The surface of the water was like glass as she gazed into it. Aubree stared as hard as she could, but all she could see was the water; the polished white surface beneath it; her own face staring back at her
“It’s impossible,” she muttered, going back to the book she had open at her feet. She had followed the instructions exactly, but none of it was working. She kicked the book spitefully, hurting her toe in the process, and watched it spiral across the marble floor as she sank down into a slump. Nothing was working. She had tried everything she had read online, everything anyone had ever said in a forum. She had tracked down the rarest books in the city library, and even ordered this one online for a stupidly high price. So far, all of it had been a waste of time. Aubree hauled herself to her feet again, and stalked out of the bathroom, ignoring the book where it lay. If she had looked back she might have seen a glimmer of something raising itself out of the water, but she did not.
“Honestly, Teddy, I’ve tried everything,” Aubree said, sighing and rubbing her forehead with her hand. Edward frowned. He wanted to catch her black-manicured fingernails and hold them away from her skin, but he didn’t.
“I told you this was crazy when you started,” he said. “I never expected it to work.” The instant he had said it, he regretted it. This whole business was already pushing a wedge between them, and now she was even more annoyed with him. He could tell by the small twitches in her eyelids as she fought the urge to scream at him.
“I just want him back,” she said eventually, a hollow quality to her voice that made him want to reach out and wrap her in a bear hug.
“I know,” he said, drawing a deep breath. “I’m sorry.” Aubree nodded, seemingly engrossed in examining the frayed material at the end of one of her sleeves. He knew that she was still trying to think of a way to beat this. He didn’t want to lose her. Not now, and especially not when she was already grieving someone else. He took another deep breath, and hoped he wouldn’t regret this one.
“Let’s try again, together,” he said. “Just one more time.”
Edward’s bathroom was a little more cramped than Aubree’s: There was no marble in sight, either. Now that her stepfather had moved them all into that mansion in the hills, he always felt like squirming when she came into his house: Everything he owned had started to feel so much smaller when she was in the room since then. Not that Edward had any reason to be jealous. The house was too big for the family, now, with her brother still missing. “So, the book said you have to have the water perfectly flat and still,” Aubree was saying.
“Like, no bubbles or essences or whatever. If it’s dirty or something gets in there you have to start again.” Edward looked at the water in his bathtub dubiously, wondering if it was clean enough.
“Then what?” he prompted. “Okay, so then you say an incantation, only, in your mind, not out loud. And you have to, like, focus really hard. Then eventually you’ll see it.” Edward knelt down beside her on the floor.
It was cold and hard even through his jeans. He glanced sideways at her knees, encased only in black fishnets, but she wasn’t complaining. “I’ll do it with you, then,” he suggested. She reached out and grabbed hold of his hand all of a sudden, the touch sending a rush of blood through his ears. There was no electricity, not anymore. But it was something else now. A heady disbelief, a kind of numbness while he waited for it to stop again. He knew she didn’t really mean it this time.
“We need to link up our psychic energies,” she said, by way of explanation. They stared at the water for a long time, but nothing happened. “Maybe you got the incantation wrong?” Edward suggested.
“Maybe,” Aubree said, screwing up her face. “I left the book at home.” A ripple spread on the surface of the water behind them, but neither saw as they left the room.
When they got back to the mansion, Aubree made a small sound in the back of her throat.
“What?” Edward asked, seeing concern on her face and glancing around for signs of something off.
“John would kill me if he knew I’d left the back door open,” she said, pointing out across the hallway to the kitchen and the garden beyond. “I didn’t realise it wasn’t closed when I left.”
Edward walked over and closed it, without being asked, before following her up the stairs to the master bathroom. It was an overdone affair, all marble and gold taps, the perfect illustration of John’s tastes. That wasn’t what caught his attention this time, however. The whole room was dripping wet, the bath half-empty, as if something big had got in and splashed around. The large double mirrors above the sink, the walls, even the ceiling – all of them had large, wide drop marks where the water had hit. It was still dripping down to the floor in some places, a rhythmic pattern of notes echoing through the room. The book was off to one side on the floor, somehow in the only area that was still bone dry.
“What happened here?” Edward asked. “I thought you said it didn’t work.” Aubree slowly picked up the book, shaking. Then she turned and looked down the corridor. He followed her gaze, and noticed for the first time the faint wet marks leading back the way they had come.
“Teddy,” she said, her voice high and scared now. “I think I let something through.”
THE BATH WITCH
Tabitha watched the porcelain tub filling with water, and sighed. This was her third bath of the day, and it probably wasn’t going to help any. She had been trying to solve this problem all week. The vision had been too broken up, too muddy, to see it properly. The small things she had seen and made sense of, the flames and the scent of burning flesh, made for a maddening hint of whatever else she was missing.
Each time she got into the tub today, however, the visions had been gone. Or elsewhere. She was getting all kinds of signs about things in the future which weren’t anything to do with the burning and crying. Things that, right now, just didn’t seem important in comparison. Tabitha traced a finger through the hot liquid, watching the foamy bubbles parting to reveal lavender-coloured water underneath. The fancy bath bombs didn’t help her magic, but they definitely made the experience more pleasant. The scent hanging in the air now was soothing and delicate, and she would need that if the vision came back this time.
She turned off the tap, judging it to be full enough at last. She shucked off her bathrobe and stepped in, fluidly, all of her movements in tune with the natural force which took over as soon as she touched the water. She could feel the power thrumming in the air now, humming inside of her and waiting to be released. Her dark skin tingled as it made contact with the lavender water, every cell of her body reacting to the magic. Lighting up with potential. She closed her eyes to sink under the water, trying not to give herself enough time to think about it.
Instead she seized onto the anger. Anger was a powerful emotion, and she was mad – mad that she hadn’t been able to find a clearer vision yet. Letting the fury drive her and amplify, she stopped breathing, allowing the water to fuel her life.
When she surfaced, she was not sure how much time had passed. Half an hour, or ten minutes, or three days – it all felt the same under the water. But the bath was still warm, and the air still smelt of lavender, and so she allowed herself to breath for a moment. She could feel the bubbles of foam popping in the curls of her hair, where they must have gathered on her way up. She raised her hands out of the bath and stared at them. They were shaking.
Tabitha rested in the water for perhaps twenty minutes longer, wanting to feel the restorative and healing touch of the magic. Her mind felt buffeted and heavy, as if she had been walking headlong through a gale – or thinking through it, anyway. What she had seen still made no sense. This time, it was a different place, she was sure of it. New screams and scents, new numbers half-glimpsed on apartment doors. What did it mean? Two fires? Or was she looking at the same fire taking over a second building? The vision was frustratingly sparse, not enough detail to go on. She needed more.
When the water started to cool, Tabitha forced herself to get up and step out, the magic sluicing off her with every droplet. For not the first time, she wished that she had been born an air witch, or something a little easier. Something that didn’t require a dousing every time she wanted to use her powers. Being a water witch wasn’t exactly the worst of burdens, but it wasn’t the best choice on the table, either.
She dried off and wrapped herself in the robe again, thinking now that perhaps she would try again in a few hours. At least, she wasn’t ready to give up just yet. She paced through to the living room, slumped on the sofa, and turned on the television. She needed something mindless for a while. She flipped through channels aimlessly, trying to find something that would neither tax her strength nor bore her too much.
In spite of herself, she found her attention caught by a news channel, cutting through the rest of the aimless noise. A reporter was urgently talking into a handheld microphone, gesturing behind her. The camera moved up, taking in an apartment building engulfed in flames, smoke pouring out into the distance. Tabitha looked at the building façade, the numbers on the wall, the colour of the bricks, and she knew. She dropped the remote and buried her face in her hands, hoping against hope the tears would not trigger her magic loose.
Image credit: Aubrey Beardsley, Illustrazione per Le Morte D’arthur, 1893
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