Sorina was a bad witch. Not the “I’ll get you and your little dog, too” kind of bad witch. More like the broomstick crashing, “’What’s that smell? Did somebody let an ogre in here?’ ‘No, Sorina, just blew up another cauldron’” kind of bad witch. She had once accidentally transfigured her best friend into an armchair when attempting a simple hair removal spell. Catalina swore she forgave Sorina, as the spell technically worked. She no longer had to worry about unwanted leg hair-though she now always had the faint smell of Scotch Guard.
It wasn’t that Sorina was lazy, or that she didn’t pay attention in her lessons; in fact, she worked at least twice as hard as any other witch. No matter how long she studied, or how hard she trained, she just couldn’t seem to get her magic to do what she wanted. The Elder Council finally came to the decision that she would need a familiar.
For a witch Sorina’s age (she was approaching her 23rd year) this was unheard of. The coven’s traditions dictated that no witch could summon and bind a familiar until her 33rd birthday. However, after Sorina had turned the May Pole into a rocketing projectile that took out the roof of the high priestess’ house, it was decided that an exception would be made. Familiars not only helped amplify a witch’s magic, but they also helped a witch channel and control their magic more easily. And no witch needed a Mulligan quite like Sorina.
As preparations were made for the summoning, rumors, gossip, and innuendo ran rampant through the village. What kind of familiar would Sorina get? Everyone knew that the stronger a witch’s magic was, the more powerful and impressive their familiar would be. The high priestess herself was bound together with a large, lithe black panther, while it wasn’t abnormal for witches with less power to be tied to crickets or mice. Granted size isn’t everything in a familiar, as many witches hoped that they would be able to summon and bind a black widow spider, or a death’s head moth.
There were those in the village who looked down on others for their particular familiars. In fact, many witches flaunted their familiars as though they were preening peacocks. Especially the Gale family, all of whom had actual peacocks to prance around the village with. So, of course, those who flaunted what they considered to be more of a status symbol than a companion would have something to say about the “Bad Witch” and what kind of being she would be tied to.
“I’ll bet she gets a mouse, a really sickly little thing,” Elias Mayweather snickered.
“No, no,” began Molly Paddington, “I bet she won’t even rate a flea!”
They had made it into a game and had a pool on the most likely candidates. The front runner was a fly.
It wasn’t just those who viewed themselves as elites that were gossiping, and even hoping that Sorina would draw the short straw familiar-wise. There were bitter witches with, supposed, “lesser” familiars that have loved to have seen one of the mighty Calliwells stuck with a sloth or a blobfish. It was safe to say that Sorina was a disgrace to her family, all of whom put image and status over everything else. Her father, Dominic, often lamented to his wife, “Why couldn’t she be like her older sister?” Frey had been casting complex spells practically since she could talk and had been blessed with a large black Doberman as her familiar.
“It could always be worse,” Raquel, Sorina’s mother, replied. “At least she hasn’t run off like-”
“Don’t! Say his name,” Dominic hissed beneath his breath. You see, Sorina was only “a” disgrace to the family, and far from the worst in her father’s eyes. Many of the whispers that permeated the village streets like a heavy fog spoke of how the Calliwell family, one of the village’s founding families who were once so mighty, were now in a sharp and steady decline. It was the scandal of the decade when Sorina’s older brother Roth, ran off with the baker’s daughter.
Dominic and Raquel forbade Roth from seeing the shy quiet Nina, but their love could not be stopped. Now, the problem wasn’t that Nina was the baker’s daughter-no. Baking was rightly seen as a fine and respectable profession. The problem came down to, as everything in the village eventually came back to, Nina’s familiar. The girl became bound to a sweet, though admittedly tiny, turtle dove. The all-mighty Calliwells could not have such a simple and, to their eyes, unworthy familiar could never fit in, or match the majesty and power of their family name. Why it was ridiculous that Roth, with his powerful magic, and his familiar that was as impressive as anyone else’s in the family, should be with someone so plain. Everyone in the village would titter and jest that Roth’s familiar could eat the tiny Nina’s bird in one swallow, without chewing! It was a Pesquet’s parrot, also known as the Dracula parrot. All black, except for the vivid red of his belly, tips of his wings, and spots behind each eye that made it look like had glowing red eyes in the dark, was certainly beautiful and frightening to behold.
Sorina missed Roth, the only one in the family who ever believed in her, every day in the five years since he and Nina eloped. You see, Roth knew what so many in the village had forgotten. He knew that it was never about how “powerful” or “impressive” your magic or familiar were. It was in what you did with it. The night Roth was to make his getaway with Nina, he stopped to tell Sorina that she would do great things one day. She tried so hard, harder than everyone. She so deeply missed her brother.
She missed him because she knew he would never let them do to her what they had done to their great-great-grandmother. Marguerite was the source of the family’s deepest shame. The curling fingers of accusation claimed that Sorina’s great-great-grandmother had her powers forcibly bound when she couldn’t control them. It was Sorina’s worst nightmare to have such an intricate piece of herself carved away, or locked inside herself; able to feel it there like a phantom limb, but never able to touch it again. She may have been a bad witch, but it wasn’t her fault.
Roth would have stopped it. Or he would have taken her away from the village. When Sorina was feeling particularly uncharitable she hated her brother for not taking her with him when he left. As the nights left until her 23rd birthday, and subsequently the familiar summoning ceremony, drew ever closer- she often dreamed that her brother would swoop in at the last moment to stop the madness, and then whisk her away from the small minds and thick choking whispers of their family and village.
She waited and she hoped until there was no more time for hope. The ceremony had begun almost before she could blink. She stood in the center of the sacred circle, intoning the chant they were all taught as a child. The sweat stung her eyes like tears as she kept glancing nervously around the gathered coven. She saw the gleeful, hateful sneers of villagers eagerly awaiting her failure. She watched her parents’ faces, faces that she once thought held so much love, but now so much disappointment, that she wasn’t sure the love had ever been real. And her heart pounded at the gathered elders, ready to bind her powers the moment she failed the ceremony.
She kept wishing, with everything she had for a familiar that would love her, that would protect her, and would finally show everyone that she was worthy of their trust, their love, and their respect. “Please,” Sorina wished with everything she had, “Please come save me from this.” She felt her power, a power she hated and loved and needed and wanted rid of, but that she would die without, she felt it rise through her like the most powerful feeling of ecstasy and release she had ever experienced flowing from her toes up. Pulsing in her veins with the punch of an avalanche, until finally, with the last words of the ceremony it exploded from her mouth into the circle.
The force was so great it knocked back the entirety of the village. Thunder and lightning crashed through the gathering, scattering everyone as a gale-force wind picked up. As though from the very depths of Sorina’s soul, the power kept slamming out of and into the ground beneath her feet. In the chaos, almost no one noticed the fissure forming in the ground beneath the circle. The elders though had finally gathered themselves and knew it was all happening again.
They had just been able to bind Marguerite’s magic then, when the ground split, and the sky raged. They would now have to do the same to young Sorina. They had been fools to try and give her a familiar. They quickly circled the girl and began the spell to stop the madness. Sorina saw them and cried out.
“No, please save me,” just when she had finally connected, truly connected to her power, they were going to take it from her? No. She forced another fierce ripple of magic from her body into the ground, cracking it wide open. A roar of rage and sorrow answered back from the bottom of the fissure.
The elders chanted faster, the high priestess forcing her way toward Sorina’s circle. It was too late. Whatever Sorina had summoned burst from the ground as though shot from a cannon. Everyone was knocked back for a second time that night. Even Sorina collapsed, her magic finally spent. She raised her head and glanced around at the shocked and horrified faces around her. But none of them were looking at her, not even her parents. She heard hoof steps approaching her and turned to see what had everyone so frozen in terror.
Gliding towards her, with an elegant strut that should be possible with backward knees, was a demon. She watched as it changed with every step and every scream echoing throughout the village. It began as what appeared to be a viciously red satyr, and slowly transformed into the most beautiful woman Sorina had ever seen. The woman reached Sorina offering her hand to help Sorina stand. Hesitantly, she slid her hand into the demon’s. It was surprisingly warm as the grip tightened, gently pulling her to her feet. Sorina may have thought before that nothing else could have possibly surprised her. If so she would have been wrong, as she was left shocked by the terrifyingly beauteous being speaking for the first time.
“I accept your marriage proposal.”
The screams turn to petrified silence behind the pair. There would never be another mocking whisper as the awful realization came over the gathered witches. For her part, Sorina couldn’t help but laugh as she finally understood just how much power she truly had.
She laughed as she thought, “They want a bad witch?”
Beth Mills is a library worker and writer living in West Virginia. She was a fan of horror movies before she could walk. Beth has previously been published in the horror anthology “99 Tiny Terrors” from Pulse Publishing and on Horror Tree.