Emily Banner looked at the lock of hair in her hands and felt nervous. She slammed the book closed so hard its ancient dust wafted in the air around her nose, a stark reminder of her failure. She sniffled twice as she glanced at the other people in the library. No one cared about her troubles. All were committed to their pursuits, unaware that the man of her dreams didn’t reciprocate her intimate desires. She twisted a lock of his hair between her fingers, the other locks she collected were tucked safely away in her jacket pocket. The hair was precious, a token from her daring barber shop thievery yesterday afternoon.
She had risked everything to get it.
Every Friday he got a haircut. Emily watched through the barber shop’s window from her perch across the street for Jackson Kent’s arrival. Emily salivated as she watched the barber run the clippers along the back of Jackson’s neck as his hair fell forgotten to the floor. She ducked behind garbage receptacles and lamp posts, waiting for the barber to finish. Jackson paid the barber and admired his reflection in the mirror before he walked out the front door.
As soon as he left, Emily dialed the shop landline from her mobile. When the barber ducked behind the curtain to answer the ringing phone she sprang into action, just as she planned. With the barber out of her way she could sneak into the shop and swipe up a handful of Jackson’s hair with no one the wiser. Her plan was manic lunacy, but it worked. She had Jackson’s hair.
It was all for nothing. The spell was precise, the calculations were definite. Jackson Kent should be en route to her at the library this exact moment. She should feel his arrival in her bones. But the magic didn’t work, she felt the same. She felt no pull or push, no yin and yang at conflict. Her heart was unchanged, Jackson’s heart would be the same too.
One thing she knew for fact. She was a pure mortal. Her aunts were wrong.
She wasn’t a witch after all.
She was running out of time. The autumn equinox was a week away. She had to do something to get Jackson’s attention and make him notice her. It was now or never. The stars had aligned. Even the governing element of air was favorable for spells. The same air one needs to breathe. In theory, if she was a witch, casting the love spell was the way to go.
But she wasn’t a witch. Emily needed a new plan on how to make Jackson Kent love her.
Emily sighed as she shifted her weight in the chair. On the library table sat the two books she was reading. Hocus Focus a Book of Love Spells for the Novice Witch was a gift from the Aunts. Of course she had a copy of Shakespeare’s classic yet tragic love tale, Romeo and Juliet. She opened the magic book again to the dog-eared page for the spell she tried. She placed the lock of hair between the pages of the book, using it as a bookmarker.
Her mobile was set to vibrate as the screen lit up with a notification. Emily tilted her phone towards her to read what it said.
It was a message from the dating app Bumble of all things. Nick Bishop’s smirking face covered her phone screen. She had matched with him!
Emily stared at Nick’s photo as she shook her head in disbelief. Nick was not her type. He was funny, sure, but he was no Jackson Kent. The two men’s personalities were total opposites. Nick was always cracking jokes, making light of every situation. He was immature, he took nothing serious. Jackson was more of the brooding type. Hard to read, aloof and mysterious. She swiped the app closed.
Emily stood as she stuffed her bookbag and collected her other belongings. As she walked through the library she sensed she was being watched. Several of the men’s eyes darted up from their studies as she made her way through the library. Each gave her a timid smile. That’s weird, she thought, as she hugged the book of spells closer to her chest. Witch or not, the book was her amulet.
Her flushed face met the crisp fall air as she pushed open the exit door of the library. Emily felt her phone vibrate again in her jeans pocket.
“Miss Banner!” Emily paused as she looked down the street. Her math professor waved his hand in the air as he rushed to catch up to her.
“Professor Taylor,” Emily greeted him, astonished. She had never seen him move so fast.
“Miss Banner. May I call you Emily?” Professor Taylor asked, as he bent over in front of her. He placed his hands on his thighs as he caught his breath.
Emily’s forehead knitted. “Sure, I guess,” she said.
Professor Taylor corrected his posture, his breathing labored. “I’m not sure what’s come over me,” he said, his voice winded. Emily noticed his sweaty temples.
“When I saw you walk out of the library, I just had to talk to you. Are you free tonight to have dinner?” He asked. “With me?” He added, as he rubbed his neck with his handkerchief.
Emily took a step back away from him.
“Like a date?” She asked.
Professor Taylor, still winded, nodded his head.
Emily swallowed the lump in her throat. Professor Taylor’s behavior was awkward.
“Um, no thank you?” Emily said it like a question.
The professor nodded and adjusted his eyeglasses over his ears. “Ok, if you change your mind, let me know.”
The corner of Emily’s mouth turned upward as she turned on her heel.
“See you in class, Monday,” she said over her shoulder as she walked away.
That was weird. Professor Taylor wasn’t known as the romantic type. He didn’t date students. Emily wondered why he would ask her out? Not that she entertained him as a courter. He was too old. Way too old.
Emily’s mobile vibrated again. She shuffled her bookbag over her shoulder as she reached into her back jeans pocket to get her phone.
Her eyes bulged as she read the text from Nick Bishop. The text read: Emily, need to see you ASAP - Call me! Nick. That text was followed by another one, the yellow smiley face emoji. The one with two red hearts for the eyes and tiny T-rex hands outreached for a hug.
How did Nick get her mobile number!
Nick must have received the Bumble match notification too. She stuffed her phone back into her pocket.
As Emily rounded the corner there was a crowd of men gathered in front of the barber shop across the street. The barber stood on the sidewalk, his arms outstretched as he blocked the mob from going in his shop.
“There she is!” She heard one of the men yell out. Others cried out her name. “Emily! Emily!” The mob began a chaotic dance to cross the street. Some darted in traffic as they rushed in her direction.
Emily saw the barber's shoulders sag when the crowd ran away from his shop. She recognized a few faces in the mob moving toward her. The group was a variety of men of all ages. One man old enough to be her grandfather clutched his chest as he squatted on the pavement. Another stopped to help the man as he called her name. “Emily! We need you!”
It’s almost as if…
The spell! It must have worked! Sure, she had to work out some kinks, but she did it! As the crowd drew closer, Emily panicked. She clutched the strap of her bookbag and held tight to the book of magic in her other hand. She began to sprint down her side of the sidewalk.
She ran hard and fast. With every city block the noise behind her got quieter.
Emily ducked into an alley and kneeled behind a rusty dumpster. A few of the guys ran wild past her hiding spot.
Emily smiled as she pulled the wad of hair from her front jacket pocket. Now that she knew she really was a witch, she had power. She must use it wisely. She balanced the book of magic, Hocus Focus, a Book of Love Spells for the Novice Witch on both knees. She rubbed her fingers together as she let go of the wad of hair.
“I release you from the spell,” she said as she blew the hair off the book cover. She watched the embers flutter away in the breeze. The wind owned the hair now. The spell was undone. The men should forget about their infatuation.
That meant Jackson would forget too. She would have to try the spell again soon. This next time she would make sure it was a potent one. Emily knew just what she had to do to make it work.
Emily cut through the alleyway on the way to her apartment, just in case the spell needed some time to wean. She wasn’t far from home.
Nick Bishop sat on the stairs of her apartment stoop. He stood and smiled a toothy grin for her as she fished her housekey from her pocket.
“Hi Emily,” Nick said as she approached. The spell must need time to dissolve. She just had to bide her time.
Emily nodded as he rushed down the stairs. “Let me carry your bookbag,” he said as he grabbed the strap off her shoulder.
“I got it,” she said as her hand covered his over the strap.
“Let me help you,” he insisted. Emily lost her balance as she tried to hold onto her bag. Nick didn’t let go. They both stumbled backwards into the street.
“Look out!” He cried, as he pulled Emily back onto the sidewalk as a speeding motorcycle sped past them.
“That could have killed us both!” Emily said, shaken by the close call of nearly being run over by the motorcycle. “Get a grip,” she pleaded. Then she remembered the other book in her bag, Romeo and Juliet.
Emily jerked free from Nick’s grip. He beamed at her as though she just hung the moon. The spell worked well on him.
“Let’s hangout tonight. Want to see a movie? There’s a French film festival playing at the cinema. It’s very romantic,” Nick suggested.
Emily held both palms up as Nick’s face fell. “Hold my bag, will you?” Nick did as she asked.
Emily opened the book of magic to the page with the spell. She took the lone hair from between the pages and dropped it from her hand. “I release you from the spell,” she whispered.
That must have been Nick’s hair. He and all those other men that chased after her must use the same barber shop.
Nick stared straight ahead, stumbled once, then his glassy eyes were gone.
Nick patted his pockets as he exhaled his breath.
“Hi Emily. What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I live here,” she said as she laughed. The spell was broken.
“Ok, well, I’m not sure where I was going, but I’ll see you later,” Nick said as Emily watched him walk towards the library.
She waved at his back as she sighed.
Emily crossed the street to the hardware store. She found her item quickly. That barber needed to clean up better. As the cashier rang up the broom, Emily smiled.
The witch would deliver it to him tomorrow.
This story was written for Raymond Taylor's Write A Witch challenge. Join the fun with a short story of your own. Here's the link to Raymond's challenge.