It looked suspiciously like a ghostly person, a Slenderman, lean with a round head on top, like something straight out of a Paranormal Activity movie, Voldemort cloaked and standing on the opposite wall, a demon ready to grab you.
Just the railing shadowed against the wall.
Pants down, Trish walked to the bathroom, her underwear barely clinging to her after she’d rolled out of bed. Trish walked to the bathroom. Not freaked out by the shadow on the wall, not wearing pants, alone in her mom’s house… spooky …a classic horror movie set up waiting to happen. But Trish wasn’t in a horror movie.
She was the horror.
Just kidding. But she was a witch.
Is a witch.
A peeing witch.
Patricia Temperance Jones, a willowy red haired Chastain-look-alike witch, who existed primarily on vegetables and ice cream and ordered a male prostitute on Friday nights to keep herself busy. Occasionally she splurged on a burger, having a constant craving for red meat but unable to stomach the emotions that flooded her system when she ate it. Her senses were slightly different from everyone else’s, but not in a superhuman way, mainly in a strange way.
Trish went back to her room and began to type her notes from that evening’s lab session. A potion brewed behind her, a discovery potion: which kids in her med school class harbored any terrible secrets. Unfortunately most were boring, school-obsessed nerds. She lingered anonymously near the bottom of the class, as she had no interest in being the best at anything, only in the observation of other people.
In the kitchen, she pulled out the hair of three particular students today, all smokers. She had a hard time getting their spell together because these particular three students rushed out of class and into the rush of campus as quickly as possible. Rushing, rushing everyone rushing. Needing a smoke, a coffee, an email, a phone call.
She dropped the hair into the bubbling potion. Two burned with a dull orange-yellow light into the green mixture. Boring, just like the others. A vague, apathetic disappointment on Trish’s part, as if she were folding laundry and found a sock without a match. The third, though, did not dissolve into her cauldron.
She used some wooden tongs, picked the hair out, examined it. Tough as nails. No. Hard as rock. Calcified. Hard. Hardened. Ened. End.
Ends should be soft or straw but this one hardened to the world. Something harsh had embodied it. Curious.
Who are you? She wondered, looking around the lecture hall, someone talking about surgery at the front. She tried to remember who she pulled the hair from. A few very beautiful Spanish girls chewed gum and hunched over their notes in the back, preparing to beat everyone else in bio lab. Their hair had burned brilliant, excellent, royal blue before floating up to the sky. Excellent, excelling, made the waitlist at Johns Hopkins.
Trish turned toward the three boys who smoked together after class. They all had a sullen vibe. Names? Names. Can’t remember. One dash of crumpled wormwood could get them to say it, but not worth it—
“Dan, what’s the question?”
Dan Lin. The cute one who wore a wife beater and athletic slides to lecture. Was the hair his? She was pretty sure.
Trish’s mom Sonya kept Trish locked into a routine from the moment she was born. She went to school, then came home for lessons, then that was it. Trish’s sister Ronan had hated it. She cried, dated all kinds of messed up boys, clashed and burned and refused to do anything. But Trish loved it. Thrived under it. She loved the discipline, the routine, gathering different kinds of herbs, testing new incantations, and had no problem switching schools constantly, a habit of Sonya’s she had inherited from her own mother. It kept her mind fresh, objective, and focused on the realities, not the politics of relationships. Trish was simply uninvested in people. Endlessly curious, but vastly uninvested. People formed groups, groups burned ‘others’ and punished the rest in a grueling prison of conditioned behaviors. People were not to be invested in.
Trish had structured her life so that there was a constant instant gratification system constant instant constant instant.
B+ on her lab. Perfect. Smart, but average, still unnoticeable and anonymous, the way she had to remain. A new task awaited, a new reward. But Trish wanted to know about Dan.
The previous evening was her last moment of time off for a while. She and the class were looking at a thirteen-day rotation schedule, likely extending to twenty-one days, nearly all at night. Trish liked to work, so this wasn’t much of a problem for her, and she loved the night, as women of her tradition did, but she’d never had such an extended amount of time that wasn’t her own.
5:30 AM darkness she was no stranger to.
“When did the pain start?”
Today was internal medicine. Lots of history-taking. She preferred patient’s bodies, poking and prodding them, seeing what gooey stuff they could exude, the texture of a rash, the festering sores. One time, she got to watch a patient sweat blood (she still had a stolen vial of it in the house somewhere…). Dry skin reminded her of roast chicken.
Day Five hit 8:00 PM. Finally.
“Do you want to walk home with us? It’s dark.”
Trish shook her head at everyone. “I think I’m gonna go get some ice cream or something.” Trish loved her sweets, and if she had it her way, she’d build a house made of gingerbread and candy, but that would be too on the nose.
Her fellows left off in the night, jumping at the sound of a creaking car door, then rushing more hurriedly. Trish let out a smirk. Nothing scared her. She looked up at the full moon. Especially not tonight.
Trish walked in a circle around the hospital, her dirty scrubs scraping the sidewalk as she muttered and muttered. New words old ones. Manifestations. Whatever they were. Keep it from harm. Circled circled again, unsure why, just tired, just felt like making use of the full moon. She thought of the hair that burned in potions. Everyone in the class, their hair had burned bright: shiny, beautiful, but substanceless, sink or fly. Years of library work, of missed nights at parties, no kisses, no hookups, of cadavers, of nights at home, they were cushioned content people. By no means happy or sad, just floating. Just going on and on. She wanted something, something, something—
“You got a cigarette?”
Dan. Dan Lin. The one hard-haired Dan Lin. He was here, asking for a cigarette. A cigarette, to smoke. She wasn’t a smoker. She muttered—conjured one in her pocket. Held it out to him. He sipped it. Do you sip a cigarette? Suck? Don’t know. Trish wasn’t cool enough. If anything, she was odd. She lived in her childhood home; sold nearly everything for pizza money. Her mother was gone, her sister in the wind.
She and Dan smoked silently.
He was odd too. Strange just standing there, smoking, maybe people just smoked silently together. Trish didn’t know. She did know some tea she could brew in the lab would clear out any cancerous crap she was currently inhaling.
The afternoon was grey, but they huddled under the yellow warmth of fluorescent lights.
“Have you already given thought to specializing?” He asked.
“OB,” said Trish. “It’s what my mom did, I’ve always wanted to.”
“Nice, she was a doctor?”
“Yeah,” said Trish. “Oh, uh, no. Nurse.” Actually, a bank teller, but she knew how to deliver a baby, having done so a few times in the house for specific parents who didn’t have the money or didn’t believe in hospitals and medicine. “I’m a witch and want to steal babies.”
“Man, I hated my OB rotation,” he said, “The only one I didn’t like.”
“Do you just like what other people don’t like?”
Trish actually let out a laugh, which was weird. “I guess you could say that.”
Was she flirting? Smiling?
“I had Dr. Chen as the resident on one of the deliveries, she was literally,” he huffed and rolled his eyes at the memory, “the wicked witch of the east.”
“They all call her that!” said Trish.
“She is evil,” he said.
“I agree, she’s bitchy,” said Trish. “But not as bad as the cardiac surgeons.”
“Are you talking about Dr. Remeaux?”
“Yes.” Trish felt a fiery, expressive nature thawing through her insides. “Do you want to know what he did?”
Trish eagerly turned towards him, and he smiled a little at her vigor.
“He yelled at me for like five minutes for calling the x-ray a CT scan, saying I didn’t know the difference between that and an MRI, when it was a CT scan! The resident pointed it out to him, and then he started another five minute lecture about how incompetent I was for saying ‘um.’”
Re-living it annoyed and infuriated Trish even more, but she laughed at the ridiculousness.
“He said maybe I should try nursing school. It was mean.” Trish was 90% kidding but 10% of that insult hurt.
“Remeaux’s out sick this whole week. Violent stomach flu apparently.”
Trish declined to admit she had any part in that. He’d be fine.
“Can I be honest?” Dan said.
“I… worship him.”
“Goodbye!” Trish walked away down the hall, past a hallway patient. Dan chased after, to her pleasure.
“He’s thorough, he’s smart. I didn’t mean it, I didn’t know he was rude to you.” He sped to keep up with her pace.
She turned. “Do you still worship him?”
“Not as much now that I know he doesn’t see how smart you are.”
Trish nodded. She was smart. Good to be noticed.
“Do you think you want to do cardio?”
They were alone in a hallway now. “I think so, yeah. The other day Remeaux held this guy’s heart while it flatlined.”
Dan went into the story. “The guy was with strippers at his bachelor party on a private island. Some kind of cardiac episode. Fiancé is all heartbroken.”
Dan let out a cynical snort.
“Spoiled asshole. Probably deserved it.”
He stared off into the distance, aloof. His elbow still near hers. Trish tried to not feel awkward by the sudden silence but she did. He, as usual, regarded everything with selective care. Looked at some point on the wall. Silently.
The aloofness alarmed her. He’d chased her, then he’d stopped.
She wanted to talk again, flirt again. Keep going. Keep one thing going.
Noise or silence, never noise then silence. Dan walked off.
Noise stopped, only heart monitors. An emptiness filled in, the end of flirting, of the discussion.
Sleeping during the days, working all night, that had been Trish’s summer. Her summer, her hot sweaty summer of toil and trouble. Slaving, frantic, frantic, over something dreamlike, something strange, something odd.
She’d figured it out. Nights and nights of working, no sunlight, no daylight, nothing to eat but sugar and tea, her ribs showing through, she needed every part of her body for this.
In the graveyard, she set the ritual in motion, burned fires around the body, and then said it, said the words, said it.
The moon burned bright, and then stopped. Fires whispered out, briskly swifting her into darkness….
She rose from the ground.
And let out a pained, high-pitched squeal. Terror. Pure terror! The blood returned to her skin, she shivered, the icy frost of preservation still on her shoulders. Trish was paralyzed, the book weighing like cement on her arm. Her mother had come back, just as she wanted, just as she tried, just as she’d imagined, all those months of reading, hoping, of forcing out the immense fear lurking behind her hope that her mother was long gone forever into the darkness. She had shoved doubt into a grave deep within the earth, believing her hope alone could brighten her mother back.
But it rose from the dead. This was not her mother, but a sleeping child begging to be released back to rest, she rubbed her head and cried in pain, because resurrection hadn’t killed the aneurysm.
Trish, haunted, disbelieving, so disconnected from her nerves she felt she was probably in a dream, tried to put a blanket around her but she thrust it off, writhing, rolling, shaking AAAAAGHHHH as pain ripped through her brain again and again and again.
Somewhere the thought floated forward.
This had to stop.
So she quietly undid the spell, said it backwards….
The screaming continued. Said it again. The screaming continued. She could not undo, could not send her back, she was not a body. Not a spell, not an experiment. It was her mother’s life and soul, screaming,
Trish felt it, unsure if she heard it or saw it, but she knew no spell could send her back. It had brought her to life, and she needed real death to end it.
She took a pair of scissors that she’d used to cut pumpkin vines and stabbed her in the heart and as blood pooled out she felt the strong muscle burst, but her mother… relaxed. She collapsed into the scissors and Trish swears she saw a light smile pass through her mother’s face as the pain ended its final journey.
First year, medical school.
Trish took diligent notes.
Work, work, work it didn’t matter what, was she even learning to be a doctor? Was any of this real, were these notebooks real, was any cadaver she cut open even real?
She lost sleep. Trish wondered, as she shoved burgers and fries and pizza down her throat, attempting to feel or think or anything, if perhaps she could bring a body back and inject it with a sedative, putting it in a coma for treatment. She shot that out of her mind, remembering the anguish in her mother’s face and the thought of killing her all over again, and the awful terrible horror of that memory alone made her push any thoughts to the back of her mind as she continued to read over her notes, her biology, her onion cheeseburger, oozing juice when she pushed it like a festered sore.
She went through the cycle a few times: of crazed hope that it could be done again and pure acceptance that it was better to culminate her grieving and throw herself into work, into science, into facts. The crazed hope eventually died, she got more sleep, and she settled into her routine, safely doing all the spells already set down, already proven, never unnecessary or experimental, spells to help her study, sleep, read without glasses, pull an all nighter without exhaustion, conjure a few extra dollars for an organic coffee, cure a common cold, these things were normal, routine. All else, all body-raising, the night in the graveyard with her mother, a dream, a story, weighing her down.
Routine, routine, walk home. She felt her heart beating fast fast against the night, against 2:00 AM, against her tired aching head and body, tomorrow, thank God was Sunday.
Standing. Tortured? Typical.
Trish, without speaking, leans up. Kisses him.
He floods everywhere. All over, the sensation washes over her. Tense. One cynical package. Wound tight, it tightened her to him. She tasted pain, then sadness, then torture, then pleasure, and then stone-cold want. Need. Was it her or him? She couldn’t tell, they seemed like one soul for one moment, spinning, combining, dissolving into a cold, empty—
She tasted death.