She moved through the store with a smile and kind words for every customer. I kept my eye on her as I pretended to browse the aisles, every so often picking up a candle, so I appeared to be shopping. Other than greeting me when I entered, she hadn’t given me a second look.
I rubbed the spot between my eyes, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. I had been trying to replay every moment of that day when I ran into the mysterious witch in the creepy hotel. The harder I tried to remember, the more her image blurred until I was left with only the vague outline of a woman. Whoever she was, she had to be very powerful to erase herself from my memories.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the charm that kept my subconscious protected and gripped it tightly. I had started carrying it as a sort of good luck charm. After a moment, I put the stone away and headed out of the store.
The bell on the door jingled when I opened it. Glancing back, I caught the eye of the woman I had been watching. Something dark passed over her face, then quickly disappeared. She smiled as she waved, greeting a new customer.
I stood on the sidewalk, debating my next move. Luke had done extensive research and was positive that this was the woman we were looking for. We spent days watching her store. She owned a little antique shop that, judging by the steady number of people going in and out, was doing very well.
I had no idea who she was or what she wanted from me. I wasn’t even sure how Luke found her. We hardly had anything to go on, but he managed to do it. He did have a few false leads along the way, but he was absolutely certain this was the woman from the hotel and the one who had been invading my sleep.
Looking around, I smoothed my hair and willed my snakes to stay hidden. I could feel their displeasure at being subdued, but I was trying not to be noticed. Unsurprisingly, my snakes caught quite a bit of attention.
I walked across the busy street, the snow crunching under my boots, and leaned on the glass window of an empty furniture store. Luke was going to have a fit when he found out I went in alone. I smiled, thinking about how protective he was. It was sweet. Unnecessary, but sweet. He’d done so much for me, and I was worried it was starting to take its toll on him. He had his own business to run. Guilt washed over me at the thought of my companies that I had been neglecting. I pulled my phone out of my purse and made a note to send my employees a bonus. They deserved it.
My sweater’s thin material didn’t offer any warmth, and the glass felt cold on my back. I groaned, once again wondering what I was doing here. I couldn’t bring myself to leave, though. There was something about the woman that made my skin crawl.
I put my phone away and looked up to find her watching me. An icy dread crawled over my skin, and I froze. It felt like forever, but I knew it could only have been a few seconds before she spun around and moved out of view. I took a shaky breath, and before I realized what I was doing, I was already halfway down the street.
I growled in frustration. I was not a coward, so why was I running away? Damn witches! My Gorgon form tore free, and I looked around wildly, hoping no one noticed. It happened quickly, no more than a heartbeat or two, and I was back in control. I took a deep breath and tilted my face towards the sky.
How did this witch have so much power over me? Clenching my jaw, I spun on my heels and stomped back down the street. This needed to end. Reaching for the door, I stopped when I noticed the closed sign, then ignored it and tried the handle. It swung open. I didn’t hesitate and stepped through, pausing only long enough to lock the door behind me.
I wandered through the empty store with no idea what I was going to do but determined to, at the very least, find out who I was dealing with.
“Finally found some courage?” a snide voice called out.
I followed the sound, asking, “Why are you doing this?”
Instead of answering, the woman stepped in front of me and threw me backward with a blast of magic.
I slammed into a wall with the wind knocked out of me. “Who the hell are you?” I gasped as I stood up.
“Does it matter?” she retorted, the air around her crackling with power.
I stared at her, trying to decide if I should try to turn her to stone or not. She could still be innocent. After all, I did come into her closed store uninvited. “Look, witch, I don’t know what you think I did to you—”
“Think! What I think you did?” she yelled.
The power buildup was so intense my ears felt like they needed to pop. “Calm down, witch! What do you want from me?” I screamed back.
“Stop calling me witch, you bitch!” Venom dripped from her words. She circled me as she spoke, forcing me to back up. “My name is Rose!” she said through gritted teeth.
Fed up, I called my Gorgon to the surface. My snakes hissed, and my skin hardened while I focused on the angry witch in front of me. She didn’t flinch and instead met my gaze, walking forward until she was only inches away and said, “You’re going to have to do better than that, Scales!”
I glanced around the shelves of antiques, looking for a weapon as I edged along the wall. Deciding on a heavy crystal vase, I picked it up, ready to swing.
A look of pure revulsion washed over Rose’s face, and she spat out, “A weapon? Why am I not surprised? You’re such a coward, hiding behind your snakes and now this!” She shook her head in disgust.
I flinched at the naked hatred in her eyes, wondering how someone I’d never met could despise me so much. “I don’t understand! What do you want from me?” I yelled, then threw the vase. It exploded into a shower of crystal.
Rose stalked towards me, the broken crystal crunching under her feet. “I want you to suffer. It’s so much less than you deserve—but I need to see you suffer!”
I felt magic building up and knew she was about to unleash a spell, so I did the only thing I could think of, I punched her. Her head whipped back, and she stumbled. “I don’t know you. Stop with the threats and showing off your magic. I get it. You’re powerful. Stop this and leave me alone!” I yelled and then pushed her, trying to keep her unbalanced.
Rose swung out, knocking my hands away, and growled, “Oh, you haven’t seen power yet.” She released another spell that sent me flying into a display.
“Screw this,” I muttered. Grabbing an ugly sculpture, I threw it at the psychotic witch, catching her off guard. She went down. Hard. I pushed to my feet, intending to get a kick in while she was down. I figured she deserved it. I froze, my blood turning to ice. My snakes hissed, worked into a frenzy. Hanging from a chain around her neck was the head of a snake—my snake.