"Forgive my rhyme, but I'm in a bind. Do your best to make me primed."
Please work, I thought to myself. Desperate for my magic to perform. It didn't always answer me when I used it for my own purposes, fickle thing, but I was hoping it'd sense my urgency and come through today. I'd overslept and was running late for an interview!
I stared at my face in the mirror and watched in fascination as it went from puffy and red to smooth and radiant. My blonde hair was next. Dull and tangled to glossy and wavy. I sighed in relief as I was made up and quickly dressed in my favorite witchy interview outfit. A black blouse and a knee-length skirt. The outfit was a perfect mix of professional and spooky, with the bonus of outlining my figure in all the right places.
Once ready, I hurried out of my room and down the stairs, cringing at the creaks it made under my weight. When I reached the kitchen, I wasn't surprised to find my mother sitting at the table with a steaming cup of coffee in front of her, the pleasant aroma of it filling the air.
She eyed my attire and nodded approvingly. "Good morning, Narissa. For a moment there, I was worried you'd overslept."
"Nah," I lied as I swiped an orange from the fruit bowl in the center of the table. "I was just practicing the art of the persuasive pitch to sell myself to someone else."
With angry fingers, I tore the rind off the orange, causing juice to drip onto the kitchen tile. A refreshing citrus scent filled my lungs with the next breath, easing some tension. Not all of it. The prospect of reporting to a superior still bothered me.
I was used to running my own life, being my own boss. It didn't sit well with me that my business took a hit, and I ended up back home with nothing but my family's pity. I'd never been so low in my life. I was an accomplished woman, with a self-made empire, but I'd failed at the one thing I'd always been good at: learning secrets. As it turned out, being a clairvoyant came with a lot of enemies, and I knew my company only flopped because someone wanted to keep their secrets buried. Having the ability to uncover secrets, I should've seen it coming... but I didn't, so there was that.
Mom snorted, her eyes dancing with amusement, knowing I was being a bit of a smart aleck. "Funny. You act like you wouldn't be running things. Anyone would jump at the chance to hire a Spellcaster and fulfill our wishes. Speaking of which, you've yet to share who you're interviewing with." I could hear the subtext in her voice, the nosiness.
Yep. That was intentional. There was no way I'd tell her who I was about to meet. This secret was coming with me to the grave. There was no talking me out of it, and I wasn't in the mood for my family's judgment on my lifestyle choices. I didn't have many options, and I wasn't about to drag myself to a mundane job every day just to earn an income. I had too much pride for that.
... Okay, so I had options. I was just being picky. But why shouldn't I be? I was a Spellcaster, with a unique skill set, and I wanted to use it.
The thing about my family was we were a coven of well-known witches, and our name brand was all over the realm. The Spellcasters. As much as I hated being known by everyone in our little supernatural hallow, Netherville, I couldn't deny the perks of it sometimes; like being exempt from taxes.
But because of this, Grams regularly expressed her disapproval of what I did for a living, claiming I was sullying our family's good reputation. My argument was always the same- no one would ever know.
Well, someone did.
Thankfully, the mystery witch didn't oust me as the owner of the business. Not because she was considerate, but because there was a code among witches; never make an enemy of a sister coven. Technically, she followed that code, and only made an enemy of me, not my coven. My family had no hard feelings, not when she kept our name out of a scandal, and that stung.
Though, if word ever got out about me taking this new job, it was certainly going to stain our pristine record. But again, my options were limited. No one was allowed to know I had the ability to uncover secrets, and since they thought I was a mundane witch, it made me the least desirable Spellcaster.
Ha! Joke was on them because apparently, hunting secrets was a high demand.
A month ago, my operation was flourishing. I'd take new clients daily without having to advertise. Until one day I got a letter, accusing me of crossing a line I'd wished I'd never crossed. I didn't think much of it at the time, but little did I know, it was the beginning of the end.
A displeased witch I'd stolen a secret from had put a curse on my practice. I thought I was protected since I used an alias. No person in their right mind would be in my profession and not have some kind of security in place. But, evidently, it wasn't enough.
For the past few weeks, I'd been trying to remove it or find a loophole. I found none, and in the end, with no one wanting my services, my earnings had dried up and I had to close up shop.
Sighing, I pushed the depressing thought away, returning my attention to our conversation.
"Oh, it's just some rich guy who thinks he's hot-shit," I shared as I popped a piece of orange into my mouth and a sweet juice burst onto my tongue.
My evading didn't go unnoticed. The suspicious glint in Mom's eyes was unmistakable.
"Sounds like you're dreading working for him. If that's the case, why don't you try to get a job with Beatrice?" Mom offered as she thumbed the rim of her mug. "I'm sure there's a position open at the lab."
My response was a blank expression, letting my disinterest speak for itself.
My older sister Beatrice served as an aide to Doctor Frankenstein at the regional coroner's department. As a necromancer, she was charged with preserving the cadavers. Barf. That career sounded far from appealing.
Mom huffed and brought her drink to her lips. "Is it wrong for me to wish that you reach the same level of success as other Spellcaster women?"
I internally scoffed. Success? Please. None of them had remarkable careers that they built from the ground up. They used their surname to get ahead.
My younger sister, Sabrina, had a career in horticulture with the double-N. P. A.; the Netherville Noxious Plants Association, which was handed to her because of our family's fame and her affinity for plants.
Aunt Helga and her three daughters, all of whom were blood witches, were employed at the vampire's blood bank. Sure, they were well-respected members of the vampire community, but they were also bound by a blood oath to keep their more sinister aspects a secret from the rest of the world. That secret being where they got their donors from.
I had my affinity to thank for learning that disturbing tidbit.
Then there was my Aunt Regina, who worked at an apothecary, and her daughters, Rebecca, Nancy, and Abigail, who were all employed in Netherville's public health department, as venomologists and pathologists, respectively. They studied the effects of venom and other diseases. Right now, they were looking for a cure to zombieism. Cool as it was, I doubted they'd have any luck. People had been trying for over a century and a half.
Grams ran the family-owned trinket shop, where she sold everything from crystal balls to tomes, running a side business as an herbologist. She'd been handed the shop, as would my aunt Regina once Gram retired, and then it'd go to Sabrina- always passed to the Spellcaster with the affinity for nature.
I took in my mom, wearing her Victorian-inspired lantern-sleeve corset dress. Out of everyone in the Spellcaster family, I'd say she worked the hardest for her position. Being Head Mistress at Netherville's Academy of Witchcraft was no easy feat, but it was a position she'd earned by working her butt off for years, teaching spell casting to the next generation of witches (no surprise there).
Every member of my family had a job that aligned with their affinities and was happy performing for others- as was expected of our coven. Except me. It was a challenge to sniff out an industry that dealt with clandestine affairs, which was why I made my own... and why I felt drawn to this specific job.
"I know Mom," I said to her as I finished off my orange, and went to the sink to rinse my hands. "And I appreciate you for it. But walking in another Spellcaster's footsteps has never appealed to me. I'll regain my success the way I did before; through hard work and taking risks. After all, I can't let my years of education go to waste." I gave her a knowing wink.
Mom's smile conveyed a sense of pride. "That's my girl." Her face lit up more as a thought occurred to her. "Oh, I know! I can see if there's an opening in the faculty!"
A sharp laugh burst out of me. "No, Mom, I love you, but I don't have the patience to teach. The fact you have for so many years is impressive."
"It hasn't been that long," she mumbled as I walked around the table to plant a kiss on her golden head of hair.
"Course it hasn't. I gotta get going. Love ya, wish me luck!" I shouted over my shoulder as I left the kitchen.
"May clovers bring you fortune!" She called after me.
Upon leaving my house, I struggled to get the door closed, its hinges resisting after centuries of use. The unconventional manor, with its unique gothic design, exuded antiquity. Time certainly had taken its toll, leaving the structure in a state of disrepair. The once grand facade now showed signs of weathering, with cracked windows and crumbling plaster. The interior was no exception, with creaking floorboards and peeling paint. Urgent attention was needed to restore the manor to its former glory and preserve its historical significance.
Being a witch had its perks, but as magic was a gift from nature, it wouldn't always cooperate when we tried to use it for selfish purposes. So real labor was our only option, only we didn't have the funds for all that needed to be fixed. Our coffers were drained dry two decades ago when Aunt Regina made a bad investment in a magical flower Nymphs had said maintained youth. Needless to say, it was a scam, and, bless Regina's gentle soul, she was quite gullible.
It was a dream of mine to earn enough wages to afford the cost needed for the repairs. Ah, the irony! Just when I thought I was finally amassing my small fortune, it all went down the drain with a splash of unemployment. Sigh. Dreams could be so fleeting.
Crisp air filled my lungs as I set off down the cobblestone pathway. A morning fog draped over the front yard cemetery, giving it a charming and inviting allure. The howl of the wind and familiar caws of crows added to the haunting ambiance, making it a beautiful, peaceful stroll.
It was a short walk from the edge of my family's property to town, but the outfit I'd chosen made it feel like a ten-mile hike. I probably should've taken my commute into account when I picked my outfit, but alas, the damage was done.
The people in Netherville who'd known me since I was a baby greeted me with twisted grimaces and scowls. I gave a respectful grunt to my ogre neighbor Hagrok, and they responded with a slight curl of their upper lip. They must be in a good mood for that was perhaps the warmest acknowledgement I'd ever received.
As I made my way through the city, my mind wandered to the upcoming interview, and my nerves began to crawl around inside me like a bunch of worms.
I pulled out the job listing, double-checking that I had the address right.
With a sigh, I shoved the paper back into my purse and set off in the direction where it said Nefarious Enterprises was located, glancing over my shoulder to ensure no one was watching. Last thing I needed was being spotted approaching a villain's headquarters.
Up Wailing Hill and beyond the tangle of dead over-growth sat an ominous stone archway and wrought iron gate with a fresh placard on it.
Beware, evil villain lie beyond this point.
Enter at thy own discration discreetion risk.
I paused for a moment, studying it. Was I at the right place? Checking the address, I confirmed I was.
I heard the villain had been in the business for a month or so and wasn't very good at it. People here were a judgmental bunch, though. They turned him into a laughingstock of town simply because he was the new kid on the block and hadn't had a chance to make a name for himself yet. He should consider himself lucky, with me as his secretary, that'd be resolved in no time.
No, my brain instantly objected, arguing that no matter what, I couldn't blur that line between work and family. I'd have to make sure I didn't slip up and reveal my true identity to him.
Pushing through the gate, I entered the darkened passageway, noting the imposing dark fortress in the distance. Vultures Manor was what it was called, earning the title from the carrion birds that soared above the place. Up the gable, I caught a glimpse of said avians pecking at something.
It was still twitching.
Shaking my head, I continued onward, my eyes scanning the unmanicured grounds. A carpet of moss and ivy snaked over the old brick and stone, sprouting from cracks in the ground, and making it difficult to traverse the thick vegetation in the heels I chose to wear.
That won't do.
"Oh, plants so fine, please be dear, move aside, make the pathway clear."
A smile danced on my lips as the whispers of leaves brushing the ground made their way into my ears. They tucked themselves in and out of the way until I was able to walk straight to the manor's front door.
Coming to a halt at the large wooden entrance, I lifted my hand to the skull knocker but stopped myself when I thought about who'd be answering. Wouldn't it be the Secretary he didn't yet have? Unless he also lived here, in which case it'd be his footman. Another glance around the front gardens made me doubt he had one.
Show initiative, a thought jumped out at me, and it had a point. If I was going to be his Secretary, I might as well show him now that I was capable of the job.
Mind made up, I grabbed the handle and squeezed. The heavy door swung open with a loud groan, like a waking giant yawning.
Well, that was one way of announcing myself.
Lifting a foot, I'd barely made it a step over the threshold when a cloud of dust assaulted my senses. I coughed, inhaling more of the particles with each intake of air. By Devils, I was going to suffocate at this rate!
"Sweep the dust *cough* from this place,*cough* let clean air, *cough* fill the space!"
A pleasant breeze swept past me, circulating around the empty room and filtering it with breathable air. Sucking in the cured oxygen, I sighed in relief. I'd have to garden later or show nature my appreciation in some way for not failing me with my magic today.
Huh. On second thought, maybe it was a sign? Maybe this was nature's way of showing its approval or guiding me on the path I needed to be on?
Taking it as a good omen, I advanced into the open foray, feeling confident about my odds. Perhaps things were changing for the better?
That optimism sank when I did as my foot caught a hole in the wooden floorboards. I hit the hard ground with a thud, causing another cloud of dust to spring up.
Seriously? This place was in worse condition than Spellcaster Manor.
"Apologies. I've been meaning to get that hole mended."
At the sound of the voice, I glanced up at the spiral staircase. A somewhat appealing man I assumed was the newest and youngest villain stood in the center of it, looking down at me with brilliant hazel eyes. He had pale skin, dark swept-back hair, and wore the most gaudy cliché, black, high-collared cape.
Flushing, I scrambled to my feet, murmuring the same spell from this morning to clean myself up.
The villain's face brightened at my use of magic, but he quickly tried to mask it with a bored expression. I quirked a brow. It was a tad late to hide his fascination.
He cleared his throat. "I'm dreadfully sorry, I have so many appointments today, which were you?" He asked with a theatrical wave of his hand.
I scanned the empty foray. He was messing with me... right?
"Na..." I caught myself before giving my full name and instead, gave the alias I used when I applied. "Issa Charmington. I believe I have an interview with you for the Secretary position."
"Issa?" He tested my name, though he sounded like he was hacking. "What an unfun name. You should give it an artistic touch, like mine. Nefarious Thaddeus!"
He threw his hand in the air like he expected some grand firework display to happen above him. When nothing did, he cleared his throat again, annoyed rather than embarrassed, and ran his hand down his cape to smooth it out. "If you get this position, the first thing we'll work on is the pizzazz of my introductions. Now, if you'll follow me to my off- I mean lair, we can get started on this interview."
With a scowl pointed at me, he spun, sweeping his cape out to the side with a melodramatic style as he climbed the stairs. As he did, I caught sight of his other arm, which was held to his chest in a sling.
My jaw nearly hit the floor I was so dumbstruck. The rumors about him were right. I was stuck between wanting to laugh and high-tailing it out of there. But then images of my family's manor flashed before my eyes, and Mom's pressure to take a job with my sisters or cousins rang throughout my ears. I swore by the time her voice faded, they were bleeding.
It wasn't that I didn't love my family. I did. But they were so content with their mediocre lives and bending to the will of others, while just the thought nearly crippled me. Sure, I'd be a Secretary, the difference was I knew this was temporary. They, however, made their nests, and it seemed pretty permanent.
With that thought, I followed him, taking the steps two at a time. Dust and cobwebs coated the banister, and I was sure I heard the rustling of mice and rats in the wall's recesses. It was a far cry from what I'd envisioned, and if I were being honest, a little bit of me was dying inside. Only the mantra 'this is temporary' kept me going.
The staircase opened up into a large platform with a broken chandelier hanging above. It would make for a perfect lobby when this place was fixed up and running.
Thaddeus stopped at a door. "This is the lair." When he continued to just stand there, I realized he was waiting for me to open it.
I glanced skyward, praying for the Stars' strength. Help me get through this.
Reaching around him for the handle, I pushed it open, and the two of us walked into a massive room, lit by a few torches and a grand stone fireplace. I was taken aback by the sheer size of it. It surpassed the Spellcaster Manor in size, but definitely not in grandeur.
"Have a seat." Thaddeus gestured to a stained velvet chair resting in the center of the room while he took a wingback chair behind a large mahogany desk, banging his knee in the process and swearing through his teeth.
Embarrassed for him, I pretended not to notice and moved toward the seat indicated, only for a cloying smell to hit me with such force that I nearly vomited. By Devils, where was that stench coming from? Was it the chair!?
I brought my hand up to cover my nose. There were dark, moth-eaten curtains draping over high windows, and I was tempted to open one.
"It's a little sparse, but it'll do for now," he said, misreading my wandering gaze.
Nodding, I perched on the edge of the stiff cushion, already knowing I'd regret working for this amateur villain. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe, I could take this role temporarily and earn some work experience before I moved on to something better.
"So," he started and folded his hands over his desk, giving me a clearer view of his cast. "Tell me things."
I met his gaze and used my affinity to learn his secrets. With anyone else, the truths hidden behind their eyes would've come to the surface. Every hidden, dirty, and downright sinful thing they'd ever done and wanted erased would've flowed from their eyes into mine.
Not this guy.
It was as if he didn't have any secrets...
I mentally shook myself, remembering he asked a question. "What did you want to know?"
Now that we were in closer range, I noticed bruising along his jaw, a broken nose, and a swollen lip. I couldn't help but stare. What the Devils happened to him?
He sucked in his cheek. "Honestly, I'm not quite sure how these things go."
My brow gave an involuntary twitch, the only sign of my exasperation. "Didn't you interview others before me?"
He sniffed and plucked a non-existent lint from his cape. "No. Only you applied for the position, which is odd. Who wouldn't want to work for me- a supervillain?"
This time, there was no hiding my disbelief and judgment. He had to be joking. The thing was, I didn't think he was acting the part of a witless, egocentric, accident-prone villain. He seemed like the real deal.
I ran my fingers through the fabric of my skirt, needing to grip something lest I jump out of my seat running. "Usually, the employer asks a list of questions to assess whether the candidate is capable of performing the required job duties, and inquires about other professional details they'd like to know."
He perked up at that. "Oh, in that case, give me a second." Using his good arm, he reached for a drawer and pulled out a pen and a small leather book. After flipping a few pages, he began to jot things down.
I could only stare at him, wondering what the Devils I was still doing in this smelly seat. He was completely unprepared for this interview. And yet I berated myself for waking up late!
Finished, he straightened in his seat and cleared his throat. "Ready?" I nodded stiffly. "Perfect. Tell me, Issa, how do you react when things get..." he glanced at his notepad, "stressful?"
It took a few seconds for me to collect myself and force a smile. "I'd say I do well in any condition but thrive under pressure."
He nodded, seeming pleased by that answer, and glanced at his notepad, reading the next question. "How high is your tolerance for blood?"
"As high as the average vampire's."
Impressed, he scribbled something quick that looked suspiciously like a smiley face. "What about the sound of eyes being squished?"
At this point, I wasn't surprised by the benighted questions he was asking. "I find it therapeutic."
He jotted another smiley face.
"And... what about screams of pain and terror?"
"Music to my ears. A melodic horror, I'd say."
His eyes glistened excitedly, and I bit back a laugh as he wrote it down, mouthing melodic horror, no doubt planning to use it at some point in the future.
"What would you claim you're most passionate about?"
Wow, a real question. I actually had to think about that one. "I was passionate about work. Or, I still am. It's rewarding in a lot of ways, simply because it doesn't feel like work. Therefore, I'd say I'm passionate about anything that includes my talents."
"So not bringing down your enemies? Hmm." Disappointed, he went to write that on his little notepad.
"Oh, but of course, seeking revenge on each and every one of my nemesis is my number one goal in life," I hurried to say and gave a huff of relief when he smiled.
"It says here you dealt in secrets before." He lifted up a sheet of paper I hadn't noticed for emphasis. My resume, I gathered. "Can I assume that you are well-versed in the importance of confidentiality then?"
This guy was a joke among villains and was sure to leak his own dirty laundry. But a job was a job, and he needn't ever worry about my discretion. In fact, if I got the job, I wouldn't even breathe a word that I worked here, such was the level of confidentiality I'd keep. "Yes, you can."
"Great! Now, I know this wasn't stated in the job ad, but in light of a recent... incident, I must insist knowledge of dragons and goblins is a necessity. Can you tell me about your experience in these areas?"
I tried really hard not to look at him like a naive fool. What on earth was he getting himself into with dragons and goblins? And should I be worried about my own welfare if I get employed here? "Actually, I minored in Supernatural Studies back in college and would consider my knowledge in any category of Mystical Beings quite extensive."
He pulled a face. "My father was quite adamant I go to college, but I refused. I didn't see a point. A villain doesn't need formal schooling or a degree to be a skilled practitioner in evil."
He steepled his fingers in front of his face, wincing from the pain in his injured arm. "Alright, Miss Charmington, here's your chance to impress me."
"Yes. Give me a reason to hire you."
I blinked in astonishment. "A reason? The reason that I was the only applicant should be reason enough," my irritation bled into my tone.
He looked away, raising his nose in the air like an entitled, petulant child. "It's not."
I squeezed my skirt in a white-knuckle grip, on the verge of screaming at him when he stood and strode to another door in the room. He opened it, and I was instantly blinded by the beam of light reflecting off the piles and piles of gold he had stashed within it.
I felt my jaw go slack.
"I come from a wealthy background, and can't afford to have just anyone roaming around my lair, with access to not only my funds but my evil schemes as well."
I snorted before I could stop myself, and he tossed a glare at me. "You might be my only applicant, but that doesn't mean I'll automatically hire you. Convince me you're worth it, otherwise, you're wasting my time."
His words were cold, and they took me off guard. There was that evil, commanding side I'd yet to see, and it made me shiver- in both unease and excitement.
My thoughts ran in a thousand directions. I needed this job. I needed that money. And now knowing he had the potential to be a villain, this might not be so bad.
With resolve, I stood from my seat and walked over to him, then recited a chant I learned back in my adventurous teen years. "I call on the power of the Stars, heal his wounds without any scars."
I held my breath as I waited for the magic to work. If there was ever a time that I needed it to not be stubborn, this was it.
To my relief, it listened, and I sucked down a deep breath as his bruised face turned to a surprisingly dashing one.
He grinned and stretched out the arm that had been in the sling, wiggling his fingers and flexing his hand. "Ah, that's better. It must be nice to have magic readily available whenever. I bet you even cast spells to make your enemies cower in fear." He eyed me expectantly.
"Uh, sure?" I didn't know how else to respond, but a mischievous glint in his gaze had me questioning whether I should have admitted that.
"Wonderful! You're hired!" He said in a tone that was so snobby, I wanted to bruise him all over again. "You'll start today. Now, let's get this place cleaned up and running. Can't be seen in a shabby house when I'm trying to terrorize my visitors!" He enthusiastically pivoted to his desk, only to trip over his cape and fall flat on his face.
I brought my hand up to my temple and sighed.
Devils, did I have my work cut out for me.
About the Creator
I never believed the sky is the limit, therefore my passions are expansive. My interest in writing stemmed from poetry but my heart lead me to Sci-Fi Fantasy. Consequently, my stories are plot-driven with splashes of evocative elements.