Anna shouldered her bag, rearranged her coat, and stared up at the skyline.
“Gosh, that’s a big city,” she said before biting her lip and wincing. “Too big.”
“Oh, would you hurry the hell up. You think I want to stand here all day while you wince at the goddamn skyline? Or do you think, just maybe, a great witch like me has something better to do?”
Anna swung her head down to look at the tabby cat sitting next to her feet. The cat was a dusty brown color, with a collection of odd spots and stripes running down her head. She also had the most peeved expression a feline had ever possessed. Considering cats were domesticated to look down on humans, that was saying something.
“Don’t just stand there – hurry up,” the cat spat.
“Alright, alright – I just wanted to pause to see what I was up against. Because that sure is a big city.” She turned back to the view, nerves snaking around her gut and making her feel exquisitely queasy. On account of her being a witch allergic to magic, Anna spent most of her life feeling ill.
In fact, she could feel a snuffle coming on. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her pink floral handkerchief.
“Oh the goddess, you are the worst witch in the world. You can’t even think about magic without getting a runny nose. Now hurry the hell up, stop staring at the city, and jolly well take me to our new house. I want some milk … and some tuna. Perhaps with a sprig of dill,” the cat added thoughtfully.
“I don’t want to rain on your parade, but we don’t exactly have much cash anymore. We spent almost all of it on the plane trip to get here. I’ve got enough for the month’s rent – which I have to prepay. But that’s it. Until we find some work, it looks like we’ll have to go hungry.”
“Until we find work? Who the hell is this we? I am the spirit of one of the most powerful witches ever to have lived. Do you honestly think I will lower myself to work?” Her voice trilled on the word work as if it were the nastiest curse this side of a death hex.
“Okay, I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to insult you. I’m the one who’ll be working.”
“Call me by my proper name when talking to me, girl.”
“Oh the Wondrous and Great Luminaria von Tippit, I apologize for my insincerity.”
“Do not pronounce Tippit like that. It is a powerful word, you foolish witch.”
Anna rolled her eyes – an unusual move of defiance for someone as admittedly timid as she was. Still, no matter what way she looked at it, Tippit was about the least powerful witch’s name she’d heard. Even Anna Hope Summersville was punchier – well, just a little.
Not for the first time, she started to wonder whether she could do this. When she’d accepted her transfer to Marchtown, she’d been over the moon. Finally a chance to reinvent herself. Away from friends and family, she could find a new life. She could flourish.
Now as she looked up at the spires and towers of Marchtown, she reminded herself she wasn’t the flourishing type.
She bit her lips, sinking her teeth into the flesh until the slight stab of pain cut through her trembling nerves.
“Hurry up,” Luminaria spat. “You are contract-bound to look after me, young witch. Need I remind you what will happen if you don’t?”
Anna made a squeaking noise and pushed off down the road.
She had a lot to do today. Once she settled Luminaria into their new home, Anna had to meet her new boss.
Though Marchtown had its own police force, the dynamics of magical crime-enforcement were different to Vale. For one, the police knew nothing about magic. The witches, wizards, and magicians kept that secret to themselves. They also enforced the law.
Considering the three races didn’t always get along, a council had been formed to oversee magical law enforcement. The council was the body ultimately responsible for determining the punishments of criminals, yet they weren’t responsible for the day-to-day plod work. Rather, the council gave out bounty-hunter licenses to “reputable magical folk” who brought in criminals as per the council’s bulletins.
Anna certainly had not applied to become a bounty hunter. Though she had some experience in tracking down and apprehending criminals through her work with Vale Police Department, that would not prepare her for magical bounty hunting. The only loons desperate and dumb enough to get into that line of work had a skull as thick as a mountain, and a body to match. Magical bounty hunting was one of the most dangerous jobs out there.
No, Anna’s transfer would take her into the office of the Magical Enforcement Council. The grunt work would be left up to people who could grunt – the most Anna could manage was a pathetic “hup,” and that wouldn’t scare a baby bird.
“I’m getting tired,” Luminaria suddenly announced, shifting her small head back and twitching her whiskers disdainfully. “Carry me, vassal.”
“Shoosh, we’re coming onto populated streets,” Anna said under her breath. “You can’t speak in front of a normal person – you’re a cat.”
“Oh pish – this hellhole hasn’t seen a normal person for centuries. Just look at them all,” Luminaria turned her tiny head left and right as she pointed out various people with her tail, “they’ve all got pacts with the Devil, mark my words. It takes one to know one, and I can sense their kindred spirits.”
Anna looked around. Rather than seeing a gleefully evil population, sacrificing chickens and drinking goats’ blood, she saw an old lady walking a corgi, a bin man smoking a cigarette, and a child walking hand-in-hand with her mother.
Unless this group of particularly innocuous citizens was very good at hiding their Devil pacts, it was safe to say Luminaria was overreacting.
“They’re just normal people. Now keep your voice down.”
“Normal?” Luminaria hissed quietly. “I sense great evil in the air. Mark my words – this city is damned. I’m going to have a hell of a lot of fun living here,” she added triumphantly.
Anna pressed her lips together and tried her hardest to ignore Luminaria.
If it were up to Anna, she would ditch the possessed cat at the pound – but that would be a great way of winding up dead.
Luminaria was contracted to Anna, and to break the contract would break Anna.
Hurrying through the streets, she ignored Luminaria’s constant commentary until they made it their new house.
Standing on the pavement and looking across at it, Anna quickly grabbed her phone and checked the address.
666 Hollow Crescent.
Yep, this was the place.
She returned her phone to her pocket and winced as if she’d been punched with a brick.
The place before her was exactly the kind of house to chuck a brick at someone’s head.
It wasn’t rundown, so much as creepy. Magically creepy.
Luminaria sniffed the pavement, padded up to the letterbox, gave it a calculating look, then tipped her tiny cat head back and laughed manically.
“Shoosh – keep your voice down! We’re in the middle of the street.” Anna reluctantly left the safety of the pavement to reach Luminaria.
“Oh, this place is perfect. Can you feel that dark chaotic energy? It beckons me.” Luminaria was a tiny cat – the kind of feline who’d never grown much bigger than a kitten. Well, right now she stalked towards the house, and she looked as menacing as a tiger.
No … she still looked like a kitten, just one clearly unaware of how small and cute she was.
“Wait up,” Anna said, exasperation making her tone pitch high, “don’t approach that house! There must have been a mistake. We can’t live here. This place is—”
“Delicious. Its energies will sustain me and my great plans.”
“—Evil,” Anna finished. “I’m just going to make a call to ensure this is the right place.” She looked up at the imposing weatherboard and stone house and made a face. “Because it definitely can’t be.”
It took a few minutes before her worst nightmares were confirmed – 666 Hollow Crescent was indeed her new home.
Swallowing hard and securing her hand over the charm bracelet she always wore, Anna approached it.
Not much ever went right in her life. In fact, she was easily the unluckiest witch in the world. From allergies to possessed cats, Anna Hope Summersville never caught a break. A cold, yes. Always yes.
But maybe, just maybe this new job would change everything.
Crossing into the yard of this massively creepy house, she kindled a little hope. If she could do a good job in Marchtown, maybe her prospects would change. If she worked hard in her new position, maybe life would start smiling at her.
Or maybe not.
The rest of Anna's Hope Episode One is currently available from most ebook retailers.