Category: Featured

My Priest Asked Me to Meet Him Alone

Father Nicholas always weirded me out.

He smelled like stale bread and onions. His gaze seemed to look past you, not at you. He had a quiet, sullen demeanor, and he always recited the Nicene Creed in a rasping whisper.

So when he asked me to “join him in his office for a quick chat” after Mass, I freaked out a little.

But I replied: “sure, Father.”

I glanced around the church. It was nearly empty, now; the parishioners were filing out the front door in a thick line, full of chatter and laughter. Behind them, a gloomy darkness had settled in the church – deep shadows behind the pews, behind the altar. The golden tabernacle glinted in the dim light, under the darkened crucifix.

I followed him into the parish office. Father Nicholas closed the door behind us.

“I’ve noticed you haven’t been coming to Mass regularly,” he said, taking a seat across the desk.

“Uh, yeah, I’ve been busy,” I replied, my heart beginning to race. What is this? Some kind of interrogation?

“And you don’t wear your cross anymore,” he said, pointing to my chest from beneath his robes.

“I forgot to put it on.”

Father Nicholas leaned back in his seat, surveying me carefully. I didn’t like the glint in his dark eyes, or the fact that his hands were hidden in the robes. Just tell him you have to go, the voice inside me urged. But reverence kept me locked in place.

“Is there a reason you didn’t get any holy water today?”

My heart began to pound, so loudly that I could hear it in my ears.

The holy water is kept in a tiny basin at the front of the church. How would he know, when I came in, that I didn’t get any? Was he watching me that closely? There were dozens – no, hundreds – of other parishioners coming into the church at the same time, but he noticed I didn’t get any holy water?

“Uh – no, no reason in particular.”

He sighed. Then he pulled a small vial of clear liquid from the folds of his cloak. He wet his fingers, and – before I could react – flicked them, so that a few drops fell on my face.

“What – what are you doing?” I asked.

And then I felt it. Where each drop had landed, it burned, as if he had pricked me there with a poker from the fire.

I shot up, shrieking in pain. “Are you crazy?! What is that?! What did you just put on me?!”

With his face grim, Father Nicholas replied: “holy water.”

“What – I don’t understand,” I replied, clawing at my face like a madman. “Holy water – but –”

“Holy water burns. You don’t wear a cross.” His tone turned almost humorous. “Need I spell it out for you, Jake?”

I stood there, numb, my cheeks still stinging.

“Oh, what – you thought it’d be like The Exorcist?” He laughed – the first time I had ever seen him do so. “No. They’re too clever for that. Why, if you all were projectile vomiting everywhere, and speaking Latin with perfect fluency, we’d catch on pretty quick.”

I stared at him. My heart was racing; my hands felt numb. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“No, they’re subtle.” He placed the vial on the desk, halfway between us; I involuntarily backed away. “Ever have an intrusive thought? ‘Jump out that window, you know you want to.’ ‘Stop cutting up those carrots and stab him in the neck.’”

I nodded.

“Most of them are meaningless. Just silly thoughts to cloud your mind. But, sometimes… it’s one of them, its voice blending perfectly with yours.”

“But –” I faltered.

“Just a suggestion, in the back of your mind,” he said. And then he laughed again – but this time it was a bitter, empty scoff. “That’s all it takes, for humans to do unspeakable things.”

Just a suggestion.

I pulled my arms around me and felt a shiver crawl down my back. “So… what do we do?” I asked, voice quavering, fearing the answer.

“Come back tomorrow. At dawn, we will begin.”

That night, I tossed and turned. The more the blanket tangled around me, the larger the pool of sweat became, the crazier Father Nicholas’s words sounded. A possession, really? I thought. That’s the stuff of movies. He’s crazy.

I flipped the pillow over. Yes, that’s what it is. The guy is nuts.

But then… what’s his real motive? I stared up at the dark ceiling. Maybe he wants to do something to me. Something terrible. I looked over at the alarm clock – 5:12 AM. The sun would rise within the hour.

You better bring your gun, just in case.

I glanced over at the desk, black in the dusky shadows. At the locked drawer, that held a Smith & Wesson in its bowels.

Bring the gun.

As the horizon lit with the fire of dawn, I made my way to the church, the gun swinging heavily in my pocket.

An App Called “How Will You Die?”

Have you ever heard of an app called How Will You Die?

You tap a button, and it tells you (supposedly) how you will die – and when.

My friends all thought it was hilarious. “I’m going to die at 72 – run over by a taco truck.” Morgan said, through fits of laughter. Amber added with a grin: “95, choking on a piece of chicken. Not a great way to go, but hey – 95, I’m not complaining!”

“What does it say for you, Alexis?”

“I didn’t download it.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.”

In truth, it was because I was a little scared.

But of course, nobody respected that. Amber leapt over and snatched the phone from my hands. “Stop it!” I said, but she held it out of my reach, tapping madly.

“There.”

She handed the phone back. The screen was now black, with white letters:

HOW WILL YOU DIE?

TAP TO FIND OUT!

“Do it.”

Now that it was right there, just a tap away…

I felt the irresistible pull of curiosity. With a shaking finger, I tapped the screen.

Ping.

“Cause of death: virus,” I read.

“Age of death: 24.”

Morgan’s smile fell from his face. Amber looked at me with wide eyes.

Because we all knew –

My 25th birthday was in five days.

***

That night, I couldn’t sleep.

A virus? I thought. I had all my vaccines… didn’t I? I rolled over, pulling the covers over my head. Maybe it’s the flu. Wait, is the flu a virus? Or bacteria? I turned the pillow over. Why am I even thinking about all this? It’s just some stupid app…

At four am, I finally gave up on sleep. I leaned over and clicked the lamp on; yellow light filled the tiny apartment. Outside, the din of sirens, cars, and city noise came through. Nice to know at least some other people are awake, I thought.

I went over to my computer. I’m getting worried over nothing. I’m sure people have already proven it to be a hoax. “How will you die app,” I typed into the search bar.

The first hit was an article entitled: DEATH APP ACCURATELY PREDICTS FREAK ACCIDENTS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY.

My heart began to race.

Leslie Baker, 36 – app said ‘chocolate’; died in a collision with a Hershey’s truck.

Tommy Carmen, 54 – app said ‘Marilyn Monroe’; died when a reproduction of the Andy Warhol painting fell on his head.

Jenny Lee –

Snap. I closed the laptop, and pushed away from the desk.

Then I picked up my phone from the nightstand.

And opened the app.

Now, a few links had appeared underneath my cause of death.

The first one said COUNTDOWN. I tapped it.

3 days. 12 hours. 22 minutes. 10 seconds.

I suddenly felt hot. My vision swam; the phone nearly slipped out of my hands. It’s just a stupid app, I repeated to myself. Nothing to worry about.

The next link was FIND FRIENDS.

When I tapped it, a map showed up. A little white pin icon was at the apartment building on 3rd St., showing my location.

FILTER BY:

TIME OF DEATH

METHOD OF DEATH

I clicked the first one. The map showed a few other dots around me. David [1 month]. Cassidy [2 weeks].

It was showing the people destined to die soon.

Like me.

I clicked the second option. No dots appeared.

But viruses are contagious, I thought. How could I be the only one?

I zoomed out.

Way out.

Several dots appeared. Cameron [virus], all the way on the other end of the city. Lydia [virus], in a townhouse on Eagle Ave. Tyler [virus], in a bar on 15th.

I tapped on one of them. To my surprise, it opened a texting screen.

My hands were still shaking. My shirt was damp, from the layer of sweat that had formed between me and the chair. But I took a deep breath, and typed out a quick message.

Hey, I saw you have the virus too. I’m kind of freaked out. Want to talk about it? 5pm tomorrow, video call?

I figured meeting in person, when we’re all going to catch a contagious virus, was a terrible idea.

Ping.

Yes. Definitely.

I tapped on the next dot.

***

The next day, Cameron set up the 4-way video call.

“Hey! Alexis! Nice to ‘meet’ you,” he said, making air quotes. He was a mammoth of a man, dwarfing the recliner he sat in. And handsome… from what I could see of his pixelated face, anyway.

Lydia showed up next. Skinny, blonde, with a fat gray cat skulking behind her.

Tyler entered last, about 15 minutes late. “Yo guys,” he said, through smacks of gum.

An awkward silence, as we all stared at each other through the screen.

“Here’s what I was thinking,” I started, fiddling with the fat stack of notes on my desk. “If we’re the only four people in the whole city of C__ to get it… that means we all have something in common. Like maybe we go to the same restaurant? Or –”

“I never eat out,” Lydia said. “I have two kids under the age of two. It’s a nightmare.”

“Well, what about the gym?” Cameron said. “I go to the gym on 8th every day.”

I glanced at his pixelated biceps.

But Tyler shook his head. “No man. I’ve got exercise-induced asthma.”

“What about groceries? I get mine at the Super Mart on Willow St. –”

But the other three shook their heads.

“Do we even, like, all die at the same time?” Tyler asked, spitting the gum offscreen and unwrapping a new piece. “What does everyone’s countdown say? Mine is 6 days.”

“7 days,” Lydia said. The cat mewed plaintively behind her.

“4 days,” Cameron said.

I stared at the screen. It began to blur and smudge, as tears filled my eyes. “Alexis?” Cameron said, but his voice sounded so far away.

2 days, 22 hours, 13 minutes, 5 seconds…

I was first.

“Sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes. “Uh, 2 days.”

An uncomfortable pause.

Then Lydia began to shout. “You probably already have it!” she said, her shrill voice warbling through the speakers. “In fact – you’re probably the one who gives it to us!

“Hey, calm down,” Cameron said. “We’re all in this together. And –”

“Alexis, you need to lock yourself in the apartment,” Tyler said. “Do not go anywhere. Do not have contact with anyone. Do not –”

Click. Click.

Lydia and Tyler’s images disappeared, as Cameron bumped them off the call. “Assholes,” he muttered.

I reached for a tissue. Honk. “Thank you.”

He leaned in close to the screen. “Listen, they’re right – you probably already have the virus. But whoever you caught it from already touched a million things in this city. It’s too late; our odds of survival are, essentially, zero.” He broke into a smile. “So don’t spend your last days locked in a tiny apartment. Go out, have a good time. Okay?”

I nodded. Honk.

“Alright. Unfortunately, I’ve got to go. Late for my appointment with Dr. Rosenfield.” He smiled. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

Click.

I shut the laptop.

But then a thought occurred to me. I pulled out my phone. Tapped through my settings, found How Will You Die?, and pressed UNINSTALL.

For a several minutes, all was silent.

Then –

Ping.

A text.

Morgan: Why are you sending me these? You ok?

Huh? I scrolled up, through the conversation.

10 selfies.

Selfies I don’t remember taking. Or sending. In each one, I was smiling widely – but there was something cold about my eyes. As if the smile was forced, or fake.

I tapped on the first one.

Wait…

I zoomed in on the background. A small, hilly street, with a familiar oak tree leaning slightly askew. A wide, buckled driveway, leading up to a little blue house…

My parents’ house.

Ping.

New voicemail.

I dialed in and listened.

“Hey, Cookie! I didn’t know you were going to visit! Dad said he just saw you – in that ring camera he has by the door. Don’t worry, you’re not waking us up! Come on in – door’s unlocked!”

Click.

I looked down at the phone. The countdown popped up on the screen.

1 day, 21 hours, 24 minutes, 53 seconds.

It had taken away a day.

Riiiing.

Morgan. “Hey, Alexis! Just callin’ you back, since you texted –”

“I didn’t text you. Listen, Morgan, something terrible is happening.” My voice warbled with impending tears. “I tried to uninstall the app, and now – it’s threatening my parents –“

“Wait, slow down. What now?”

“The ‘How Will You Die’ app!” I shouted through sobs. “It’s going to do something horrible to them –”

“Hey, hey, it’ll be okay, Alexis, uh –”

“It’s there! At my parents’ house!”

“Why don’t you meet up with us for lunch tomorrow? We’ll help you figure it out,” he said, his voice a forced calm.

Ping. A text.

Mom: Hey, so, the power just went out. Maybe it’s best if you visit a different time – we might not have heat all night. Need a ride back to the city?

“Alexis?”

“We’ll pick you up tomorrow, okay?”

I nodded, swallowing my sobs. “Okay.”

***

But I wish I hadn’t gone.

Because, as it turned out, “lunch” was an intervention. An ambush. A lie. After finishing our salads, Morgan and Amber swept me downtown, up two flights of stairs, and into a cold doctor’s office.

“We’re just worried about you,” Amber said, patting my arm.

That’s funny – because I wouldn’t even be in this situation if it weren’t for her.

The waiting room was terrible. It felt like the color had been sucked out of the room. The walls were gray. The people were pale and ashen, wearing gray clothes, black jackets. If I hadn’t been ‘depressed’ before, I was certainly now.

“Alexis Johnson?” the nurse called.

We walked down the hallway, into the doctor’s office. Once seated, the barrage of questions began – questions that my ‘friends’ were all too happy to answer for me. “She freaked out yesterday,” Morgan said. “Saying this app on her phone is going to get her parents.” Amber added: “She’s really jumpy, too. Jumps every time her phone makes a noise.”

“How do you feel?” the nurse asked, turning to me.

What do you think?! I was wasting precious time in this ugly doctor’s office. I had been tricked by my best friends. But I forced a smile, and said: “I guess I’ve been feeling okay.”

She left, and we waited for the doctor to come in. Morgan tapped his shoes furiously against the floor. Amber stared on her phone, never looking up.

Finally, the door creaked open.

“Hi, Alexis,” the doctor said, extending her hand.

“I’m Doctor Rosenfield.”

I felt the strength drain from my arms. My vision swam and rippled. I wavered, nearly fainting right there on the couch.

This is the common thread.

This is where I catch the virus.

Dr. Rosenfield pressed a cold stethoscope to my chest. “Now, take a few deep breaths in…”

It’s over. The voice pounded in my head, deafening everything else. It’s over, it’s over, it’s over…

“Your vitals look good,” she said. She sat down in the desk chair, looking over a file. “Now, tell me why you’re here today.”

Maybe it was the finality of it all – the fact that I knew it was over. Or maybe it was just how nervous I was. But as soon as I opened my mouth, it all spilled out. I told her about the app, the virus, the sleepless nights. Everything.

When I had finished, she gave me a warm, comforting smile. “It sounds like you have a bit of anxiety, Alexis. Nothing to worry about – very common for your age. I’ll prescribe you something to help, okay?”

I nodded, and put my sweater back on.

“I’ll send your prescription over to the pharmacy on 12th. Sound good?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

The entire way back, I didn’t speak a word to my so-called friends.

***

When I got back to the apartment, I video-called Cameron.

“I figured out the common thread. It’s Dr. Rosenfield.”

His face fell. “Oh, no.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t think of it yesterday. Doctors have so much contact with illness. She’s probably infecting everybody she sees.” I scoffed, and looked down at the floor. “And we’re just the ones lucky enough to die from it.”

He nodded.

“There’s so much I wanted to do.” The tears crept back into my eyes; I looked away. Should I say it? At this point, I have nothing to lose, right? “I wanted to get to know you. I thought… we had something. And I know that sounds stupid, since I’ve only talked to you like once, but you seem – well, amazing.”

He was silent.

“Do you think we have a chance? To stop this?”

His eyes grew dark.

And then he slowly shook his head.

“No.”

The frames jumped. His face became pixelated, distorted, as if there was a bad connection.

“Cameron?”

Through the blocky pieces of pixels, a wide smile formed on his face.

No –

“There is no way to stop us,” it said, in a chorus of voices coming from every device in the room.

Snap.

I closed the laptop, threw my head into the pillow, and began to sob.

***

“The funny thing is, I still don’t feel sick.”

I sat on a park bench, overlooking the river. Cameron sat on the next one over, several feet away. The yellow rays of the sinking sun glinted off the river, cut by the wakes of a few ducks.

“How are you holding up? Mentally, I mean.”

“I’m okay, actually.” And then I laughed. “But that might be more due to the pills I just took than my state of mind.”

He smiled. “Hey, whatever it takes.”

No, I didn’t tell Cameron about the video call last night – or my budding feelings. I decided to keep it simple; just enjoy my final moments in the company of someone who understood. I had already done everything I needed to – called my parents (they are fine, by the way, despite the scare), prayed a whole lot, read a book, and ate the best cheeseburger I ever had.

Now it was just time to wait.

“Did you finish How I Met Your Mother last night?” Cameron asked, turning towards me.

I laughed. “No. Still on Season 8.”

“So you didn’t meet the mother!”

I smiled at him. “And I guess I never will.”

And that’s when I felt it.

The sudden pang of dizziness. The hitch in my breathing. The world spinning around me, growing darker with every second.

“Alexis!”

But he sounded so, so far away.

***

“Alexis?”

I opened my eyes.

White walls. Tubing, wires, equipment. Murmured voices, clacking shoes, faint beeps.

I was in the hospital.

I turned. There sat Cameron, leaning over the bed.

“What happened?” I groaned.

“Something wonderful,” he said, breaking into a smile. “As we were there on the riverside… I got the craziest idea. To switch the SIM cards in our phones. Had about a ninety-percent chance of killing both of us, and a ten-percent chance of confusing the system and resetting everything.”

“But the virus –”

“You were dying from the pills, Alexis. Not a virus.” The smile faded from his face. “You took more than double the amount you should have.”

And then he stood up. “Were you trying to kill yourself? To defy the prediction?” His voice cracked, and his eyes locked with mine. “Because – I risked everything to save you. And –”

“What? No! I took three pills. Exactly what Dr. Rosenfield prescribed.”

“Then she made a mistake. Or –” Cameron lowered his voice. “Wait. Do you think she purposely gave you the wrong prescription?”

“Why would she do that?”

“Maybe she’s working with them.”

Cameron shot up, and darted into the hallway. Ten minutes later, he was back, with a wide-eyed Dr. Rosenfield trailing behind him.

“Why did you do it?” Cameron asked. He loomed over her, taller by more than a foot; she took a step back.

“What are you talking about?”

“Yesterday, you prescribed Alexis some anti-anxiety meds. It was the wrong dosage. And it almost killed her.” He took a deliberate step forward. “Are you working with them? You are, aren’t you?”

“With whom?”

“Look, we’re not trying to accuse you of anything,” I said, shooting a glare at Cameron. “But – why did you give me the wrong dosage?”

“Uh, let me pull up your file,” she said quietly, taking a seat at the computer. Her hands flew over the keyboard, and after a few minutes, she turned back to us.

She swallowed, her face pale.

“It looks like your file… accidentally got swapped with Cameron’s. I gave you the dosage – not for a 110-pound woman, but for a 250-pound man.” She said it with a mix of guilt and terror in her eyes, as though she were confessing to a murder.

Well, I guess she kind of was.

“How?” Cameron asked. “How did the files get switched?”

“A lot of our patients’ files got corrupted and mixed up,” she said, laying her glasses on the table with a muffled clink. “Because yesterday – our computers got a virus.”

And before I could respond, motion caught my eye –

A dark shadow, flitting across the computer screen.

The Hitman with a Heart

Michael Zinsky wasn’t my usual type of client.

He wasn’t a spurned lover, looking for revenge. Or a murderer, looking to snuff out the witnesses to his crime. Or a husband, hungry for his wife’s insurance policy.

He was just an ordinary guy, looking out for his sister.

“I wouldn’t normally resort to… such drastic measures. But Harold has become so awful. Treats her like garbage. Doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her, or anything, except for that stupid band he sings in with his work buddies.” He blew his nose loudly. “You understand that – right, Switchblade?”

I winced. “Uh, that’s just my alias, Michael. You shouldn’t… like… actually call me that in casual conversation.”

“Then what should I call you?”

I blinked. Clearly, he had never done anything like this before. “Uh, do you have the cash?”

His eyes darted around the diner. Then, from his pocket, he pulled out a wad of hundred-dollar bills.

“You can’t just – they’ll see it!” I hastily threw him one of the napkins. “Wrap it up in that. And do it discreetly.

He wasn’t discreet – but, thankfully, the diner was nearly empty at this hour. “It’s twice your usual rate,” he whispered, very loudly. “I wanted to give you a big tip, so you’ll do a good job.”

A tip? You’re not ordering an ice cream cone, Michael. You’re ordering a hit. But I took the cash, smiled, and buried it deep in my pocket.

“And I don’t want you to kill him.”

What?

“Michael, you know I’m a hitman, right?”

“Yes. But Nancy needs his income – she’s been a housewife for the past twenty years. No work experience, no education past high school. There’s no way she could support herself on her own.”

You could support her, with the cash you just gave me.”

He shook his head. “I’ve tried. She won’t let me. Cares too much.”

I sighed. “Well, okay. Suppose I did take you up on this… job. What do you even want me to do to him, if not kill him?”

“I don’t know! Scare him. Threaten him. Just make him stop being so terrible to her.”

“But it’s risky business. I mean, he’ll know what I look like, and –”

“You’ll go on Sunday morning. He’ll be napping alone in the house – won’t even see you come in.” Michael looked down at the table, and then added: “It’s the only time he’s ever alone in the house. The only time… he lets her leave.”

My belligerence evaporated, and I felt a pang of sympathy. “It’s that bad?”

He nodded.

“Okay. I’m in.”


The house was a tiny little thing, shoved into the gap between a massive brownstone and a dilapidated food mart. It would be a challenge to do it without any witnesses.

Good. I like a challenge.

I snuck through the backyard, creatively using the various bushes and fencing to hide from onlookers. I then stepped into the open window, like Michael told me to.

The knife was heavy in my hands.

I turned left at the kitchen, and crept into the living room. In the center stood a microphone, a music stand, and some sheet music – presumably for Harold and his band. Nancy’s needlepoint supplies were pushed into the corner, taking up as little space as they possibly could.

I walked into the next room.

And there, in the armchair, sat Harold.

Fast asleep.

I retrieved the chloroform from my pocket. With the grace of a dancer, I lay it against his nose.

And then I set to work.


I visited Nancy myself a few weeks later.

I like to do that sometimes. Pose as a friendly neighbor, see how their lives have changed in the wake of my work. Yes, I know it increases my chances of getting caught. But, as I said, I like a challenge.

When she flung open the door, her eyes were bright, and she wore a smile.

“Hi! I’m Smith Baker,” I said. “Just moved here – a few houses away from you, behind the food mart.”

“Oh, how nice! Please come in.”

She led me into the living room, and I smiled. The music stand and other equipment were thrown haphazardly in the corner; Nancy’s needlepoint was sprawled across the sofa, taking up as much space as it possibly could.

“Smith, this is my husband, Harold.”

He just stared at me. Still, silent, pale.

And then he started shaking wildly, clawing at the raw, red mark across his throat.

“Oh – sorry – I should explain.” She sat down, with a small smile. “He’s not trying to be rude. It’s just that… well, he had an accident, a few weeks ago. And now he can’t speak, I’m afraid.”

She patted his arm, comfortingly, as he clung to her. “Or sing, unfortunately.”

Hmm.

An “accident.”

That, mysteriously, cut his vocal cords –

And left the rest of him untouched.

I could see Harold’s hands shaking, his lip trembling. I wonder if he was thinking about the first thing I said to him, when the chloroform wore off.

If you don’t treat Nancy right – I’ll slit your throat again.

And next time, you’ll lose more than just your voice.

I smiled at Harold. “Would you like a cookie?” I asked, holding out the tray. “I baked them myself.”

I Tried to Switch Bodies With My Sister

If this were a Disney move, I’d be the “evil” sister.

Can you blame me? My sister, Eva, got quite a different lot in life than I did. Tall, tan, and buxom, with a placid disposition and a beautiful voice. Me? I’m short and pale, with a habit of eating too many Reese’s and a voice that sounds like a dying frog.

Sometimes, when I tell her, she’ll laugh (that tinkling, feminine, beautiful laugh) and go “Oh, Cora, don’t be jealous! We should love each other like sisters, not fight over stupid things.”

But I wonder if she’d still say that, if she were the one who got the short end of the stick.

Last night was the breaking point. We went to a party at one of the fraternities. I waved over one of my classmates, Robby, from Physics. But as soon as I did, and his eyes fell on Eva, it was all over. No matter how many jokes I made, no matter how many times I touched his shoulder – he barely gave me a second look.

That very night, after Eva went to bed, I snuck out of our apartment. I’d heard rumors – crazy ones. That a real-life witch lived in the abandoned house at the end of the street. It was something no grown-ass woman should’ve believed.

But I was desperate.

When I arrived at the house, my heart sank. The boards were rotten and splintered; the glass was cut into large, pointed shards that rose up from the frame like fangs. I could tell there was a light on inside, though, somewhere – a dim, yellow glow.

I raised my hand to knock.

But before my fist hit the wood, a voice called from inside: “Come in!”

Creeeeeaaak. I took a step inside, my legs shaking. “Hello?” The light seemed to be coming from a back room; I made my way towards it.

“Welcome.”

A woman sat on the floor, in the middle of a pentagram, wearing a hooded robe. She looked only a few years older than me, her blonde hair poking out from under the hood.

“Uh… are you the witch?” I said, rather awkwardly.

She grimaced. “W-I-T-C-H is not a term we use around here. It’s Woman of the Magical Arts.

“I’m so sorry! Uh, well –”

“What do you seek?” she interrupted.

“I want to switch bodies with my sister.”

“An easy spell. I can do it for you – but the question is, can you pay the price?”

“What’s the price?”

She paused, staring up at me with her ice-blue eyes. “Your firstborn son.”

“I, uh – I don’t know –” I stuttered.

She broke into laughter. “I’m just messing with you. The payment is money – a thousand dollars. Cash or credit?”

“Uh, credit,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief. I fumbled for my wallet and handed her the card.

She pulled a smartphone with one of those Square card readers out from the folds of her robe. Once she swiped it, she patted the floor and said: “Come, sit with me.”

I gingerly lowered myself down on the pentagram. “After it’s done – will she know we’ve been switched?”

She shook her head. “No. I’ll cast a memory reformation spell, too, which will reform her memories and make her think she was always you.”

I smiled. “Good.”

She took my hands in hers. “Lady of Darkness, I beseech thee, switch this woman and –”

Creeeeaaak.

One of the floorboards, creaking from a back room. I shot up, staring into the shadows.

Thump, thump, thump.

Out of the darkness, a silhouette began to take form. A woman – old and withered, with pentagrams and symbols cut up and down her skin in white, shining scars. She stared at me with two deep red eyes, and I felt my blood run cold.

“Do you need help, dear?” she asked.

“No, Grandma, I got it. She just wants a body swap with memory reformation.”

But the old woman paced forward. She knelt on the ground beside me, and leaned in close, until I could smell the odd citrusy scent of her hair. “Body swap, again? Did it not work the first time?”

I looked at her, eyebrows furled. “What?”

“Well, you were just in here a few weeks ago. We did this exact same spell.”

I stared at her, the realization sinking in. “I… was?”

“Oh, yes.” A smile crinkled her pale skin, and her eyes twinkled.

“You were in here, looking to switch bodies with your better-looking sister – and to make sure she never remembered any of it.”

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