Short Stories

The Claire Witch Project

There are many things you can easily explain to your parents. Accidentally blowing up your uncle is not one of them.

“You are so busted, Claire,” said my sister Lindsay, eying the singed curtains and the freshly made crater in my bedroom floor. “Wait until Dad finds out you were practicing transmorph spells in your room unsupervised.”

“We can still fix this,” I replied hurriedly, switching spellbooks on my Kindle. But I’d only downloaded the basic transmorph spells and hadn’t gotten the counter-curses yet. Blast it.

“Claire, look!” Lindsay hopped off my bed and stepped towards the crater. “It worked!”

Sure enough, in the center of the ring of scorched carpet was a small green newt with a wide face like Uncle Isaac’s and bulbous eyes his exact shade of blue.

I breathed a sigh of relief. “We can change him back before Mom gets home—”

Suddenly, we heard the doors downstairs blow open and Mom call, “Girls, I’m hooome!” Judging by how her voice carried, she was airborne. Harley Davidson had just come out with this year’s broomstick models (“They even have a backseat for your cat!” Mom had exclaimed) and Mom hadn’t gotten off hers since she’d picked it up from the dealership.

I exchanged a frantic glance with Lindsay, who is terrified of getting caught breaking the rules. Keep calm, I mouthed to her. If we cleaned up before she saw my room, we’d be off the hook.

“Claire! Lindsay! I’m coming upstairs!”

Hook reinserted.

I scooped up Uncle Isaac and shoved him into my hoodie pocket in one movement and grabbed Lindsay’s wrist and towed her out of my room in another. I had just shut the door behind us when Mom soared around the corner on her Harley broomstick, announcing, “Girls, I have good news! The Annual Sorcery Soiree will be held here in San Francisco tonight! They’ve commissioned your father to remodel Alcatraz to host the gala and my troupe is going to perform some of our daredevil stunts for the crowd!”

Lindsay and I looked at each other. It’s hard to do BMX or X-Game type stunts on broomsticks, but people like my mother always manage to find a way.

Mom dismounted her Harley, stumbling a bit—she’s not good with concrete concepts, like the idea of solid ground. “The thing is, girls,” she continued, “there will be an influx of tourists in the Bay Area, so I promised your Uncle Isaac you’d help him manage his shop. How delightful would that be, spending quality time with family! I bet he can help you with being entrée-prenatal, Claire,” she added with a wink.

Lindsay’s expression was panicked but I kept my face smooth and didn’t bother correcting Mom that it was entrepreneurial.

“What a great idea,” I answered eagerly. “In fact, Linds and I were just about to head over to the shop to get started. Come on, Linds.”

“Wait, but what about—ow!”

“Whoops, didn’t mean to kick you.” I gave her a pointed look as I ushered her down the hallway, past Mom and her Harley broomstick.

“Have fun, girls!” Mom called after us.

When we were outside the house, I put both hands on Lindsay’s shoulders and said, “Listen. When we get to Isaac’s shop, I’m going straight to the back where his encyclopedias are to find the right counter-curse to undo this whole mess. Until then, we act casual and don’t say anything out of the ordinary to anyone. Nobody needs to know that I have a newt in my pocket that’s actually my uncle. Capiche?”

Lindsay bit her lip, but nodded. Sometimes I’m glad I’m the older sister, because Linds wouldn’t be able to handle all the responsibility. She’s thirteen and she’s still afraid of the dark. What kind of witch is afraid of the dark?

We took a trolley down to Fisherman’s wharf, where Uncle Isaac’s shop, the Poison Apple, faced the Bay. Up and down the sidewalk, local performers entertained tourists by conjuring fire or enchanting monkeys to line dance or sing opera. Further out in the Bay, we could see Alcatraz, where my dad and other engineer warlocks were busy remodeling the prison and driving some of the lingering ghosts of prisoners away so the place could host the Annual Sorcery Soiree, which has the most unfortunate acronym for an evening gala.

I used a combination spell to unlock the door to Uncle Isaac’s shop. The Poison Apple sold potion ingredients, everything from fillet of a fenny snake to sugar, spice, and everything nice. The shelves were crowded with products as odd and eclectic as Uncle Isaac himself, who was the only person in the world crazy enough to let his fifteen-year-old niece try a transmorph spell on him.

I carefully took Uncle Isaac out of my hoodie pocket and set him on the cashier desk. He looked at me with those big blue eyes before curling up and sleeping.

“What do we do now?” Lindsay interjected worriedly.

“Well, I’m heading to the back room to see if there’s anything in the encyclopedias that can help,” I replied, heading in that direction. “You stay out front and manage the store. Look, there’s your first customer now.”

Outside on the sidewalk, the dumpy form of Missy Teek waddled to our storefront. That poor woman had a heart of gold but the face of a Gorgon. Maybe she wanted to brew herself a beauty potion.

“What do I do?” Lindsay asked, panicked.

“Talk to her. Help her with what she needs.”

“What if I can’t?”

“What if you can?”

I didn’t wait for a reply as I stepped into the back room and shut the door behind me. In the dusty room—although ‘room’ was pushing it; ‘closet’ was closer—boxes were stacked floor to ceiling, with labels like ‘oblivescence extract’ and ‘ignivomous squid’. His encyclopedia set, Funk & Wagnall’s Formative Witchcraft, was sitting in the corner. Normally, I’d just Google the counter-curses I was looking for, but you couldn’t always trust the Internet, especially magic on the Internet. This one girl I knew thought she found a website that promised a cure to zits but actually turned her whole skin bright blue. Permanently.

I combed the encyclopedias until I found the section on undoing curses. There were spells that could remove third legs, unring a bell, turn frogs back into princes without the lipservice, and a counter-curse that could return a room to the way it was (I tore out that page for the crater in my bedroom, and for any future house parties). It wasn’t until half an hour later that I found what I was looking for. I ripped out that page too and headed back into the main shop, where Lindsay was nervously drumming her fingers on the cashier’s desk. Uncle Isaac was gone.

“What happened?” I asked. “Where’s the newt?”

Lindsay winced. “Please, please don’t be mad, Claire, but she was just sad and nice and I had to help her and she wouldn’t give in and—”

“What happened, Linds?”

“I… she needed a newt and I couldn’t say no without her finding out what happened to Uncle Isaac and she was so sad but really persistent and—”

Lindsay! That was Missy Teek you sold our uncle to! What sort of potion do you think she brews everyday?”

Lindsay shifted her weight from foot to foot.

“Beauty potions,” I told her. “Missy Teek has been trying to land a husband since we were babies. Do you remember what the main ingredients for any basic beauty potion are?”

Lindsay took a moment to think, but most girls over the age of ten know this. A potion for artificial beauty requires naturally ugly ingredients, Uncle Isaac had once told us. “Um…eagle’s talons, serpent scales, the tongue of something…uh…maiden’s hair, a dash of sugar, eye of newt…” Her eyes widened. “Eye of newt.”

I nodded grimly, grabbing Lindsay’s wrist and heading out of The Poison Apple. We were crunched for time so I hailed a taxi carriage instead taking the trolley. San Fran was famous for its Gothic black carriages that were enchanted to stretch and squeeze through spaces in traffic without warping their passengers, as well as drive up vertical surfaces, like the walls of buildings. Lindsay and I climbed into one and I told the driver to take us to the hotel Casa Madrona in Sausalito. Missy Teek’s father owned the hotel, and Missy lived in one of the penthouses.

“Don’t cry on me now,” I told Lindsay, as she sat next to me with her lip quivering.

“It’s just that I always manage to mess things up,” she whined. “You’re smart like Dad and daring like Mom and you always know what to do. I just let a woman give me money to rip out our uncles eyes just because I felt sorry for her and she kept asking!”

“Why did you give in? Why do you let people walk all over you?”

“It works with you,” she whimpered.

I couldn’t help it; I flinched. “Look,” I began, “Let’s just head down to Sausalito before anything else goes wrong.”

We were silent the rest of the trip. I gazed out the window as the taxi crossed the Golden Gate Bridge by driving ninety degrees straight up one tower, weaving in and out of the suspension wires, and back down one of the main cables. Next to me, Lindsay squeezed her eyes shut but I didn’t know if she was afraid of the taxi ride or trying not to cry. I frowned. Technically, it was my own stupid fault all of this was happening. I’m the one who wanted to get ahead of the competition at school by being the only sophomore able to pull off a transmorph spell and change someone into another animal. I’m the one who turned our uncle into a newt.

Apologies aren’t easy for me, but I made myself turn to Lindsay. “Look, Linds, I’m—”

The taxi carriage screeched to a halt outside the Casa Madrona, a beautiful hotel divided into two parts: one side actually looked like a hotel, boxy but elegant, while the other side was made up a large blue house tucked into the side of a hill. The force of the carriage stopping and the fact that I was sitting at a funny angle sent me flying off the seat until I smacked my head against the side of the divider.

We got out of the carriage (well, I stumbled out), paid the driver, and approached the hotel, where a talking plant instructed us where to go. The receptionist in the lobby was a sly black cat who gave us a disdainful once-over before saying in a disapproving tone, “Can I help you?”

“We’re looking for Missy Teek,” I replied, keeping my voice even. Stupid cat thought he was better than us, I could tell.

“Mmm,” sighed the cat as he typed something into his keyboard, trying to seem like he had more important things to do. But honestly, it’s hard for a cat to look dignified when using a computer. “You all just missed her. She left to prepare for the opening ceremony of the Annual Sorcery Soiree on Alcatraz. With a gentleman of all things.”

I raised an eyebrow. Please don’t let that mean her beauty potion had already worked. “Did she look… prettier? I mean, prettier than normal?”

“No,” said the cat, as if I’d insulted him rather than Missy Teek.

“We have to stop her!” exclaimed Lindsay. “Maybe she hasn’t used the potion yet—we just need a key to her room to rescue—”

I elbowed her in the ribs, and the cat receptionist glared. “That I will not give you, and if you think I’m going to compromise my boss’s family for two children, then girl, you have another thing coming,” he snapped, his tail twitching.

I narrowed my eyes. “Well at least we children don’t cough up our own hair or lick our own—”

“We should go,” whispered Lindsay, nudging my arm. “Come on, Claire.”

I gave the cat a dirty look before we left the lobby. As we passed the talking plant again, I muttered a short curse and wriggled my fingers and the plant burst into a shower of confetti.

“Are you okay?” Lindsay asked once we were outside, and the cold bay air helped me think clearly again.

“I will be okay once I move to Canada,” I replied hotly. “I am so dead, Linds. Deader than dead. There are whole catacombs of decaying mummies who are better off than I will be.”

“What if we tell Mom and Dad that it was an accident?”

“Oh, I was accidentally practicing transmorph spells in my room despite not being sixteen. I accidentally blew a washing-machine-sized crater in my carpet and Uncle Isaac accidentally turned into a newt!” I crossed my arms over my chest and stared angrily over the bay, where we could see Angel Island in the distance.

“Claire,” Lindsay began quietly, “why don’t we just tell them the truth? If we go to the Soiree, we can find Missy Teek there and explain what happened. I don’t think she’s made the potion yet, so maybe she’ll give us back Uncle Isaac. And then we’ll just tell Mom and Dad that you wanted to impress them and worked hard. They’ve both worked all their lives and they’ll understand that. Besides, they know you. You’re always trying to push yourself and you don’t like making mistakes. They’ll understand.”

She was looking at me with such a sincere expression that I couldn’t help but want to hug my sister. “What would I do without you?” I asked her and she shrugged. Sometimes, I don’t think I give Linds enough credit for how smart she is. I’m glad I have her as a sister, because I wouldn’t be able to handle all the responsibility on my own. I’m fifteen, and I’m afraid of messing up. What kind of kid doesn’t mess up?

You don’t know awesome until you’ve attended an enchanted soiree, especially one held in a former prison. Conjurers dressed in prison uniforms danced and mingled among the crowd, pulling pillars of fire or jets of water out of thin air. Acrobats cartwheeled across the ceiling and flew through the air. The drinks changed colors. The ushers were talking penguins, already dressed in tuxedos. Ghosts of inmates past hovered above, some of them occasionally swooping down to talk to a pretty girl or dump a bowl of punch on someone’s head.

I probably would’ve appreciated the soiree more if I hadn’t been so shaky. Linds held my arm the entire time, and even though we were both dressed up and looked pretty good, the nice clothes and makeup couldn’t hide the anxiety. No amount of magic could.

We found my parents by the punch bowl, chatting with friends of theirs. My dad looked pretty dapper in his tux, but as usual his hair was slightly disheveled and he hadn’t shaved. Next to him, my mom was still in her bedazzled daredevil suit. Most teens think their parents are a bit out of this world but mine are from a whole other galaxy.

Linds approached them with me behind her and said, “Mom, Dad, can we talk in private a moment? There’s something that needs to be…” She looked to me for help.

“Sorted out,” I finished. My parents exchanged a glance, but followed. We found a quiet space next to a large fountain and after I took a deep breath, I explained what happened. My dad’s eyes widened when I told him about transmorphing, my mom’s jaw dropped at the part when Uncle Isaac became a newt, and both of them went white when I told them that Missy Teek had bought him.

It took them a few moments to recover.

“So… Missy Teek… your uncle…” began my mom, scratching her head.

“I haven’t yet seen Missy Teek here,” added Dad worriedly. “I guess…I guess I could ask around if anyone here has her phone number or—” He cut off suddenly and stared wide-eyed at something behind us. Linds and I whirled around to see the new guests just arriving through the entrance.

Arm in arm and beaming at each other were Missy Teek and my Uncle Isaac—who was completely human again—coming towards us. Both were decked out in finery, Missy in an emerald green gown and my uncle in a dashing tux. No love potion I could think of could recreate the look they were giving each other. I never thought Missy was easy on the eyes, but anyone who got looked at like that had to be beautiful in some way.

There’s magic, and then there’s magic.

“Hello there, my darling nieces,” Uncle Isaac said proudly. “Quite a day it’s been, hm? I would like you all to meet my darling new lady, Missy Teek.” Missy shuffled forward, grinning ear to ear, and said hello.

“Good evening,” replied my dad, a tad stunned. “May I ask… what happened?”

“Well, I saw poor Isaac in the store,” Missy explained. “I can tell a transmorphed person when I see one. So I had to bring him home and see if I could undo the spell he was under, and thank goodness the girl at the store was so gracious.” She beamed at Lindsay, who blushed. “I had no idea the newt in question was Isaac Arlington himself, the store owner!”

“Once Missy changed me back, she told me about how she’d heard how my store has ingredients for every potion, and I found out she wanted to make herself a beauty potion,” Uncle Isaac added. “How preposterous is that! Any woman who takes time out of her day to help a stranger possesses a beauty you don’t find in magazines.  Anyway, soon as I was human again, we went all around the Bay area, having the most wonderful fun! And now we’re here. And I’m afraid we have more party guests to greet tonight. I will see all of you later. And Claire—you and I are going to get you some extra tutoring for your transmorph spells.” He winked, and then he and Missy Teek disappeared into the crowd.

When they were gone, my mom said, “You girls are both grounded, by the way. Although to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what just happened.”

“I’m with you on that,” I said, staring after Missy and my uncle.

“But for now, we must celebrate,” added Dad. “This is, after all, a soiree.” Linds and I exchanged a look but we both grinned and nodded and followed our parents back into the party, and even though I knew tomorrow Linds and I would be quarantined to our rooms, tonight we were able to enjoy ourselves. There’s a magic in parties and celebration that you can’t capture in a spell or a potion, and I didn’t want to miss a minute.

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