by M.L. Paige

There are magicks in the world, believe you me. Not all that fireball, wall of water, sparks flying nonsense–those are just silly children’s stories–but magicks in the form of lurking tendrils under existence, forbidden truths that challenge the very nature of what we assume must be. You’re laughing, snickering under your breath and hey, that’s alright. I was like you once.

Then I crossed paths with a Witch.

Let me back up a bit. She wasn’t really a witch-witch–no hook nose, no emerald skin, no broom–but that’s what she called herself. I guess Sorceress would fit too, as would Shaman, as would probably a dozen other names I don’t even know. Whatever you call her though, Plumeria was something I sure as hell had never encountered before. Perhaps if I had I would’ve been a bit more respectful, or at least not as goddamn stupid. But what can you do? Hindsight, 20/20, blah blah blah.

I’d first spotted her at a tequila bar down in the Lower East Side, one of those faux-Cuban spaces slathered in sea green and peach that plays grating Latin music and always has its lights on too bright. I was drunk and alone, but the night had started quite the opposite with me starkly sober and joined by a meal-ticket date who I told to go fuck herself when she tried to order her third glass of Don Julio Real. As soon as she was gone the Reals began to flow again and somewhere in that agave cacophony is when Plumeria showed up.

She was a phantom with hips, all funereal in her black flowy anti-summer dress with eyes like volcanic stone and skin so creamy that the harsh bar lights made her veins show through. She was alone too, but cast a field around her so that she suffered none of the elbow bumping and loud talking that I did. Instead she was free to arch over her liquor, taking sips with lacquered crimson lips as if she were merely wetting her mouth with the tequila instead of drinking it.

Plumeria was one of those women who looked tall but just had stunning posture (as opposed to me with my six feet and change and my perpetual slump). It made it impossible to look anywhere else in the bar and before long Plumeria caught me trying catch her eye and stared me down with an impish little smile until I looked away.

A minute later a glass arrived before me.

“From the lady at the end of the bar,” said the unapologetically gringo bartender. “Don Julio Real.” He set the bottle down on the bar, its slender neck rising above a wide, flat base of amber.

“Did you tell her what I was drinking?” I asked in a drunken slur.

The gringo raised a caterpillar eyebrow at me. “If you don’t want it…”

“No,” I said, snatching the glass off the bar before it could be withdrawn. “Thank you.”

I looked down at my benefactor but she was busy tracing a finger along the rim of her glass, no trace of flirtation or even a smile on her face. Unseen, I toasted her with my glass chalice of tequila raised in the air and then took a long, deep sip of the liquor. It warmed me from the inside out, blooming heat filling my arms and legs and a delicate tingly wave washing over my scalp. Was this the real Real? It tasted different–stronger–and I glanced down at the bottle to see if the bartender had made a mistake.

The bottle was gone.

“Excuse me,” said a silken voice in my left ear.

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