine rapped the table to turn my attention back to her. “Think of it as a character-building exercise, Camellia. We”—she gestured to the club—“have done this little game before. You will find your fellow students are in fact toughened up by this experience. They will learn and grow and be able to achieve greater things.” She held my eyes. “Put the cards back on the table.”

Reluctantly I reached out and set down the stack of cards. I had been through enough of Sarmine’s punishments and “learning exercises” to know that she was a big fan of this method of character-building. I wasn’t going to be able to stop their fun.

Malkin fanned the stack of cards across the table, running her ringed fingers over them. She pulled one from the middle of the pile. That didn’t seem like proper card etiquette, but I was not going to be the one to tell her that. She studied the card, reading the name and stats. “Lovely,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not.

“Well, if we’re going to do it that way,” said Sarmine. She fanned the cards in the other direction and held her hand above them, considering. Then she picked one of her own. The other two witches rolled their eyes at the one-upmanship. Sarmine barely glanced at the card before sliding it into her fanny pack. Her poker face, as always, was excellent. Sarmine was the only one of the four who might conceivably know some of my friends and not-friends at high school. Potentially she could have drawn someone she knew—Jenah or Devon or even Sparkle. But I had no idea.

Four witches, four cards. Four students—possibly friends—about to have their lives destroyed by wicked witches for fun.

“Well, that was entertaining,” said Esmerelda with a delicate yawn. “Who’s up for another drink?”

“I’ll take a prickly pear margarita,” said Valda. “With a little umbrella.”

I shook my head, steeling myself. I might not be able to stop their game. But a good witch would fight. I was going to go down trying.

I put my hand over the pile of cards.

“Oh, did you want to play?” said Malkin. “There’s always room for a fifth.”

“No,” I said. “I’m going to stop you.”

All the witches howled laughter at that. “Stop us!” said Esmerelda. “You’re just a baby.”

“A whelp.”

“A pup.”

“With dubious ideas about morality,” put in Malkin.

“You don’t even know who’s been chosen,” said Esmerelda.

“That prevents cheating,” explained Valda.

“So how would you even find them?” said Esmerelda.

“What you’re doing is not right and I’m going to stop you,” I said stubbornly. I was getting angry and that was not safe. Any one of these witches could destroy me on a whim. Okay, my mother would probably stop me from getting destroyed destroyed. But she was big on me learning lessons, so I doubted she would stop anything less. She might even join in. “How were you going to decide who wins, anyway?”

“With this,” said Malkin. From an inner coat pocket she pulled out a bubble wrap–swathed package that really shouldn’t have fit in an inner coat pocket. She unrolled the bubble wrap to reveal four slender glass tubes that she then placed on the coffee table. They looked like repurposed thermometers—the kind that have water in them and little different-colored bubbles that float up and down with the different temperatures. These only had one bubble floating in the cylinder. Each cylinder had a witch’s name written on the stand in curly gold letters. Esmerelda, Valda, Malkin, and Sarmine.

“Whoever’s bubble gets closest to the bottom wins,” explained Valda. She took her dark glasses off and cleaned them on her skirt. “I remember a time when it was neck and neck between Sarmine and Malkin, but then Malkin covered her victim in birdseed and sent seventy-two hungry pigeons after her. That was an exciting finish.”

I looked more closely at the tubes. Horizontal lines marked off the levels of happiness. From the top down it read: 6-Ecstatic, 5-Pretty Darn Happy, 4-Content, 3-Vaguely Dissatisfied, 2-Really Not Great, and 1-Despair. Between 3 and 4 was a painted red line marking the midpoint.

“The bubbles aren’t even,” I said. “Valda’s bubble is in four but everyone else’s bubble is down in three.”

Esmerelda shrugged gracefully. “The luck of the draw. It only matters where the bubble is at the end of the game.”

“Oh, man,” said Valda. “Once I had a five and he would not leave it no matter what. I threw locusts and plagues at him and he whistled down the street saying things like, ‘Gee, it’s great to be alive.’ He was the worst.”

“I’m still going to stop you,” I said stubbornly. “I’m going to make all four bubbles finish above the red line.”

“But you don’t even know magic,” scoffed Esmerelda. She glanced at Sarmine. “Or have things changed dramatically since the last time you dragged her out in public?”

I rounded on Sarmine. “Look, you,” I said. “You’re always saying I need to practice more spells. Well, now I’ll practice them. You can help me learn the spells I need.”

“How do you know she won’t cheat?” pointed out Valda. “You’re asking her to play both sides.”

I looked at Sarmine. “Will you?”

She made a considering face.

Really?” said Esmerelda. “This girl? No magic, no lust for mayhem…”

“Too many ethics,” put in Valda.

“And you think you can waltz in here and join our game? You’re not even a member of the club.”

“A fair point,” said Valda.

 

 

Malkin narrowed her eyes at me. “A test,” she said. “The teensiest little initiation, just to see if she can join the club at all.”

I swallowed. “I don’t need to join the club,” I pointed out in a sort of soft, squeaky voice. “I could just try to stop you.”

Malkin was suddenly near me/not near me again, and that sense of power and musk overwhelmed me. “Sarmine, we have been too lax,” she said. “We have allowed an outsider to overhear our meeting.”

“This is true,” said Valda.

“Confirmed,” said Esmerelda. Their expressions were suddenly very dangerous.

“True,” admitted Sarmine. “Are you going to impose the Ultimate Punishment on her?” I couldn’t tell from her expression whether she would try to stop them or if she would help dole it out.

“The Ultimate Punishment,” I croaked. “That’s something nice, right, like a hot fudge sundae?”

“First we encase you in leeches,” said Malkin. “Next, we—”

“I would absolutely love to join your club,” I put in. “What do I need to do?”

“Everyone still have their newt eyeball?” said Malkin. “Esmerelda, demonstrate.”

Esmerelda popped the eyeball into her mouth.

“Make sure you crunch on it,” said Valda to me. “I don’t advise swallowing.”

Esmerelda got a funny expression on her face as she bit down. Then she parted her lips—and emitted a small stream of fire, straight into the remains of her vodka. The alcohol flamed up, burning blue. The witches applauded.

Sarmine crossed to the minibar and pulled out the jar of newt eyeballs. I noticed now that the handwritten label claimed them to be Ye Finest Olde Newte Eyeballs, Steeped in Unicorn Hair Vodka, with Especiale Ingredients. Witches like that fake ye oldey stuff. They think it makes them look classy.

“I’m not sure…” I demurred. I mean, fire-spouting eyeballs sounded scary enough. What if I accidentally swallowed it? Plus, there was the thought of crunching down on those newt eyeballs that probably some newt would have rather kept.

“Got a dud,” said Valda through a cough. I looked over to see a cloud of smoke around her. She pursed her lips and blew a smoke ring.

Sarmine picked an eyeball out with the cocktail tongs and dropped it into my hand. It was slimy. “Bottoms up,” she said, and then she and Malkin both crunched on theirs at the same time. Malkin burned a hole in our coffee table. Sarmine lit Malkin’s pant leg on fire. “Oops,” said Sarmine.

“My deepest apologies,” countered Malkin as she snuffed her pants.

I looked at the eyeball in my palm. My choice at this moment was between the eyeball of something that was already dead, and the lives of four kids at school.

Deep breath, Cam.

I crunched and blew.

Fire shot out into the air and then burned itself up and vanished.

I laughed with relief, feeling my face. I was fine, I was fine. My lips were warm, and my mouth tasted disgusting, but I was fine. I almost jumped with glee.

Valda rose and clapped me on the back. “Well done,” she said. “There’s the makings of a wicked witch in you after all.”

“A good witch,” I said. “Not a wicked witch.”

Valda snorted. “Don’t know many good witches who snack on newt eyeballs.”

A side glance at Malkin showed that she was laughing at me. There was a nasty feeling forming in the pit of my stomach. “But I had to,” I protested. “In order to not be encased in leeches.”

“Ethics,” said Malkin, petting her snake scarf. “A slippery slope.”

“Enough of this,” said Esmerelda. “I have to get up early to drop the kid off at school. Can we make it official and go home?”

“Almost,” said Malkin. “There’s the little matter of what the baby witch will ante up.”

“I don’t have anything,” I said.

“I know I’ve been jealous of Sarmine’s little helper all night,” she continued. “Shall we say one week’s servitude to the winner?”

Valda shrugged. “Fine by me.”

I could hardly think of anything worse than to be at one of these witches’ beck and call for a week. But in a strange way it seemed fair. The other kids from school didn’t have a say in being included in the witches’ game. I was stuck, too. “As long as I win all your treasures,” I said. “When I win.”

“Of course,” said Malkin, writing down my wager. “And now we can make it official.” She spat on her hand and held it out.

Around me the other three witches did the same.

I looked at the wet palms dubiously.

“That’s how you seal the deal, Camellia,” Sarmine said crisply.

“So it’s fair, and we’re agreeing that we’re mostly not cheating,” put in Valda.

“Witch spit?” Reluctantly I spat on my hand and began shaking around the table. The process was … moist.

“Then it’s settled,” Malkin said at last. “Whoever’s bubble is the lowest on Friday evening wins.” She looked at me. “Or, if all the bubbles are above the red line, then Camellia wins, and she gets the prize.” She tossed the prize envelope on the coffee table and it skidded to a stop next to the thermometers.

“Not that that’s going to happen,” said Esmerelda.

Malkin curled her lip. “No,” she said. “It’s not.”

Copyright © 2016 by Tina Connolly

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