Written in September 2009 for the first Search Term Writing Challenge [rules here]. It is a slightly bizarre urban fantasy short story.
Witch lick feet.
The graffiti was loud, obscene, a splash of neon colours on the brickwork. Liz scowled, and resisted the urge to vanish the marks. It would only prove her neighbours’ suspicions, make their petty attacks escalate into violence. And, really, if she hadn’t known the cultural weight behind that insult, she would have found the words amusing.
Liz jammed her key into her front door lock angrily, turning it with stiff, jerky movements. She pushed the door open and strode into her house, pausing just on the other side of the threshold. The air was still, devoid of the usual tingling magic that scanned every visitor. It could only mean one thing: her wards were down. Liz dropped her bag on to the ground, fingers curling in wary readiness.
She sent tendrils of magic out in front of her, scanning the surrounding rooms. There were faint life presences in the kitchen—her herb plants, she realized, nothing worth panicking about—and the bedroom and bathroom were clear.
Liz took a deep breath and began making her way down the hall, scanning with all her senses. In the air was a whiff of maleness, a musky, sweaty scent. One of the paintings on the wall—the one with flowers that her mother had given her—was hanging lopsided, as if drunk. The sight of it made her feel faintly sick, violated in her own home.
Liz rounded the corner, and stopped dead. In the middle of the hallway, just in front of the basement door, was a doll.
It had blonde hair, in careful ringlets, and a pink ruffled dress which Liz wouldn’t have wished even on her enemies. The doll’s eyes were wide open, its glassy blue stare focused on the ceiling. But most disturbing were its lips: bright red lips, parted slightly.
Was it cursed? She sent her magic forth, testing for a soul, for an aura, for any kind of lingering darkness. The doll shuddered, limbs twitching, and then sat up so suddenly that Liz leapt back with a yelp.
When it didn’t move again, she took a cautious step forward, crouched down to take a closer look. Something was moving down the doll’s face, tracing a path from its eye to its jaw line. Then it fell off, lost somewhere in the ruffles of material. Another drop quickly followed suit. The doll was crying.
She sent her magic forward again, slowly this time, sensing rather than attacking. As soon as her magic brushed the doll’s face, the tears redoubled. She breathed a sigh of relief. It was just the plastic. The doll was clearly an import: everyone in Coben used magic-proof plastic nowadays.
She straightened, stepped over the doll carefully as if it were a dead body. At the end of the hallway was a door, leading down to her basement, her private lab.
Liz hesitated, then opened the door. Silence. Darkness. Everything she expected, but eerily unfamiliar all the same. She reached in and flicked on the light switch before making her way down the stairs.
Her lab looked untouched. Even her towel was as she had left it, crumpled on the floor, stained red with a potion gone awry.
She took her towel and folded it, placing it on the back of her chair. Then she sat down at her desk and finally allowed herself to relax. The house was empty of intruders, and her wards were up now, anyway. Perhaps the doll was simply the result of her failed summoning earlier that morning. She’d have to double check her runes to be sure. But her towel needed some stain-remover, first.
Just as she was reaching for the first of her ingredients, a door upstairs banged open. The house was filled with the sound of marching feet, the pounding of boots unmistakable in their authority. Liz panicked, stood up so abruptly her chair toppled over, thudding heavily on the carpeted floor.
She glanced around her lab in dismay. If they came down here, her protests about being a white witch would fall on deaf ears. They’d see the glass vials, the runes chalked on to the wall, and—work visa or no work visa—arrest her immediately.
She had to head them off. Liz took the stairs two at a time, keeping a tight rein on her magic so as not to let even a drop leak through.
She burst through the basement door and stumbled to halt just on the other side of the doll.
Standing in the hallway, looking incredibly startled, was a man in his mid-forties, wearing camouflage clothing. And instead of crosses, stakes, or any number of odd weapons believed to be harmful to witches, the man was holding a rope.
A second man rounded the corner, pushing his dull orange hair out of his face to leer at her. “Good catch today, eh Mikey?” he said.
Holy Mother, Liz thought, her heart sinking. They weren’t the police; they were slavers.
There was little point in hiding her magic from them. Liz launched into the offensive, casting the first spell that came to mind, one that glued their feet to the floor. But the older man was equally quick to react; he coiled up his rope, threw it at her.
It was so unexpected Liz didn’t move in time. The rope wrapped around her, pulling her arms to her sides. A lasso. The man was armed with a lasso.
She half-raised a hand to cast another spell, but the rope tightened around her belly, cutting off her breath. Liz doubled over, coughing.
“I will release you when you undo this spell,” the man said, jerking slightly on the rope to get his message across.
With her hands pinned to her sides, she could do little but scowl. “I need to touch you for that.”
“D’ya hear that, Mike? She needs to touch us.”
Mike said nothing; he used both hands to tow Liz towards him. After fighting the first few steps, she gave up and walked towards him. His hands kept pace with her, keeping the rope tight.
When she was only a foot away, Liz stopped moving. “Aren’t you going to let me go?”
Mike nodded at his feet. “Release me, first.”
“My hands,” Liz said, letting her annoyance creep into her voice. She could barely move them from where they were pinned to her thighs.
“Wait!” the blond said. “She just said she needed to touch us, right? Not specifically with her hands.” And then he leered again. This close to him, the expression looked out of place on his baby-soft features. “Push her head down.”
“Push whose head down, and why?” The voice came from behind the two men. A young girl—maybe five or six?—rounded the corner. “Did you find Nelly?”
Mike straightened a tad. “Nelly is on the other side of… Of this girl.”
The girl skipped down the hallway happily, picking the doll up into her arms. She held the toy at arms’ length. “Nelly’s sick!” She ran back towards them, holding the doll out in front of her. “Look, Mike, look! Her face is all funny.”
Mike barely spared a glance at the girl, eyes focused on Liz. “I’m sure your father can fix her once we get home. We just need to finish talking to this girl, first.”
The girl turned around and cocked her head to the side, examining Liz. “You’re cute,” the girl announced, dropping the doll on to the floor. “Are you going to come home with us?”
The blond man grinned. “I’ve always had kidnapping fantasies.”
The girl bounced up and down. “Please? Please come back with us?”
“Your highness,” Mike said hesitantly. “She’s a witch.”
The girl’s eyes went round. She stared at Liz as if she were a mildly interesting but equally disgusting insect. “Do you really lick feet?”
“Your highness!” Mike looked shocked. “You shouldn’t use that kind of language!”
“I read it outside,” the girl replied defensively. “All by myself.”
“And what did your father tell you about repeating things you read?”
She scuffed her feet on the floor, her lower lip sticking out. “Not to say them.”
“And if you did say them?”
“No!” She stomped her foot. “I want to play! It’s not fair!”
Ignoring her protests, Mike cocked an eyebrow at Liz, loosening the lasso with a twitch of his wrist. “Do you mind?”
“Uh… sure.” Liz released the spell and stepped out of the lasso.
Mike rolled up the rope, then grabbed the little girl by the wrist. “Come on, your highness. We’re going home.”
They marched down the corridor, the girl kicking up a fuss the whole way. Her wails were cut off abruptly as the door slammed shut behind them.
Liz got to her feet, shook her head and turned around to head for the kitchen. She stopped short. Sitting in the middle of the corridor, eyes wide and vacant, was the doll.
Great. Just great.