The world shifted. Margo Morgan stumbled as a swell of magic lying just beneath the wet cobbles rose to meet her. Light swirled on the surface of a puddle in the gutter. She paused, stared, drew the enchantment in through her eyes. Water soaked the cuffs of her jeans as she stood in the middle of the path. A man in a sharp suit shoved past her, raising a perfect eyebrow. She flashed a bright smile as her fingers spread, pulling steaming strands of power from the water.
His voice floated back over his shoulder. “Freak.”
Magic pushed at the base of her palms and she dug her hands into the pockets of her puffer jacket. No, Margo. No hurting the humans. After a few hundred years it should have been easy to resist the urge to let the power out, but each day it became harder to deny who she was. Impossible to deny the magic thrumming a beat beneath her skin.
She kicked at the puddle as she left, luminous drops splashing on her trainers. The world beyond called to her but she stomped through the gutter and pushed temptation aside. I’ve got better things to do anyway.
The fragrance of fresh lilies wafted from the open window by the back door to her flat. She turned the handle, a small, satisfied smile playing over her lips. Cole. Her keys clanked on the sideboard next to the vase full of flowers. Stroking a finger over pink and white petals, she half closed her eyes and let the gentle green walls of the kitchen mesh with the bright blooms until she almost believed herself to be back in the garden of her youth.
Bubbles of happiness mixed with the residual magic in her bloodstream and she skipped a little down the hallway to the living room.
She flung open the door and swept into the cozy space, spreading her arms and sashaying forward. “Tis Moi! I am home!”
The man in the centre of the room turned to stare and her arms fell. Power pulsed at the base of her neck. This was not Cole. This was a man she hoped never to see again. Black hair swept from his brow, a wide silver streak at odds with his ageless face. Obsidian eyes glinted above a narrow smile. Magic beat a pounding tattoo against her skin, screaming to be let out.
Cole’s voice cut through the thoughts shouting in her head and a warm hand took hers. “Hey Margo. You have a guest.”
She dragged her eyes away from the warlock in the too-pressed jeans and striped shirt, to Cole. Human. Weak and vulnerable despite lean firefighter muscles beneath his woolen jersey. She plastered a smile to her face, as fake and ostensibly cheerful as the cheap prints hanging crookedly on the wall.
“Hey honey, have you been home long?”
His eyes shone clear, no murky enchantment in their depths. He didn’t twitch or blink and no vocal tics escaped his throat so he couldn’t be too worried.
“You know,” she said through teeth aching to snap at their guest, “I totally forgot to get milk for tea. Would you be a love and pop to the store? Mr. Septimus here and I have business to discuss.”
The warlock’s voice oiled through the air. “We won’t be long, Cole. I admit I would kill for some tea.”
Ice flooded her veins at the sound of her beloved’s name on those thin sharp lips. Fool. Never give a warlock your name. She took refuge in the ritual of passing Cole her purse and him waving it away as he patted the wallet in his pocket. But his goodbye kiss on her cheek felt too much like a farewell blessing.
The quiet snick of the living room door closing released some of the tension churning in her gut, but she didn’t breathe until Cole’s quick steady feet clattered down the outside steps.
Her hand stole to her scarf, snaking underneath to the pendant hidden by neon pink folds. “Not offering you tea, sorry Septimus. Just one of my silly rules. No tea for murdering scum in my house.”
Darkness swelled in his eyes, light dimming behind him as he drew on the energy lines beneath the world. Fire sparked on his arms.
“Are you this rude to all your guests, Morgana?”
She shrugged, fingers tightening on the pendant, a genuine smile lifting her cheeks. “Only the ones I want to punch in the face.”
“It doesn’t have to go this way. The offer is still open.”
“No. It does have to go like this I’m afraid. I don’t want any part of your ridiculous politics. Never have. No-one believes me and then thugs like you show up. I’m not joining your boss.”
Raven black hair floated around his head in a rippling aura of shining power, the whites of his eyes disappearing under a flood of red. “Wrong answer, Morgana.”
She ripped off the pendant and thrust it out to meet a flaming wave of magic pulsing from his hands. Her lips formed words she last spoke centuries ago. The jewel in her fingers flared and sucked in the power, leaving silence broken by fizzling sparks on the wooden floor.
His eyes widened. “We thought the amulet was lost.”
Red mist filtered over her vision and she shuddered as burning magic filled her, pushing through her skin. “Never lost. Merlin gave this to me and I’ve always rather liked it.”
Septimus stumbled back. She raised a finger and he froze, his feet glued to the ground. Floorboards smouldered as she stalked towards him, darkness spreading from her like a cloak. “You came into my home. You threatened my beloved. I don’t think I like you much.”
Power rippled through her and she licked her lip. Control was overrated.
“They won’t stop, Morgana. If you kill me more will come.”
“True. But you’ll be dead.”A luminous arc shot from the amulet into his chest. She wiped a spatter of blood off her cheek. “And that makes me happy.”
His body crashed into the side table, knocking over the photo frames and thudding to the ground. The crimson spray on the wall filtered through the haze in her eyes and she caught her breath. Cole. Crap.
She lunged towards the dead assassin, grabbing him under the arms and dragging him from the living room. Magic danced in the air and she growled. More trouble than it was worth.
Fumbling with the door handle she pushed her back against the door and tugged the body down the hall and into the kitchen. She heaved him upright and his arm swung loosely, knocking over the vase with the flowers that made her so happy.
“Bastard,” she muttered as glass and petals ground under her feet. She maneuvered him into the small laundry. Lavender scented sheets were an odd shroud but she propped him up in the linen cupboard and latched the door.
Back in the kitchen she stood by the shards of her favourite vase, ripped petals and water spreading over the linoleum. Magic swirled around her, coating her tongue and prickling her scalp. She closed her eyes on the red mist and leaned back into the power, letting her feet leave the floor and her legs float up to the ceiling. No point in fighting.
The kitchen clock ticked and her heartbeat slowed to match the rhythm. Magic seeped back under the earth where the power belonged but her feet stayed on the ceiling.
Crisp air hit her skin and she opened her eyes to see Cole standing by the open door, his upside down face a blank page of shock.
“Oh. Hi.” Her hair waved in the breeze. “This is awkward.”
Cole stumbled backwards. She gestured and a chair lurched across the floor towards him. He jumped away and fell on his arse. Huffing out a sigh, she concentrated and rotated back the right way to float to the ground. Tangled hair fell over her eyes and she brushed it off, glaring at him. A tightening vise gripped her heart and she tried to ignore the sensation. “I was trying to help.”
He pushed himself up, his brows lowering and blinking tics taking over his eyes. “By throwing a chair at me?”
She eyed the way his hands trembled as they dusted off his jeans, the flicking of his fingers another tic she hadn’t seen in a while. “I thought you needed to sit down.”
“And I think you’ve got explaining to do. What, are you some kind of Fairy or something?”
Her face screwed up. “Ew, no. Witch, thank you very much.”
His face set like concrete, expressionless except for twitching blinks. “Witch. You know, I’m pretty sure that’s worse than fairy.”
She hunched her shoulders over the ache in her chest. “Whatever, I don’t have to deal with ridiculous wings.”
“Apparently you don’t need wings to float on the ceiling. Filing that under things I learned today.”
“Well what’s a day without learning, right?”
He scanned the room, lingering on the smashed vase and the papers on the floor. “Is any of this to do with the guy who turned up earlier?” His fingers flicked as he spoke and she caught the sound he trapped behind his lips.
“You can let the tics out, Cole. It’s only me.”
He pressed his lips tighter, eyes burning like copper in the dim green light. She tried to smile but it didn’t get very far. He jerked away and paced the room, vocal tics escalating in tone and volume as he let out the adrenaline. The bench dug into her hip as she leaned back and stared at the floor. He hated losing control. She understood that. She hated it as well. At least he didn’t end up on the ceiling.
Scuffed shoes entered her vision and she raised her eyes to his fiery ones.
“Right,” he said, “Magic is real and you have some. Any other secrets?”
She kept her gaze fixed on his, willing herself not to glance at the laundry. He crossed his arms and arched a brow. “Margo? No more lies, no more secrets. You tell me everything or I walk out the door.”
She held her breath, then the words spilled from her lips in a torrent. “There’s a body in the laundry. I didn’t mean to do it. He isn’t human so it doesn’t really count does it? It was me or him and I chose me.” Her mouth spread in a grimace and she waited, counting every second he stared at her.
“No, silly, not him. Septimus. He was an assassin.”
He slipped his phone from his pocket and chewed his lip as he stared at the black screen. She reached out and took his wrist.
“We can’t call the police. He doesn’t exist here.”
“Are you asking me to help you hide a body?”
“No. But he’s quite heavy and I keep banging him into things and I’ve already broken the vase with the lilies.”
His lip twitched and relief loosened her shoulders. “I knew you’d see the funny side.”
“I’m not smiling. I’m ticking.”
“No you’re not.”
He stared at her for a moment and then let his smile out. “No. I’m not.”
She bounced up from the bench. “Okay, I guess I better show you Septimus.”
His lips pressed together and his eyes narrowed as he took in the gaping hole in the warlock’s chest. He looked up and she met his eyes across the unwrapped body.
“Will you still help me?”
A sigh escaped him. “Here’s the thing, Margo. I was raised to look after family and family is what you make it. You’re mine.”
Magic still crackled under her skin and he’d never looked more human but as he lifted the body of the one man she’d feared, she felt more at home than she ever had before.
This short story was submitted to the July Blank Page Challenge and used a visual and word prompt posted by the competition. It’s my first attempt at an actual short story, and while it didn’t place, I found the practice really invaluable and I really enjoyed writing it.
6 thoughts on “Short Story – Magic Beneath the Skin”
Loved it, Clem. Drama and whimsy, all together – with plenty left unsaid, perhaps to be explored another time?
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Thanks Raf 🙂 Yes i might take this further one day.
Loved this story, Clem! The sensory bits like the fragrance of the lilies when she walks in are great. And the fight scene was awesome 😎. I also think I know who Cole was inspired by..😉
Thanks Joy! I’m so glad you liked it. LOL actually the marvelous mr evans made no appearance as my muse for this one! He was taking a break 😀
GREAT story Clem.
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Thank you Pa 🙂