Writings: Outcast Witch

[TW: Death by Falling, Magical Mind-Control]

When I left Christianity and converted to Wicca in my early twenties, I went through a period where I was so starving for representation I would watch anything with the slightest hint of Wiccan-flavored magic in it. I watched Charmed religiously every afternoon. I saw Practical Magic eleventy billion times. And I watched The Craft, a movie which got just the tiniest bit right before going so very off-the-rails wrong. The girls worship a god called "Manon" (nooooo) and magic is categorized as Good and Evil (nooooooooo) and the movie falls into the problem that all Wiccan movies fall into: it fails to show the quieter, gentler magics we witches use, focusing instead on the sexy, theatrical Harry Potter magics we don't.

But for all that The Craft is terrible Wiccan rep, I rewatched it recently on Netflix and was charmed by the fact that someone on the writing team tried. The atmosphere is right, and the girls are believable. You feel for them, and you can understand how teenagers granted phenomenal cosmic powers might then go on to accidentally screw everything up. The basic plot is that four girls form a coven, perform a blood ritual to give them each their deepest wish, and those wishes slowly sour over time. When a boy the girls have been fighting over dies in a magical accident, the coven fractures and the "good" witch has to protect herself from her three "bad" friends, ultimately binding their powers and leaving them without magic.

Watching the movie again, I was taken with the "bad witch" and found myself wondering how her life turned out. I like to think she got the counseling she needed (the movie's ending is gross and ableist, putting her in a psychiatric ward with the impression that she'll never come out again) and lived a nice, mundane life without her magical powers. I then wondered what might happen if the "good witch" blew back into that nice, mundane life and broke everything all over again. This is a "chapter one" look at that idea, though I don't know if there will ever be a chapter two. I hope you enjoy! ♡ ♡ ♡

Outcast Witch

Wednesday was always the worst day of any week, and Rain was certain a logical proof of this truism must somewhere exist. Hell, she felt fairly confident she could whip one up herself if she had the time; maybe something with syllogisms, which she'd liked back in her community college days. Of course, she never did whip one up because she only ever dwelt on the worseness of Wednesdays when she was already suffering through one, which left her little energy for anything else. Bit of a chicken and egg problem, that.

But she'd survived this Wednesday. Work had left her weary and wrung out, her back and legs aching from kneeling beside filing cabinets all day as the admins sorted through old records and marked dusty memorandums for destruction or digitization. She was hungry, too, and none of the local fast food joints appealed when she was close to her period and her tastebuds turned persnickety. This meant she'd have to cook when she finally got home, which in turn meant she wouldn't be eating until eight at the earliest.

Home was a tiny two-story duplex located in the sweet spot between reasonable-morning-commute and too-far-to-call-in-for-filing-emergencies. Not that the words "filing" and "emergency" had any right to arrange themselves in that order, and she wasn't paid anywhere near enough to indulge management fantasies to the contrary. Urgent weekend tasks whose utmost urgency was only ever discovered on Friday evenings just before closing were left to the other administrative assistants in the office. Sherry in particular was a go-getter destined to climb the corporate ladder, and Rain was happy to cheer for her from the comfort of her couch.

Raise a glass and pour a bottle of wine in blessing.

The door closed and locked behind her, three locks in quick succession. Door lock, dead bolt, chain lock, and a braid of garlic over the lintel for good measure. The neighborhood was a bad one, full of good ol' country boys who loved their liquor and guns and temper tantrums. One had burst into her home looking for his girlfriend and had been too drunk or stupid to believe he had the wrong apartment; she'd only convinced him when he dug out his cellphone to call the poor woman. The chain lock had been installed the day after that little incident, along with a new rule not to open the door for strangers--not even a crack.

Rain shrugged off her bra--bliss--and stepped out of her heels, grateful to be free once more from their torture. She carried bra and shoes upstairs to the bedroom and set them in their little closet cubbyholes in painful anticipation of the morrow. She wore the lowest heels she could get away with without incurring management wrath, but flats were not an option; the office liked their admins petite and fragile. Rain could boast at least one of those traits, topping out as she did at just over five feet, but with soft flesh extending in every conceivable direction no one was ever going to mistake her for a delicate doll.

Not that she minded being more-than-generously plump all over. Rain had grown up hungry, and her time in the state hospital had only sharpened those pangs. After working her ass off in college and landing a lucky break at an job fair, she'd attained a full larder and a set of curves her trailer-park-queen mother would've been proud of. Her little girl, grown up and filled out and working at a desk in an air conditioned office. Rain was living the dream, although strictly speaking she was probably supposed to seduce and marry the boss at some stage. She could, too, if she'd wanted, but that was her mother's dream, not hers.

Her dress jacket went on a hanger, and the blouse followed. A quick sniff told her she didn't need to wash the clothes. No matter the season, she rarely managed to work up a sweat in the freezing-year-round office, and the hanging sachets of lavender she'd put up in the closet did their job. Shimmying, she slid out of her skirt and slip--her hips screaming for freedom--and then she was skyclad in the closet, as free as the day she was born. She turned once, twice, three times in place, eyes closed and tilted to the ceiling.

The circle is open, but never broken.
The circle is open, but never broken.
The circle is open, but never broken.
Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.
Blessed be.

When Rain had been younger and her wounds still fresh, she'd believed such ritual words would only ever bring her pain. Magic and all its workings had been stripped of any pleasure or comfort to her on the night her powers were bound away and lost to her forever. She'd gone years after that night without drawing down the moon or casting a circle or tying sachets; for a time, she wouldn't even touch herbs for cooking.

Yet as she grew accustomed to a life without power--indeed, as she came to accept life was worth living without her powers--she'd found herself edging back to the religion she'd embraced as a teenager. Being powerless rendered her unexpectedly free to explore what had drawn her to witchcraft in the first place. She hadn't come to Wicca for power, not in the beginning; she'd not even known she possessed power. No, she'd come for other reasons and only later had those been eclipsed by anger and lust and greed.

Not that her first step back towards religion had been driven by spiritual enlightenment, Rain had to admit. When she dug her old books out of storage and cracked them open again, it was for the same reason she'd stolen them in the first place: she couldn't afford better healthcare than the bits and pieces of herbalism she could cobble from their pages. As an adult in college, she had even fewer options than she'd had as a child, too old for Medicaid and too wary of emergency rooms after her stint in psychiatric confinement. So she relied on onion broth for colds, lemon tisanes for strep throat, honey for coughs of all other stripes, chamomile to help her sleep between work and class, and ginger for everything else. Simple spells for the body, magic that required no power from the caster because the power was in the raw material used.

Yet as she poured over those old books, memories had bubbled to the surface. The bad ones, yes, the ones she'd worked through in counseling, but she'd been startled to find good recollections hiding in their midst. The unmistakable scent of patchouli incense suffusing the magic shop where they lingered every afternoon when school let out. The sound of giggling as her friends played with the tarot deck the owner, Sage Hearthfire, left out on display because someone had stolen The Lovers card and her cat had chewed on the Three of Cups. The ecstatic hammering rhythm in Rain's chest the first time she slipped a book into her bag and walked out the door with her stolen trophy, little shop bell jangling cheerily behind her.

Miss Hearthfire must've known she'd stolen the book. For all her crystal necklaces and flowing dresses and long earth-mother hair, the woman's eyes were surprisingly free of stars when it came to the realities of the world. Her shop didn't get so many customers that she didn't know them all by heart and of the gaggle of teenage girls who gathered there after school only one lurked furtively by the wall of books, touching with hungry fingers. Always wanting and forever unable to buy. Rain had thought she was so slick, so proud of her five-finger discount; now in retrospect, she couldn't imagine why Hearthfire never busted her. Maybe her friends brought in enough that Miss H wrote Rain off as a loss-leader. Or maybe it was simple pity.

Bide the Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust.
Live and let live, fairly take and fairly give.

Rain had taken and given a lot, she mused dryly as she headed downstairs to the kitchen, but she'd never been good at the 'fairly' part. But maybe that was too harsh, maybe her problem was a simple lack of moderation. Give a teenage girl the power to change the world on a whim; whatever follows, it won't be baby steps. The entire coven was like that, leaping and bounding where wise men feared to tread, tireless in pursuit of their goals.

How silly those goals seemed in the cold light of a Wednesday evening a decade and a half later. Rain pulled cream from the fridge and emptied the carton into a pot on the stove. Minced garlic from one of her mason jars and parmesan cheese in a bag followed their way into the pot, along with enough pepper to cloud the creamy mixture with a thick gray swirl. Fettuccine was the quickest dinner she could whip up, and she could add parsley from her windowsill garden to finish. That was magic, too; turning matter into meals.

Stir deosil, sunwise, clockwise, to draw and invoke.
Stir widdershins, moonwise, counter-clockwise to banish.

Rain wondered how different her life would be now if they'd understood those little magics as teenagers. They'd flipped past pages on lavender sachets and kitchen witchery with barely a glance, dismissing them as padding and feel-good flim-flam. Who had time to stir a cooking pot and send one's will spiraling gently out into the world like a helicopter seed when there was blood to spill and drink and swear oaths over?

Gale stole the bottle of wine from her parent's stash that night. Moon brought the athame, ignoring Miss Hearthfire's warning that her ritual knives were meant to cut air, not flesh. Miss H was an old woman in her forties--a distinction thirty-something Rain was now increasingly uncomfortable with as her own big-four-oh birthday loomed closer each year--and she didn't understand magic they way they did. If she'd had real power, she wouldn't have been a hippy spinster with nothing more than a little shop on main street to her name.

At least, that was how the world seemed when they were seventeen. The knife hurt far more than Rain had imagined it would when she cut her fingers for the spell, but the pain felt right. Four drips of blood into the wine--one for each member of their coven--and they drank deep from the goblet. Wishes were whispered into the night air, their will sent out to change the world through the combined power of the coven. Four wishes for four girls, the most powerful magic they'd ever worked before--or would ever work again.

Moon wanted beauty in abundance of what she already had; she was the belle of the lunchroom but dreamed of being a model, an actress, a somebody. Her wish was to be prettier, glossier, thinner, taller, clearer-complexted. Airbrushed to perfection in real life. Boys flocked to her every day after that midnight ritual. She loved the attention but they were a luxury she wouldn't allow herself until she had an agent, a contract, a casting call. A clear road to fame and fortune with bankable assets no one could take away.

If Moon focused on the future, Gale fixated on the past. At seventeen she had a lifetime of scores to settle, both good and bad. She was obsessed with the law of three, the belief that actions are repaid thrice over. Miss Hearthfire taught the law as a guideline that evened out over lifetimes but Gale wanted immediate retribution. If people who did good to her thrived, they'd help her in the future; if people who harmed her got instant comeuppance, they'd leave her alone. After her wish, Gale acquired an infamous reputation around school. No one could prove anything, but her social circle shifted. She was shunned by most of the student body, but a tiny coterie of sycophants were willing to reap advantages available to her new 'friends'.

Then there was Star.

Time had not lessened Rain's hate for the other girl, even knowing she was being unreasonable. It wasn't Star's fault that she was effortlessly pretty in that innocent-country-girl-just-stepped-off-the-bus way, nor did she have any notion of the history she was stepping on when she began flirting with Brandon the moment she stepped off that proverbial bus. Rain didn't own him, after all, and Brandon didn't volunteer that they'd been next-door neighbors, sandbox besties, and junior sweethearts. He'd been her first kiss and she wanted him to be her last, but then puberty hit like a truck. Brandon filled out a football jersey and a homecoming king tux while Rain just filled out. They couldn't even stay friends--if that were possible after replacing her with a steady stream of Tiffanys and Ashleys--because Rain reminded him of the trailer park roots he was so desperate to forget. Stardom changed him, then Star went and made him unrecognizable.

Their little Romeo-and-Juliet drama was all over the school that year. Star came onto him, all country-girl shy, but wouldn't take off so much as a sock. Brandon, never an Einstein, got the bright idea of keeping a piece on the side. All the sex he wanted but without breaking up with the cute new girl all the guys wanted to score. Only problem was, Star found out and broke up with him. To salvage his pride, Brandon spread around that he broke up with her because she was terrible in bed and a raging slut besides. Rain watched all this play out with tired eyes, knowing from the start how it would end; Brandon's first and deepest love was for himself.

But Star changed that. She used her wish--wasted a blood wish!--on a football jock who'd told the entire school what a bad lay she was. Rain had wanted to slap her. She still didn't know what Star was thinking. Revenge or reconciliation? Maybe she just wanted to restore her good name to a bunch of strangers whose opinions weren't worth the breath wasted airing them. Whatever the reason, her magic took hold of Brandon deep. He came clean to his buddies about how they'd broken up, then followed her around school like a puppy. Carrying her books, picking up after her, buying her gifts. People on her street said he'd stand under her window at night, just looking up at her house. He didn't seem dangerous--he never pushed her--but he acted like a man possessed. He needed her, and Star didn't need him.

Maybe for a time she thought she did. Rain could understand--in an abstract way, and only when feeling generous--how getting a thing could be a letdown after the heady rush of wanting it. Maybe Brandon didn't hold the same appeal once he was obsessed with her, or maybe what she got wasn't really Brandon at all. What Star ended up with was a cheap knock-off version of the real thing, pretty to look at but empty on the inside. Her wish turned him into a shell, and it ate Rain up inside to watch. Not because she wanted him any more than Star did, but because he had meant something to her once upon a time.

To her infinitesimal credit, Star hadn't meant for her wish to work out the way it did. Even Rain could admit that; she saw how Star scrambled to find a way to reverse the spell and undo what had been done. But something had gone wrong somewhere and the genie couldn't be stuffed back into the bottle. The more Star tried to rebuff him, the more Brandon's obsession with her deepened. So Rain decided in all her stupid seventeen-year-old wisdom that the answer to the situation lie in the application of even more magic.

Weaving the threads of the midnight hour,
weaving the web of the goddess' power.

Rain had managed to believe for a time that she was acting nobly in her attempt to save Brandon, but she long since abandoned that pleasant fantasy. She was angry and jealous, and very much wanted to show up Star. Sweet, innocent Star had wasted her wish on a boy but Rain had poured her wish into acquiring magical power. Real power, not the indirect stuff that came from Moon's beauty or Gale's sycophantic friends. Magic crackled at her fingertips and she couldn't wait to use it.

On the night Brandon died, she'd gone to the party just to talk to him, to unweave the spell that had settled on him like a net. And when she couldn't free him, when her attempts to extract Star from his mind had left him sweating and swearing at her to stop what she was saying, stop whatever she was doing, stop stop stop, Rain had turned in desperation to the last thing she could think of: casting a glamour to wear Star's face for him. The plan made a twisted kind of sense to her; if she let him fuck her, then Brandon could get Star out of his system, use her and tire of her the way he did every other girl before Star.

What she'd not anticipated was Star herself bursting into the room, screaming at her to stop kissing him with that face and calling her every name in the book and a few Rain would've swore the country girl couldn't know. Brandon's mind had broken at the sight of two Stars before him, one real and the other counterfeit, and, well. There was a reason Rain was still wary of second-story buildings, and why she never opened the window in her upstairs duplex bedroom. Some memories she couldn't forget. Brandon's body on the lawn below was one of them.

Shit escalated quickly after that. Rain blamed Star for what happened while Star maintained the blame lay with Rain. Moon and Gale landed on Rain's side, swayed by their longer friendship and none too happy when Star tried to cast a binding spell on the four of them. It didn't work, of course--a witch can't bind herself, let alone an entire coven on her own--but it did a number on Star's standing within the group. Rain sighed and threw pasta into the pot as the water reached a high boil. Star should have talked with them, explained herself. But they probably wouldn't have listened. They were flying too high to come down.

I bind you, Rain, from doing harm to others or harm to yourself.
I bind you, Rain, from doing harm to others or harm to yourself.
I bind you, Rain, from doing harm to others or harm to yourself.

Rain didn't like to remember what happened after Star's first failed binding, and sometimes she managed to forget. It helped that she wasn't particularly lucid in her anger and grief at that point. The events between Brandon's death and Rain's hospitalization were stored as flashes, quick images that popped in and out of her mind. Star, her face ashen and drawn on the night they convinced her that her parents had been lost in a plane accident--Rain's idea, determined to make the snotty stuck-up girl feel the same pain Rain felt over the loss of her friend and one-time boyfriend. Moon, running from Star's house in a panic after glimpsing herself in the mirror and seeing only ugliness. Gale, breaking down in the hallway as she believed all her retributions were returning to her in a single blow from an angry universe. Rain, screaming bloody murder at Star, screaming Brandon's murder, and then everything after is jagged and sharp.

In the end, Star had been stronger than the three of them. One by one as they stalked her in her own home, she'd broken them down with glamours designed around their deepest fears: ugliness, retribution, and powerlessness. She couldn't bind the entire coven at once, but she could bind Rain when Moon and Gale fled into the night. Star stripped Rain of her power and took with it a piece of her sanity as well. Rain stepped out of herself for a time, drifting on the wind, and when she came back she was no longer free.

Star convinced the adults to put Rain in a psychiatric ward and there she would stay for the better part of a year. When Rain got out again, Star was gone. Moon and Gale had visited her as her still-very-much-alive family loaded up a U-Haul van. Star had been dressed all in white and was styling herself a 'Good Witch'; whatever that meant to her was unclear, given that magic was neither good nor bad in itself. She still had her powers and was the only one of the three who did, and refused to tell the other girls if she'd bound them. They'd slunk away, grateful at least that their wishes had not been permanently reversed; Moon still shone like her namesake and no one dared touch Gale without courting instant bad luck.

The buzz of a timer brought Rain back to the boiling pot; it was time to drain the pasta. Rain shook water out of the strainer and dumped the pasta into her sauce to coat. She didn't really hate Star, not anymore. Star was a prissy self-righteous ass-boil, yes, but she was an ass-boil whose actions probably made sense to her. Brandon's death had traumatized her too, and Rain did try to harm her afterwards. She saw Rain as a witch gone bad and while she was wrong, Rain didn't have the energy to be angry about it anymore. Counseling had helped her realize blame didn't always need to be placed, not at her feet or at Star's.

Still, as she stirred deosil to coat her pasta and reached for her freshly chopped parsley, she wondered whatever had happened to that prissy self-righteous ass-boil and whether she was happy. Whether those powers she'd kept for herself had enriched her life any more than Rain's. Whether she--

A deafening crash exploded behind her and she ducked, throwing up her hands to protect her head and slinging pasta sauce all over the kitchen in the process. She whirled on her heel, shaking violently at the sound of glass breaking--so much like a window, so much like Brandon falling--and her eyes widened in disbelief. Something, a body, had hurled itself through the glass sliding door to her little patio and now lay battered and bleeding on her linoleum floors.

For the briefest of moments, she was sure it was Brandon. She didn't know how it could be him, but here he was to haunt her for what she'd done. Then she stepped closer, glass cracking under her bare heels and making her wince with pain, and saw that the body was a woman's. Long blond hair splayed over a bloody face. Glass embedded in her tanned hands. A dress that was just a little too homey to count as professional. Sprawled on her goddamn kitchen floor.

"What the hell?"

The woman shuddered and a bloody hand snaked up to grab Rain's wrist; Rain tried to jerk back but she was too slow and was held fast. "I unbind you, Rain," the woman rasped, her voice raw and ragged. "May your powers return to you."

"Star?" It was impossible, but Rain knew that voice anywhere and could feel the sudden unwelcome tug of magic on her body.

Star coughed, blood bubbling over her tongue and staining her pale frock. "I unbind you, Rain, may your powers return to you."

"No! Don't you dare--" Rain struggled, twisting in her grip, but it was like trying to escape a vise.

"I unbind you, Rain, may your powers return to you. And I need... your help."

"Star, goddamn it, no!" But it was too late. Rain felt the rush of power return, the tingling behind her eyeballs that felt so much like lightning in a summer storm. Star's head dropped back to the floor, her eyes lolling into her head as she lost consciousness. Rain couldn't tell if she was alive or dead, and was dearly tempted to make sure the old-fashioned way with a knife.

"Star, you fucking bitch."


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