Love and Choices

 

A Tabitha And Kevin Story

By Circe

 

Copyright © 2006 All rights reserved.

 

Author’s note:  This story is set in the same universe as the other Tabitha and Kevin tales, but with some new main characters.  You should not need to read the other tales to follow this one.

 

 

Trouble found Melissa Brookwell and Lyle Mansford at a mall coffee shop one fine spring morning in Bardstown, Kentucky, just a few months before their wedding.  Melissa had been happily shopping for bridesmaid gifts and the bulging bags at her feet were evidence of her quest.  Although, she admitted to herself guiltily as she toyed with the end of her braid, more than a few of the items were for her.

 

Lyle tilted his head at her and set down his coffee.  “A penny for them,” he proposed.

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“Your thoughts.  Whenever you mess with your braid you’re thinking about something.”

 

Melissa dropped the heavy braid of glossy midnight hair and rolled her dark green eyes.  “Just a penny?  Well that might be all they’re worth.  I was just thinking about –“

 

“—the wedding,” he finished for her.  She stuck her tongue out at him and he grinned.  “Don’t worry, I think it’s cute how obsessed you are.  I’ve learned way more about wedding gowns and invitations and table settings than I ever wanted to know.”

 

“Obsessed?  You ain’t seen nothin yet, buddy.  Wait until we have a baby.”

 

Lyle gave her a mock look of despair.  “Wait a minute, who said anything about a baby!  Can’t we, like, get a dog instead?  They never talk back and you don’t have to pay for college.”

 

Melissa’s eyes narrowed.  “Hey, you’re the one who said he wants a big family, as I recall.”

 

“Just kidding, honey, put your claws away,” he said with a laugh.

 

Hmph.  Maybe I should talk to your sister and ask her for some real claws.”  She swept her fingernails through the air at him.

 

His smile only got bigger.  “Careful what you ask for.  You know how Tabitha likes to show off her transfiguration skills – you might get a tail as well.”

 

“Meow,” she said turning up her nose in a fine display of feline airs.

 

“Very funny.  But yes I do want a big family.  It was fun always having someone around to play with or better yet, to annoy.”

 

Melissa shook her head.  “I can’t imagine it.  I always wanted a brother or even better a sister but four of them?  I don’t know if I can do as good a job as your parents did.”  She raised an eyebrow.  “Wasn’t it kind of tough since, well you know.

 

“What, the fact that they were all witches and warlocks and I wasn’t?”

 

Melissa looked around and shook her finger at him.  “Keep your voice down; mundanes are everywhere you know.”

 

He rolled his eyes at her.  She hated when he did that even if he did have adorable grey-blue eyes.  “No one’s listening.  Besides, these are my people.”

 

“You are not a mundane.  Just because your only power is scrying doesn’t make you one of them.”

 

“Really?  What do your parents say about that?” 

 

“Lyle!”  Melissa desperately wanted to change the topic.  His expression was too serious though and she knew he would accept nothing but the truth.  “They think it’s because your father is a mundane.  They’re worried that our kids might turn out the same.”

 

Lyle nodded slowly.  “They might be right.”  He paused and looked into her eyes.  “And what about you?”

 

Melissa reached across the table and held his hand.  “As long as they have an even number of arms and legs I’ll be happy.”

 

Lyle laughed.  “I think you need to raise your standards just a little.  Well, if the first one comes out wrong we’ll just keep having them until we get one that your father will approve of.”   

 

Melissa’s narrowed her eyes at him but could not help but giggle.  Finally she got control of herself.  “Did I tell you what he father said last time we talked about grandkids?”

 

Lyle groaned.  “No…?”

“He told me, ‘Daughter, what is this nonsense about having so many babies?  I tell you, the apple does not fall far from the tree.  This is his father’s influence.’”

 

Despite himself, Lyle laughed as Melissa managed to lower her voice to a fair imitation of her father’s.  “Well you can say this for him: he’s consistent.  I hope he and Dad will eventually get along.  I have my doubts.”

 

“Honey, he’s still shocked that a witch from an old family like your mother would marry a mundane.  The fact that Tabitha is dating a mortal just adds fuel to the fire.  I think we’ll be old ourselves before he gets over it.”

 

Lyle nodded and sighed.  “They are at least being cordial.  I guess we’ll have to work on friendly later.”  Lyle decided it was time to get their fathers out of their minds.  His expression turned sly as he said.  “Your father will come around when we have some kids and he sees how well they turn out. – much better than only kids.  They’re always so selfish and arrogant.”

 

“Hey!  You take that back!”  She punched him in the arm, hard.

 

Ow!  You’re stronger than you look, you know,” said Lyle, rubbing his arm.

 

Hmph.  That remark is going to cost you more than a bruised arm.”

 

“Oh?” he said cautiously.  “Does it involve eye of newt?”

 

“So cliché.  No, I’m thinking dinner.  At La Jardien – and I want flowers.”

 

Lyle looked aghast.  “Do you know how much that place costs?”

 

Melissa smirked.  “So you’ll have to inspect a few more houses.  You should have thought of that before saying mean things about your poor, helpless, little fiancée.”

 

“Helpless?  You’re about as helpless as—“  Lyle saw the look in her eyes and went with the better part of valor.  “La Jardien, huh?”

 

“And flowers.”

 

“Right, flowers,” he said morosely.

 

Melissa giggled at his expression.  Unlike many of their magical kin, Lyle preferred to make what his father would call an honest living.  He had started a home inspection business and he was doing quite well at it.  She also liked how working outside had given him a healthy tan and that nice lean build.  He could be quite a penny-pincher, especially lately, but even that was endearing to her.  She reached across the table and took his hand in hers.  Lyle gave her a quizzical smile and almost simultaneously they leaned across the table to share a kiss.  The young lovers were completely oblivious to the smiles and glances from the customers and waitresses in the café.  All who saw them turned to thoughts of loves they had known or hopes of love to come – all that, is, but one.

 

A woman paused at the café’s entrance, a sneer twisting her lips as her dark eyes took in the scene and lingered over the two lovers for a long moment before their owner turned with a swirl of dark red hair and strode towards the table shared by Melissa and Lyle.  The newcomer’s clothing was all black, a long-sleeved black blouse matched with a flowing skirt, sleek hose, and gleaming black heels.  The only other color to her was the ivory of her skin, the brilliant red of her lipstick and the gleam of silver jewelry at her ears, throat, wrists, and every finger.

 

Melissa was facing the door and her eyes widened at the sight of the midnight-clad woman.  “What the hell is she supposed to be?” she muttered.

 

Lyle looked over his shoulder and groaned.  His grip on Melissa’s hand tightened as the woman stopped before their table.  “Hello, Amy,” he said with a forced smile on his face.

 

Melissa raised an eyebrow as the woman in black gave Lyle a venomous look.  There was something about her that had the hair on the back of her neck rising.  “I told you my name is not Amy anymore, it is Amanda.”  She spared a bit of her poisonous gaze for Melissa.  “So, who’s the bimbo?”

 

“What did you call me?” said a shocked Melissa.

 

“I see you haven’t learned any manners, Amy,” replied Lyle.  “I think you should leave now.”

 

Amanda’s eyes narrowed but she ignored his taunt.  “Oh but why?  We’re all having such fun.”  Her eyes shifted once more to Melissa.  “Aren’t you having fun sweetie?”

 

Melissa blinked as a realization struck her.  “Um, Lyle—“

 

“It’s ok, Melissa.  This is the girl I told you about.  I thought she had finally accepted that it was over, but—“

 

“Oh it’s over, alright, at least all but the reckoning,” interrupted Amy, her gaze still on Melissa.  “So he told you about me, Marissa?  Did he tell you why he dumped me?”

 

“Her name is Melissa.  I ended it because you need help.  You’re obsessed with…”  This time he interrupted himself as he realized that their argument was being watched by everyone in the café.

 

Amanda looked at Lyle with a smirk on her face.  “Go ahead, say it.  Magic.  You’re right, you know, I am obsessed with it.  And I finally found someone with the real thing, didn’t I Lyle?  But you wouldn’t teach me, and then you left.”

 

“Lyle?  I think--” tried Melissa again.

 

“Hang on honey,” he said, his attention still on Amanda.  “I told you, I can’t teach you to have something you don’t have.  It would be like teaching you to flap wings.  All the lessons in the world won’t make you fly.”

 

“So you said.  What about this one?  Did you teach her?”  Amanda’s dark gaze returned to Melissa.

 

Lyle sighed.  “Melissa did not need any teaching from me.  I really think you should leave now.”

 

“So, she’s a witch too?  Just as I thought – you left me for someone with the power.  Too bad she’s smarter than you.”  Surprisingly, she grinned as she spoke.  It was a mirthless, feral smile that did not reach her eyes.  “You’ve figured it out, haven’t you Melinda dear?”

 

“Melissa,” she corrected.  “Lyle, there’s something you need to know.  I don’t know what she was like before but now she’s--”

 

“Excuse me,” said a stern voice.  “What seems to be the problem here?”  All three turned to look at a stout, balding man wearing an apron emblazoned with the café’s logo.

 

Amanda turned his grin on her.  “Shut up,” she said, and raised her hand in an odd gesture.  The man’s mouth suddenly slammed shut. 

 

“—a witch,” finished Melissa.

 

The store manager glared silently at Amanda and started towards her.  “Stand still,” she said and his feet stuck to the tile as though with glue.  One of the waitresses screamed at this display and other customers began to stand.  “All of you be still!” she commanded, and everyone in the café fell silent with the exception of Melissa and Lyle.

 

Lyle gaped at this demonstration of power.  “How?  That’s not possible!”

 

“Oh but it is,” said a gleeful Amanda.  “Melanie over here may be a bimbo but she knows a witch when she sees one.  And I’m stronger than her, too, stronger than any witch alive.  And now I’m going to teach you a lesson, you bastard!”  She raised a hand towards a shocked Lyle, a hand that began to glow with a deep red light.  Not for the first time Lyle found himself wishing his magical powers were more useful in a fight.

 

“My name is Melissa,” said his fiancée with a loud growl that startled Amanda.  She quickly said several words that Lyle could not follow and made a motion with her hands that looked as though she were wrapping her fingers around a ball.  The red glow abruptly faded from Amanda’s hand.  “And you may be strong, but you don’t know a damn thing about magic.” 

 

Amanda’s eyes grew wild.  “What did you do?  You bitch!  What did you do?”  She made wild swirling motions in the air as though trying to find something.

 

“I cut you off.  No magic until I release you.  Now I think we’ll take you to see the coven where they can decide what to do with you.”

 

For the first time, Amanda’s eyes showed fear.  “No!” she screamed and fumbled at one of the bracelets on her right wrist.  Her form wavered as though seen through heat waves and then vanished.

 

Melissa sighed.  “Damn.  I should have guessed she would have made some charms.”

 

“What the hell just happened here, Melissa?  She wasn’t a witch before!”

 

“I don’t know, honey, but I think we need to make our own exit.”  Melissa nodded at the others in the store who were beginning to stir from their enchanted paralysis.  Lyle left a few dollars on the table and the two quickly headed for their car.

 

 

Melissa’s apartment was just a few blocks from the mall on the outskirts of Bardstown, so the couple returned there to decide what to do and to take advantage of the protective spells Melissa had cast there.  Melissa had called her mother as they drove, and Lorinda told them to stay put until she could contact the rest of the Coven.

 

“Interesting day,” said Lyle as he sprawled on the couch.

 

“You have a gift for understatement,” Melissa told him as she perched near him.  “Now, I think it’s time you tell me a little more about Amanda.”

 

“You mean Amy?  That is her real name, you know.  She wants to be called Amanda because she thinks it sounds more elegant, more like a witch’s name.”  He paused.  “I’ve told you a lot already.  She was the daughter of a contractor that I met when I was doing some work in a new housing development.  She was a little weird and a bit of a Goth but she also had a wicked sense of humor.  We went on a few dates, caught a concert, and then she found out that I could do magic.”

 

“What?  Showing off to get girls?” said Melissa with a smirk.

 

“No, of course not.  I was trying to figure out why a house’s foundation was cracked and didn’t feel like crawling around underneath the house.  I was using my mirror to scry when she walked up behind me.  I know you wouldn’t believe it from today’s little performance but she can be quiet as a shadow when she wants to be.”  Melissa looked skeptical.  Lyle shrugged and went on.  “Anyway, when she saw the house’s crawlspace in the mirror she spazzed.  She begged and pleaded with me to show her how to do it.  I tried to explain that it wasn’t possible but she kept after me for weeks.  I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and ended things.”

 

Melissa sat back and sighed, shaking her head.  One hand idly toyed with her long braid.  “You’re absolutely sure she had no powers?”

 

“None, nothing, nada.  She certainly wanted them though.”

 

“And you had not heard from her again?”

 

“Not recently.  There were a few calls and emails but I basically ignored them and she stopped soon enough.”

 

Melissa raised an eyebrow.  “You ignored her?  Big mistake, honey, not to mention rude.”

 

“Hey, you didn’t have to deal with her.  She was obsessed!  I tried to get her to talk to a counselor but she wouldn’t have it.”

 

Melissa leaned against him and snuggled happily as he put an arm around her shoulder.  “I’m trying to be jealous but I just feel sorry for her – and worried about what she might do.”

 

“How long will your spell last?”

 

“It’s hard to say.  I put everything I had into it so it ought to be good for a few hours at least, maybe more.  Long enough for the cavalry to arrive.”  She wrinkled her nose.  “She is so strong though – how in the world did she get so strong?”

 

Lyle stroked her cheek with one finger.  “Don’t worry.  The coven knows about her and I’m sure they’ll track her down soon enough.  No matter how strong she is she can’t stand up to all them when they work together.”

 

Melissa nodded and smiled.  “And here I am, safe in your arms.”

 

Lyle snorted.  “Other way around, I think.  You’re the powerful one here.”

 

Melissa laughed and gave him a kiss.  “Oh stop, you know what I meant, you foolish man you.”  She kissed him again to take the sting out of her words.

 

Lyle loved kissing Melissa.  Her smaller form fit so well in his arms and her soft lips and teasing tongue could drive him to distraction.  Sometimes it frustrated him that she seemed content to do nothing but kiss and cuddle, but after the strange encounter with Amy he was happy to just be with her.

 

All that ended when a shudder traveled the length of her body, and she squirmed in his arms.  “Let me up, please,” she said with a quiet desperation that startled him.  He released her and she quickly sat up.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“I don’t know.  I just suddenly felt…weird.”

 

There was a wild look in Melissa’s eyes that chilled Lyle.  “Amy’s up to something isn’t she?”

 

“She can’t be.  As strong as she is there’s no way she could break my ward on her that fast.”

 

“Then what’s going on?  Do you feel sick or something?”

 

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye.  “Not sick, at least not exactly.”

 

He reached up to rub gently between her shoulder blades.  She stiffened at his touch.  “Melissa?”

 

“I’m sorry, I just…I need to get some tea or something.  Want some?”  She suddenly bounced up from the couch and headed for her apartment’s small kitchen.

 

“Uh, sure.”  Lyle’s brow furrowed as she watched her retreating back.  What a day it had been, he thought.  First an old flame had appeared wielding powers she should not have and now his fiancé was acting downright twitchy.  Surely the two were connected, somehow, despite what Melissa had said about her apartment’s protection spells.  “I’m going to try and scry for Amy.”

 

“That sounds like a good idea,” said Melissa distantly.

 

Lyle raised an eyebrow at her tone but decided to give her some space.  He reached in a pocket and drew out his trusty hand mirror.  A friend of his had made the frame for it, engraving certain runes in the dark wood that amplified Lyle’s abilities.  He may not be a warlock but he could see further, whether through distance or time, than anyone else he knew.  He set the mirror on the coffee table and began to concentrate on Amy, seeking her in the depths of the glass.  He frowned as the reflection in the mirror turned to a murky grey mist.

 

“Should have known,” he muttered.  Amy had been smart enough to prepare the charm that had let her escape Melissa, she must have made a charm to ward against him as well.  Still, he stayed over the mirror, brow furrowed in concentration until a knock on the door interrupted him.  Melissa was still busy in the kitchen so he walked over to the door and checked the peephole.  Smiling at what he saw he quickly opened the door to reveal two women, one middle aged and the other in her mid twenties.

 

“Hello, Lyle how are you?  And Melissa?” asked the older lady.  She was a well dressed in a light grey business suit-dress and with a pale pink blouse.  Carefully selected jewelry and makeup gave her a very polished appearance.

 

“Hi, Lorinda.  We’re both fine, I think.”  He cast his gaze towards the kitchen, then turned his attention to the younger woman.  She was nearly as tall as he was and while her eyes were a deep blue that was nearly purple and her hair a golden blonde their features were clearly similar.  “Hi Tabitha, it’s been a while.”

 

She smirked up at him.  “Hi, little brother.  I hear you had a bimbo eruption this morning.”

 

He rolled his eyes.  “Cute.”  He looked at his future mother-in-law with a long suffering expression.  “Do you see what I had to put up with as a little boy?”

Lorinda smiled.  “I’m sure she made things interesting.”

 

Lyle rolled his eyes.  “You have no idea.  The year she gained her powers was pretty rough on the rest of us.  I don’t know how her boyfriend – what’s his name, Kyle? – puts up with her.”

 

“Hey!” protested Tabitha.  “I’m standing right here, you know.  And it’s not as though you were a little angel you know, Mr. I-can-see-through-walls.  Oh, and his name is Kevin thank you very much.”

 

Lyle raised an eyebrow.  “Do I have to bring up the cow incident?”

 

Tabitha suddenly blushed brightly.  Lorinda decided it was time to get past the siblings’ bantering.  “The rest of the coven is gathering at the hall.  We’ve been sent to make sure you’re alright and to take you there.”

 

Lyle nodded slowly.  “I suppose that makes sense.  I’m not making much headway trying to find—“ Lyle’s words were cut off  by a sudden crash of breaking glass.  He looked over his shoulder to find Melissa standing in the entryway to the kitchen, a broken tea-cup at her feet.  Her face was frozen in a strange mix of emotions as she stared, not at him but at Tabitha.

 

“No, no, it can’t be…” she muttered as she sagged against the wall.  “Please, no.”

“Melissa?” asked Lyle as he hurried to her side, but she pushed him away.  Tabitha was there too, but Melissa cringed when she sought to put an arm around her shoulders.  She instead stumbled into the arms of her startled mother and began to cry.

 

The siblings exchanged worried glances.  Lyle inclined his head towards the kitchen and Tabitha nodded.  The two busied themselves with cleaning up the broken cup and wiping up the tea as Lorinda held her daughter and whispered soothing things in her ear.

 

Finally Melissa’s sobs trailed off.  Her mother held her at arm’s length and looked into her eyes.  “Now, can you tell us what’s wrong, honey?”

 

Melissa nodded, biting her lip.  Her gaze flicked to Lyle and Tabitha for a moment then quickly back to her mother.  “That bitch has done something to me.  Something—oh God!”  She looked as though she would cry again but managed to control it.  “Lyle and I, we were, you know kissing a little while ago when I suddenly felt…repulsed.”  She paused and looked at Lyle with look of distress.  “Lyle, you have to know I love you, I will always love you.”  She ducked her head.  “It’s just that it feels wrong to kiss you or to be touched by you.”

 

“Wrong?” wondered Lyle.  “What could be wrong about that?”

 

Melissa shuddered.  “I didn’t know myself.  Until I saw Tabitha.”  She raised her eyes again and looked at Lyle’s sister.  “Do you know how pretty you are?” she asked the tall blonde.  “I never did, not really, not until just now.”  Her voice rasped in her throat.

 

Realization struck the three others nearly simultaneously.  Lyle was thunderstruck, his mouth dropping open and his look now mirroring Melissa’s distress.  Tabitha looked worried and intrigued all at once.  Her eyes shone with curiosity.  Lorinda was furious but controlled, like a panther that has set its eyes on its prey.  She placed a finger under her daughter’s chin and forced her to meet her gaze.

 

“Melissa, are you telling me that you feel…attracted to Tabitha, but not Lyle?”

 

Melissa nodded, tears rolling down her cheeks.  “I tried to deny it when Lyle kissed me but when I saw Tabitha I knew.  Mom, that bitch turned me into a lesbian!”

 

Lyle staggered, bumping into Tabitha.  He was torn, wanting to go to his fiancé but knowing that his touch would not be welcome. 

 

Lorinda looked at him sternly but not unkindly.  “Pull yourself together, young man.”

 

Lyle bit his lip and nodded.  “But how could she do this?  She was cut off from her magic.  Even if she used a charm, Melissa has all kinds of protections set up on this apartment.  If she had somehow broken through them Melissa would have known.”

 

Lorinda nodded.  “You’re right.”  She took a slow look around the room, as did Tabitha and Melissa.  “Melissa, your wards are all in place.  No spell could have gotten through here.”

 

“Maybe she cast something on you at the mall?” wondered Tabitha.  “Something that took a while to take effect?”

Lyle shook his head as Lorinda began to examine Melissa, running her hands through the air around her daughter.  “I don’t think so.  She didn’t have time to do anything before Melissa shut her down.”

 

Lorinda frowned.  She patted her daughter on the cheek and walked over to Lyle, where she repeated her examination.  “Neither of you have any active spells on you, or any traces of recent magic other than the spells Melissa cast earlier today.”

 

Tabitha was mirrored her frown.  “So how could she do it without magic?  Maybe she slipped something into your drink.”

 

Melissa blinked away her tears and shook her head.  “No, she never got that close to the table.  Besides we didn’t drink anything else after she arrived.”

The four of them debated for several more minutes while getting no closer to a solution.  Finally Lorinda held up her hand.  “We need to all get back to the hall so that the coven can discuss this.  Lyle, bring whatever scrying tools you have available.  I believe we’ll have need of them.”

 

 

The coven’s meeting place was a bit unconventional for magical gatherings.  Faced with a need to have a place where they could conduct their meetings without raising suspicions from their fellow residents of Bardstown, the witches and warlocks had pooled their funds and purchased a small old church on the outskirts of town.  They called it Heritage Hall and rented the place for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and so on.  They even catered some of the events which basically paid for the building’s maintenance and other expenses.  In times of trouble, any planned events were cancelled and the hall was put to its real purpose.

 

As the four arrived, there were over a dozen witches and warlocks bustling about.  Wards were being refreshed by the women while the men were removing floor panels from the center of the main hall to reveal a flat expanse of a smooth black material emblazoned with a silver pentagram.  The central figure was surrounded by a circular border that was heavily engraved with various runes.

 

Jennifer Mansford smiled with relief as she saw her son.  Unlike Lorinda, Jennifer was not adverse to using a little magic to enhance her appearance.  She looked like a slightly more mature version of Tabitha despite being older than Lorinda.  She finished reweaving a ward around the hall’s rear entrance and a moment later was at his side.  As Lorinda called for everyone’s attention, she said, “I’m so glad you’re here and safe.  Is it true what they said about Amy?  She’s a witch somehow?”

 

Lyle nodded.  He was about to say more but Lorinda had begun to speak.  She informed the gathered magic users about Lyle’s previous relationship with the mortal girl, her appearance at the café, and her improbable new powers.  She paused and glanced at Melissa, who ducked her head as Lorinda gingerly informed them of the change in her daughter’s orientation.

 

“That’s impossible,” said one older lady.  “None of it makes any sense.  A mortal who can do magic and a witch’s mind altered without magic?  You said she had a bunch of jewelry, and at least one piece was a charm that let her escape.  What if she didn’t really have any power of her own?  Melissa, honey, I have to ask this.  Are you sure you didn’t just…you know, change on your own?”

 

Lorinda looked as though she might slap the other woman, but Melissa placed her hand on her mother’s.  “It’s ok, Mom.  Someone was bound to ask.”  She took a breath and regarded the other woman.  “I can understand your skepticism.  I have heard of people who realize they’re gay, even people older than me.  But not in mid-kiss, not between one heartbeat and the next.  It was like someone threw a switch – one moment I was enjoying Lyle’s, um, attention and the next I wasn’t.”

 

“And yet no sign of a spell, no trace of magic at all is on you.”

 

Melissa simply nodded.  Her mother gripped her hand and said, “That’s why the next step has to be tracking this Amanda person.  We need to know what she’s been up to and where she is.  Lyle has tried but she must have erected wards to protect against his vision.  I propose that we lend our strength to him.  No single witch should be able to defeat our combined strength!”

 

The others nodded in agreement, even the skeptical ones.  There was little further discussion.  Something strange had happened to one of their number and they needed to know what it was.  The coven members assembled in small groups at each point of the pentagram.  Lyle moved to the center and looked around a bit nervously.  He had seen this sort of thing a few times but had never been the focal point of the coven’s power.

 

“Relax,” said his mother from the point to his left.  “Just start scrying as you normally would.  We will lend our power to yours.”

 

Lyle nodded and knelt down, his mirror before him.  He stared intently into its depths and concentrated on Amanda.  After a moment he shook his head.  “Nothing, not even a trace.  I think her powers must be active again.”

 

“Try earlier in the day,” suggested Lorinda.

 

Lyle nodded.  After a moment, a misty image formed in the mirror.  Lyle made a lifting motion with his hands and the image was projected in the air above him so that everyone could see.  “I have something but she’s definitely trying to block it.”

 

“Alright, everyone, let’s do this,” said Jennifer.  Each of the five groups joined hands.  Some bowed their heads, others looked heavenward.  A pale glow surrounded the points of the pentagram, a glow that brightened as it traced the silver-engraved symbol until Lyle was surrounded by radiance.

 

The young man shuddered as the combined power of the coven poured into him, then through him, into the scrying spell he had crafted.  It was exhilarating but also frightening.  Rather than controlling the flow of power he felt like he was riding its wild currents like a raft on a river.  He gathered himself and focused on the spell, seeking to break through. 

 

At long last the misty image floating above him began to clarify until they could all see...

 

In the vision, Amanda sat on a chair before a window. A tripod stood before her and atop the tripod was a large pair of binoculars.  “Ha!  There you are, you son of a bitch,” she said, her voice a bit tinny but recognizable.

 

Her triumphant expression faded quickly.  “Look at them, making out like teenagers.   That’s disgusting,” she muttered.  She watched a little longer, growing more and more vexed.  Finally she sat back from the binoculars and began to pace.  As she did, the vision revealed more and more of the room.  It appeared to be a typical hotel room, with a plain bed and an air condition/heating unit below the window she had been peering through.

 

“Binoculars,” muttered Melissa, standing by her mother.  “All my protective spells and wards defeated by freaking binoculars.”  Her mother hushed her as Amy began talking to herself in the vision.

 

“That bitch.  When I figure out what she did I’ll teach her to steal what’s mine.”  She sat up and concentrated, her fingers reaching out around her like a blind woman seeking her way.  “Damn it!  What did she do?”

 

Amanda’s eyes flew open.  “Of course,” she said.  “What was I thinking?”  She crossed the room to open a dresser and rummaged deep in its top drawer.  Her fingers reached up to retrieve a ring taped to the underside of the dresser’s top.  She stripped off the piece of tape and jammed the ring on her finger, rubbing the large ruby that was its only decoration quite insistently.

 

“Yes mistress, how may I help you?” wondered a calm masculine voice behind her.  The vision’s view widened to reveal a swarthy but otherwise nondescript man wearing a short white tunic trimmed with purple.

 

“There you are, you worthless Genie.”

 

“Djinn,” corrected the man with a tired look on his face.

 

“Whatever.  You told me I would be the strongest witch alive, you liar!”

 

“Impossible!” sputtered Lorinda.  Now it was Melissa’s turn to hush her mother as the vision continued.

 

The djinn did not flinch at the rising screech in her voice.  “I have told no lie, mistress.  I did precisely as you wished.  You have more magical power than any other witch alive in the world today.”

 

“Oh yeah?  Then how could she do this to me?”  Amanda waved her impotent hands in the air.

 

“Perhaps it would help if you enlightened me.  Who did what, Mistress?”

 

“That slut that Lyle is seeing.  She’s a witch, too.  She did something and now I can’t even feel the magic anymore.  If it weren’t for the charms I made I’d probably be dead right now.”

 

“Ah,” said the djinn.  His eyes glinted as he looked more closely at her.  After a moment he nodded thoughtfully.  “She has cast a spell that blocks you from accessing your new abilities, mistress.  It is excellent work, quite well done.”

 

“I’m so glad you approve,” she growled.  “But it proves my point – you lied, she must be stronger than me.”

 

“She is not stronger, mistress.  She is, however, more experienced and certainly well trained.  You did not have any protective measures in place to stop such an attack, something she must have realized.”

 

Amanda glared at the djinn.  “Oh, I see.  So you played with words – you made me strong but didn’t give me the knowledge I need to use my strength.”

 

“Mistress, please, do not be angry.  I did do as you asked.  I cannot embellish wishes; I am bound to grant them as they are worded.”

 

“Fine, whatever.  At least tell me how I undo this.”

 

“You do not, at least not by yourself.”

 

“What?”

 

“You have no access to magic, and you have not made a charm that would serve to undo this spell.  You will simply have to wait for it to wear off.”

 

The new witch looked relieved.  “It will wear off then?  When?”

 

The djinn spread his hands.  “I am not a warlock, just a humble djinn.  I can only venture to say that it should be gone within an hour.”

 

Amanda sighed and ran a hand through her thick red hair.  “Can’t you get rid of it?”

 

“Of course mistress, if you wish me to.”

 

“Oh no, I’m not going to waste a wish if this is going to take care of itself.”  She paused.  “Damn it, though, I have to be ready.  I’m sure that little bitch Melanie or whatever her name is has contacted her coven.  I can’t fight off anyone like this.”  She looked back at the djinn.  “How long until they find me?”

 

“I am not a –“

 

“Yeah, yeah.  Whatever.  Guess!”

The djinn bowed.  “Mistress, you have crafted a charm against your former lover’s scrying abilities,” he said, nodding at the necklace she wore.  “It will not protect you forever but should last at least for a few hours.”

 

“Perfect.  So by the time they find me I’ll have my powers back and I don’t need to use a wish on that.  Fine, now I know what I want for my second wish.”

 

“Yes, Mistress?”

 

“I want you to give me what you should have with my first wish.  I wish I had all the knowledge and experience necessary to use my powers!”

 

“Granted,” said the djinn. 

 

For a moment, a pearlescent glow surrounded the black-clad witch.  She blinked and then laughed.  “Wonderful!” she said.  “Oh I cannot wait till that wench’s spell goes away.  The things I can do…”  She paused and frowned.  “Damn it.  No!”

 

“Mistress, is something amiss?”

 

“Yes, damn it.  I know what I can do now, which means I know what that bimbo and her coven can do.  Shit!  I can’t possibly fight their combined powers.  It will be all I can do to hide from them.  I’ll have to start running as soon as I get my powers back and even then they might catch me.”

 

“You do have a final wish, Mistress.  Perhaps I could help you escape?”

 

She glared at him.  “No thanks, so far your wishes haven’t exactly been a roaring success.”  She turned her spiteful gaze at the binoculars by the window.  “Damn it, all I wanted was a little revenge.  I wanted him to suffer like I have.  Is that so much to ask?”  After a moment she smiled. “Hmm.  One wish left, right?”    The djinn acknowledged her with a slight bow.  “I may not be able to use my own powers, Lyle, but I think I will make you go through the kind of rejection I have.  Genie, I wish Marissa did not love him anymore.”

 

The djinn managed to look even wearier as he bowed once more.  “Mistress, I must remind you that I cannot interfere in certain things.  True love is one of those matters where my powers are quite useless.”  He paused reflectively..  “And I believe that Marissa is not her name.”

 

Amanda waved off the last remark and grimaced.  “True love?  Those two?  Hmph.  What good are you then?  I want her to reject him, to make him feel like I felt.”  A sudden thought occurred to her.  “Can you change someone’s sexual orientation?”

 

“Yes mistress.  Lust and love are two entirely different things, something your race seems to forget.”

 

“Perfect,” she said.  “That’s absolutely perfect.  I know exactly what I want to wish for.  I wish that Melanie – Marissa – damn it, whoever it is that he’s kissing would permanently become a complete and total man-hating lesbian!”

 

“Granted, mistress, and farewell.”  With those words, the djinn and the ruby ring on Amanda’s finger vanished.  She blinked in surprise but then eagerly peered through the binoculars.  After a few moments she laughed wickedly. “Perfect!  If I can’t have him, neither can you, you lesbo!” She stepped back and looked around the room. “Now I’d better run!”

 

The image faded and Lyle sat back on his heels, exhausted.  The pale glow that had surrounded him was gone as well.  Most of the coven members looked as tired as he did, and several of them took a seat also.

 

“That stupid little bitch,” he muttered.  With sudden strength his rose to his feet.  “That stupid little bitch,” he repeated more loudly.  “I’m gonna kill her!” he shouted, before collapsing back to the floor.  Melissa was quickly at his side.  She put a tentative arm around his shoulder.  Lyle groaned at the stiff way she held him, like a sister rather than a lover.

 

“Be calm,” advised Lorinda as she, Jennifer and Tabitha joined them.  “I understand why you’re angry but it does not do us any good.  Jennifer, did we really see a djinn?”

 

“I believe we did.  I never thought they were real, but it certainly explains an awful lot.”

 

“I don’t understand,” said Melissa.  “OK, so genies exist.  Why would their magic be able to do this to me without leaving a trace or breaking my wards?”

“Because they don’t use magic, dear,” said her mother.  “They actually change the nature of reality.”

 

“Wait a minute,” said Lyle.  “Isn’t that what magic is?”

 

“No, no.  Magic is imposing one’s will on reality through the power of your mind, spells, potions, or items like your mirror.  Thus we can perform feats like flying or healing or viewing things far away.  A djinn is more elemental than that.  They can actually twist the fabric of reality; change the nature of it to match their master’s desires.”

 

“So magic cannot help us?” wondered Melissa.

 

“I did not say that.  Their powers, though, are not magical and so your wards could not prevent her wish.”

 

“Fine, fine.  So how do we undo it?”

 

The two mothers looked at each other and then back at their children.  “You don’t,” said Lorinda.  “Only another wish can undo a wish.  And we don’t have the ring.”

 

“OK, I’ll scry for it,” said Lyle.  “I got a good look at it—what?” 

 

His mother was shaking her head.  “You cannot find a djinn, according to the legends.  It finds you.”

 

“So what do we do?” demanded Lyle.  “We have to do something.  Damn it we’re supposed to be married, right here, in two months!”

 

Everyone fell silent at Lyle’s outburst, everyone but Melissa who began to cry, long despairing sobs echoing in the depths of the Coven’s hall.

 

 

Lyle loved his mother but hated the fact that she was seldom wrong.  He sighed in frustration and sat back on his couch.  On the coffee table before him were a variety of implements that included his trusty mirror, a cracked crystal ball, several books (some of them in languages he only partly understood), and crumpled papers with drawings of the djinn’s ring.

 

None of it had helped.  He had been at it for over a week and so far managed to trace the ring back to when Amy found it.  She had been shopping at one of those cheap kiosks in the mall, adding more junk to her jewelry collection, when she spied the ring in a bin marked as “Three For $5”.  The gleam of real gold among the cheap fakes was clear to her, so without a second thought she scooped it up along with two random fake ones, paid off the clerk, and skipped gleefully away.

 

He had scrolled backwards in time, watching the bin as clerks filled it and customers plucked rings from it.  He could never spot the ring until the moment that Amy found it.  His mother must be right.  The ring and its magical cargo appeared in the bin specifically when and where Amy would find it.

 

Why?  What cosmic agency would give Amy magical powers, and allow her to screw up his life so thoroughly?

 

The phone rang, a light melody that told him it was Melissa calling.  He groaned.  She had been on an emotional roller coaster lately and he wondered which side of the hill she would be on this day.  He picked up the phone and pressed Talk.  “Hi honey, how are you?”

 

“Lyle, are you coming over today?”  She sounded teary but otherwise alright.

 

“Um, sure, of course.”

 

“You forgot didn’t you?  We have to talk to the caterer.”

 

“I didn’t forget but that’s tomorrow –” he glanced at his watch.  “Oh.  It’s today.”

 

Melissa sighed in his ear.  “Have you slept at all?”

 

“Some.  I think.”

 

“Honey, I’m glad you’re trying so hard to fix this.  You’re going to burn yourself out though. Take a break and get over here -- by two.”

 

“OK, OK.  I’ll take a shower and be on my way.”

 

“I love you, Lyle,” she said softly.

 

“I love you too,” he said and pressed the End button on his phone.  He pressed the receiver against his head and moaned, then got himself moving and into the shower.

 

 

 

The meeting with the caterer was vexing for Melissa.  She sat next to Lyle on the couch and pretended to listen as the matronly woman went over her plans for the reception dinner.  Melissa was glad her mother was sitting in on the meeting as well because she simply could not concentrate on menus and seating charts. Lyle’s presence would not allow it.

 

Normally being distracted by him would be a sweet kind of torture.  She remembered how she loved to press against him, feeling the firm muscles of his hips and thigh against her curves.  The warmth of his body, the musky male scent of him, even the rumbly sound of his voice so near could instill thoughts in her that would make her mother blush.  She would return the favor by wiggling against him slightly or brushing his hand with hers, seeing if she could distract him as thoroughly as he did her.  It was a wonderful little game that often led to very passionate encounters.

 

Not today.  Today they sat several inches apart, their posture as stiff as a soldier standing at attention, seldom even glancing at each other.  She yearned to show him that she still loved him, but she could not bring herself to touch him.  She looked sideways at him.  His body seemed too large, imposing, and definitely too hairy.

 

She sighed, too loudly.  The caterer and her mother were both staring at her.

 

“I take it you don’t like Chicken Marsala?” asked the caterer.

 

“No.  I mean yes, that’s fine.  In fact, the menu is perfect.”  She stood and extended her hand to the startled woman.  “Thank you so much for coming.”

 

The caterer rose hesitantly and took Melissa’s hand.  “Well, you’re, welcome.”  She looked over to Lorinda. “I’ll call you?”

 

Lorinda matched Melissa’s bright smile with one of her own and stood as well.  Lyle followed suit uncertainly.  “Yes, that will be fine.  I’m sure we can take care of the remaining details on the phone.”

 

After the flustered caterer had taken her leave, Lorinda turned to her daughter.  “Care to explain that?”

 

Melissa blushed and blinked away sudden tears. “I’m sorry Mother I just can’t stand this.  I’m trying to carry on but it’s so hard.”

 

Lyle put his arm around her.  “Melissa, don’t worry.  You know my mom and the rest of the coven are working on this.”

 

She wanted so badly to melt into his arms as she normally would.  His comforting arm was a forceful reminder of the problem, though, and she could not stand it.  She stiffened in his gentle hold.

 

Lyle felt her tension and dropped his arm to his side.  He stepped away from the two women, looking out the window and watching the caterer drive away.  “This is insane,” he announced to no one in particular.

 

“Lyle?” wondered Melissa.

 

He turned back to them, and they both gasped at the sight of tears on his cheeks.  “I can’t do this.  I thought I could but I can’t.  Melissa, I love you more than anything.  I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  How can I do that though, if you can’t even stand my touch?  If I’m repulsive to you?”

 

“Lyle, of course you’re not repulsive.  When you’re near me though, all I can think about is that I should be attracted to you.  I’m just not though and that gets me confused.”  She crossed the room and took his hand in hers.  “I love you, Lyle.  We just have to hold on and wait for a cure.”

 

He looked down at their joined hands and then into her eyes.  “Maybe…maybe we should postpone the wedding.  Not forever, just until they find a cure.”

 

“No!” yelped Melissa.  “Damn it, no!  I am going to marry you, Lyle Mansford.  That bitch took her best shot but she’s not going to win.  We. Are. Getting. Married.”

 

Lyle looked to Lorinda for help but she just spread her hands.  “Sorry, Lyle, I know that look in her eyes all too well.”

 

Lyle gave a sad smile.  “She is kind of cute when she gets this way, isn’t she?”

 

“Hey!” protested Melissa.

 

“He’s right, dear,” said her mother.

 

“It’s not fair – now you’re teaming up on me.”

 

Lyle hugged her very briefly and lightly.  “Just teasing, sweetheart.  Keep being stubborn – I think we’re going to need it.”

 

 

Weeks slowly passed as preparations continued for the wedding.  There was a constant undertone of tension, though, as the coven sought to find a cure for Melissa.  Jennifer and several of the older witches and warlocks spent long days and nights poring over old tomes and questioning anyone and everyone they could think of who might know of a cure.  Melissa and Lyle were smart enough to leave them alone, but after another fruitless day Jennifer knew it was time to have a talk with her son.

 

She corralled her husband as soon as he got home from work and the two soon arrived at Lyle’s apartment complex.  Nick was quiet and not for the first time Jennifer found herself wondering what was going on behind those blue-gray eyes.  Lyle had inherited those eyes and much more.  The two were so very similar, something she knew they would both deny.  Their other sons were like Nick as well, but Lyle was definitely a chip off the old block.  She sighed and her husband wordlessly put an arm around her.  Too soon the elevator ride was over and they were at Lyle’s door.  Nick knocked and they heard a vague “Come in” from inside.

 

Lyle was hunched over his coffee table.  Several new implements had appeared on the table.  A silver pentagram inlaid in a block of ebony lay under his mirror.  At one end of the table a stack of books leaned precariously against the crystal ball, which was now not just cracked but seemed to have partly melted.  A pack of Tarot cards had partially spilled off of the other end of the table, and there was a small pile of what she suspected were chicken bones atop the remaining stack.

 

“Lyle?” prompted Nick.

 

He looked blearily up at her, dark circles under his eyes.  “Oh, hi Mom, Dad.”

 

Jennifer shook her head.  “Hi yourself.  When is the last time you slept?”

 

Lyle chuckled and looked at his father.  “She always did get right to the point.”

 

“When?” insisted Jennifer.

 

“I don’t know…I think some this morning.”

 

She sat next to her son.  “Lyle, you need to stop this.  It’s pretty clear that you are not going to be able to find that djinn.  Even one with your gifted sight cannot track him.”

 

“I know,” he said quietly.  “I gave up on that days ago.”

 

“Then what are you trying to do?”

 

“Well I tried just finding any djinn.  That didn’t work any better.  Then I remembered that there was a kind of…I don’t know, ripple of some kind when he granted Amy’s wishes.  I tried looking for that.”

 

Nick sat in a chair near the table.  “Son, I may not know much about magic but I thought you needed something specific to look for.  That sounds kind of vague.”

 

Lyle nodded.  “Don’t sell yourself short; you’re absolutely right.  It’s like looking for what caused a wave on a lake when the ship is already out of view.”  He shrugged.  “So what brings you guys here?”

 

Jennifer sighed and looked at her husband, then back to her son.  “Lyle, we have not had much better luck.  We have learned a lot in the last week, though.

 

“Djinn are not truly of our world.  Like angels and demons, they exist primarily on another plane of existence.  The old stories about them being trapped in oil lamps or jewels or rings are just that, stories.  Those items are really summoning devices that call the djinn to our plane.”

 

“If it’s just a summoning device, then why must they grant wishes?”

 

Jennifer spread her fingers.  “There are several theories.  One is that it some great wizard bound the djinn to serve humanity ages and ages ago.  I’m kind of skeptical about that one – it doesn’t seem likely that one man could bind a whole race.  Another theory is that this is a form or punishment or perhaps a rite of passage for them.  Like Hercules they must perform some number of tasks to be freed from servitude.  I like that one because it explains some their behavior in different stories.” 

 

Jennifer paused, her look growing pensive.  “There are more disturbing notions as well.  There are those who believe that the djinn serve Chaos, sewing confusion and discord in the orderly flow of the universe.  That would explain their seemingly random appearances and their reputation for misinterpreting wishes.  A similar theory holds that they actually serve Order and that the things their masters wish for are necessary to right old wrongs or prevent future ones.”

 

Lyle sighed.  “Ok, their motivation isn’t all that important.  How do we undo Amy’s wish?”

 

Jennifer took her son’s hand and said gently, “It is as we feared.  You can only undo it with another wish.  Our magic would either not work or further complicate the situation.  I’m sorry son, but there’s nothing we can do.”

 

Lyle stared numbly at his mother.  “You’re giving up?” he finally mumbled.

 

“Of course not, dear.  We have just…changed directions you might say.  We’re turning our attention to books with stories of the djinn, as well as looking for people who may have encountered one.  We’re hoping that we can find something that will lead us to one, even if it is not the one that Amy had.”

 

“That’s awfully thin, Mom,” he said, withdrawing his hand from hers.

 

Nick bristled at the edge in Lyle’s voice.  “Lyle, I know you’re unhappy but you should show some gratitude.  Your mother and the others have been working just as hard as you.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Lyle said. 

 

Nick acknowledged the apology with a nod.  “There is something else that needs to be said.”  Jennifer started to speak.  Nick held up his hand and surprisingly she quieted herself.  “No one else seems willing to say it so I guess it is up to me.  Son, you’re both young.  I know you love each other but you have to admit that there’s a good chance that you can never be together as man and wife.”

 

“Lots of fish in the sea, right?” snapped Lyle.  “I knew this speech was coming, Dad.”

 

Surprisingly his father chuckled.  “I know; I’m about as subtle as a heart attack.”  His smile faded.  “Can you tell me there’s no truth in that speech though?  The fact of the matter is that there are other women in the world that you could have a normal life with.  There’s something else to think about too.  Is it fair to Melissa to trap her in a relationship where she cannot be intimate with her partner?  She deserves a chance to share her life with someone who is compatible, doesn’t she?”

 

Lyle stared at his feet for a long moment.  “I’m your son, Dad.  I’ve been thinking the same thing.”  He looked up and met his father’s gaze.  “I just keep thinking about how rare it is to find two people who truly love each other.  You and Mom are so very lucky.  I don’t want to give that up on the off chance that I might find someone like her again.”  He shrugged.  “Besides, she would kill me.  I tried to get her to at least delay for a while, give Mom and the others a chance to find a cure.  She wouldn’t hear of it.  There is just no reasoning with her.”

 

Nick shook his head.  The two men looked at each other and smirked.  “Women,” they said in unison.

 

Jennifer glared at both of her men but bit her tongue.  At least they were smiling, she told herself.

 

 

Long after his parents had left, Lyle sat on his couch staring off into space.  Occasionally he would tinker with the various paraphernalia scattered across his coffee table but without any real purpose.

 

He knew he had to do something to make the situation right.  He could not imagine a wedding night with him and Melissa in separate beds.  He also knew that it would break her heart if he demanded that they postpone, or even worse, cancel the wedding.

 

It was past midnight when the idea first occurred to him.  He snorted at what he was thinking and told himself that he definitely needed sleep if his mind was going to offer up such an insane solution. 

 

Lyle stood, stretched, and headed to the bathroom to get ready for bed.  He stared at his reflection as he brushed his teeth, the damnable idea still churning in his head.  He spat and rinsed.  “Get to bed,” he told his reflection.  “You’re driving yourself crazy.”

 

 

 

Sleep helped his mood and definitely his appearance.  He had a full day of inspections lined up which he thought was a good thing.  Some hard work and sunshine would help his mood and get his mind off of things for a while.

 

It worked, mostly.  Climbing around on roofs and nosing into dark corners took concentration that kept him busy all morning long, as did writing his reports and talking to customers and real estate agents.  He had a long debate about the condition of a home’s roof with one selling agent that would normally have frustrated him but today he enjoyed the argument with relish.  The agent finally agreed that the thirty year old roof might possibly be in some need of repair.  Lyle was vaguely disappointed that he had capitulated so easily.

 

Like any job, though, his had times where he was not busy and whenever he was idle his thoughts would return to Melissa, Amy, and the upcoming wedding.  Lunch was the worst of all.  Normally it was a favorite part of his day.  He would park his truck somewhere in the shade, break out his lunch, and listen to an old CD or two.  It was the only time he really had for music anymore so he seldom skipped his little ritual.

 

Today he had parked at one of his regular spots, a strip mall parking lot on a hill with a great view of one the Bardstown parks below.  He rolled down the windows and turned on the stereo.  He had some blues loaded into the truck’s player, a compilation of some of his favorites.  He leaned back as Robert Johnson began to sing:

 

I got a kindhearted woman
do anything in this world for me

I got a kindhearted woman

do anything in this world for me

 

But these evil-hearted women

man, they will not let me be

 

 

Lyle shook his head.  “Maybe this was a mistake.”  The bluesman sang on:

 

I love my baby
my baby don't love me

I love my baby, ooh

my baby don't love me

 

But I really love that woman

can't stand to leave her be[i]

 

Lyle groaned and switched the stereo off.  “Definitely a mistake.  What the hell was I thinking?”

 

Lyle stared at the park’s trees in the sudden silence and tried to eat his sandwich.  He knew there was a nice little pond in the park and he amused himself trying to catch glimpses of the water through the trees. 

 

That occupied him for all of about a minute before he turned the stereo back on, this time tuning the radio to one of the local talk stations.  He was hoping that listening to some conversation might distract him but he found it very difficult to pay attention today.

 

Finally he could not take it anymore and wolfed down the rest of his lunch.  Lyle fired up the truck’s engine and headed out early to his next inspection assignment, a new home in a subdivision that was still mostly under construction.  As he drove in he was glad to see that the site foreman, a formidable blonde that everyone called ‘JJ’, was in early as well.  She was standing near her trailer talking to a couple that looked to him like prospective home owners. 

 

He waved and she interrupted her conversation long enough to yell, “Hi Lyle, the place is unlocked.  You can go ahead and get started.”  He nodded and drove on, getting only a little lost in the curving roads and courts that were so popular in new subdivisions before he found the place.  It was a large two-story affair much like the others that were being built all around it.  The landscaping was not yet done but otherwise the place looked ready for people to move in. 

 

He parked in the house’s newly poured driveway and stepped out, spending long moments looking at the place with a vague smile on his face.  Finally he told himself, “Come on Lyle, time to get busy.  Lots to do today.”

 

He comforted himself with the knowledge that the new home was empty of furniture, and therefore would be easy to get around. He also knew that JJ’s crew did good work, which meant the write-up would be pretty short.  He grabbed his ladder off the back of his truck and was soon clambering over the high roof, finally able to get his mind off of things again.

 

He was done with his inspection and was back in his truck working on the report when JJ’s golf cart pulled up and the tall blonde stepped out.  She was dressed, as always, in typical work clothes: a thick flannel shirt over a pale pink t-shirt; jeans; and heavy boots.  “Hey, Lyle.  Sorry about that, those people just couldn’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that we couldn’t build them something by the end of the month.”

 

“No problem, JJ.  I’m pretty much wrapped up here.”

 

“How’d we do?” she wondered.

 

“Just fine.  I found a few minor things.”

 

“Huh.  You always do.”

 

Lyle laughed.  “It’s not so bad.  There’s some loose roofing on the south side near the peak, just needs some nails.  The drainage out back is a little questionable.  Oh, here is one you won’t like.  The specs called for leaded glass above the front door.”

 

JJ looked over her shoulder at the clear glass transom above the entryway and growled.  “Damn it, I am going to fire those idiots, I swear I am.  I’ll look at my work order but I guarantee it will say leaded glass on it.”

 

Lyle had to smile at her tirade.  “Sub-contractors?”

 

“Yeah, this is a big job so my guys are mostly handling the primary construction.  The finish work is mainly going to sub-contractors.  We try to keep an eye on them but…”  She sighed and ran her hand through her bobbed blonde hair.  “Alright, we’ll get it taken care of.”  She quickly recovered her usual grin and asked, “So, think she’ll like it?”

 

Lyle looked up at the house with a small smile.  “I hope so.  It’s a big surprise – she’s expecting to move into my apartment.”

 

“Oh really?  So you think she may be disappointed because she didn’t have a say in it?”

 

Lyle nodded.  “That’s why I bought on a contract that I can get out of if I need to.  If she really hates it we can do something else.”

 

JJ looked mock-offended.  “How could she hate it?  This is a great house…well, other than the screwed up window.”  They both laughed.  “Don’t sweat it, Lyle, I think she’ll love it.”

 

“I hope so.  Thanks for all your work on this -- you guys are the best.”

 

JJ smiled.  “Thanks, Lyle.  I’ve worked hard to get a good reputation around here.”

 

“No problem,” he said, and then hesitated.  “Is it…harder for you than it would be for a man to do that?”

 

She cocked her head at him and for a moment Lyle thought he had really offended her this time.  She finally nodded and said, “Yes, it is.  Oh I don’t think it’s as bad as it was years ago, but I still deal with men who doubt me or think they can pull a fast one on me just because I’m female.  I had to work a long time to get the trust of the company president but fortunately he’s a good guy.  I think I would have had to work just as hard if I were a man, that’s just the way he is.”  She laughed.  “Want to know a secret?”

 

Lyle raised an eyebrow.  “Um, sure…?”

 

“It’s not a big secret.  Anyone who went to school with me knows.  I didn’t always go by JJ; I started doing that when I took up carpentry.”  She paused then blushed slightly, something Lyle had never seen her do.  “My name is really Jasmine Joy – can you believe it? You cannot imagine the teasing I put up with when I started working in construction…so I switched to JJ.”

 

“Oh my,” said Lyle with a small laugh.  JJ raised an eyebrow at him.  “It’s a very pretty name,” he said quickly.  “I’m sorry you had to take some grief over it.”

 

Hmph, don’t try to flatter me.  I know it sounds like a stripper’s name.  You can see why I went with JJ though.  And I definitely like my job so I do what I have to do, you know?”

 

Lyle nodded.  “Speaking of work…” He handed her the report for her signature.  They said their goodbyes and Lyle watched as she pulled away in her cart, already on her cell phone to chew out her sub-contractors. 

 

Lyle watched long after she was gone.  Finally he got into the truck and headed back to his apartment.  It was time to take matters into his own hands.

 

 

Tabitha, I need you, thought Lyle.  Tabitha?  He sighed when she did not respond immediately and debated about calling her cell phone.  Technology might not be as fun or convenient as magic but it was generally more reliable.  Finally he felt a familiar feminine presence touch his thoughts.

 

Lyle?  What’s wrong?  You sound very—

 

Can you come here please?  I have a favor to ask, interrupted Lyle.

 

Tabitha did not answer directly.  Instead the space in the middle of Lyle’s living room suddenly darkened, and with a pop of displaced air his sister appeared.  “What’s up, little brother?” she wondered.  “Do you have a lead on Amanda?”

 

Lyle waved a hand at his couch.  “Sit, sit. No, I have no leads.  I don’t think we’re ever going to find her.”

 

Tabitha sat, then raised an eyebrow at her brother.  “So what is the favor you mentioned?”

 

Lyle sat next to her.  He paused, biting his lip, then very firmly said, “I want you to transform me into a girl.”  He looked at his sister expectantly.  To his surprise she simply nodded.

 

“I wondered when you would come up with that.  Have you talked to Melissa?”

 

“You’re not surprised?  I just asked you to change my gender!”

 

Tabitha smirked.  “Well, it’s not like I haven’t done that before, is it?”  To her delight, Lyle blushed.  “Besides it is one of the few solutions to your problem.  Your fiancée is a lesbian so obviously the simplest way for you to be with her is to be female.  Have you talked to her about it?”

 

“Well, not exactly.  But it is the only thing that makes sense.  We cannot reverse the wish, but we want to live our lives together.  Is there really a choice here?”

 

“Of course there is…but I’ll bet Dad has already given you the ‘plenty of fish in the sea’ speech right?”  Lyle laughed and nodded.  “And you and she are both too stubborn to listen to that.”  He nodded again.  “So you arrive at the perfectly logical conclusion that you want to change one of the most important aspects of your person in order to be with her – but you haven’t talked to her about it at all, have you?”

 

Lyle glared at her. “OK, so I haven’t talked to her about it.  She’ll tell me not to, that we will be fine, that we should just wait for the coven to fix everything.  But we won’t be, damn it!”  Lyle took a deep breath and looked down.  “I’m losing her, Tabitha.  Day by day, every time we cannot touch, every lost kiss, I’m losing her.  Eventually one of us will decide we cannot go on with it and I’ll lose her completely.  Tell me I’m wrong!”

 

Tabitha reached out and took her brother’s hand.  “I’m sorry, Lyle, I wish I could,” she said in a small voice.

 

“As I see it I have three choices.  I could tell her it’s over now.  That’s what the parents on both sides want.  Melissa would be devastated but maybe we could be ‘just friends’ some day.  Or I could go ahead with a doomed marriage, knowing all the while that eventually we’ll split up – but only after years of suffering in each other’s presence.”  Lyle drew a shuddering breath.  “Neither of those is happening, ok?  I love her too much to be just friends or even worse to cause her to suffer.  The only solution that gives us any chance at happiness is for me to be a woman too.”

 

Tabitha took a deep breath.  “Lyle, you’re my brother.  I’ll do anything you want me to, you know that.  But I won’t do this.”

 

Lyle’s eyes narrowed.  “Why the hell not?”

 

Tabitha sighed and looked at her brother’s big, masculine hand in hers, noting the hard calluses created by his work.  It would be so simple for her to change it, make it slim and soft and feminine.  She could sense how much he wanted the change despite his trepidation.  That strong desire meant she would have to do little more than suggest to his body that it obey his desires.  In mere seconds he would be totally female, and very pretty if she had anything to say about it.  She licked her lips but finally sighed.  “I won’t do it,” she said firmly.  “Not unless Melissa asks me to.”

 

Lyle stood up and threw his hands in the air.  “Come on, Tabitha.  That’s not going to happen – you know how stubborn she is!”

 

“Yes, she is.  She’ll fit into our family perfectly.”  Lyle rolled his eyes at her.  “Well it’s true.  The bottom line is that this is too big a step for you to take without her knowing.  What do you think will happen if you go to see her as a girl?  You need to think this through, Lyle.”  Lyle stared at her silently.  Finally she demanded, “What?”

 

“Who are you,” he asked.  “And what did you do with my sister? ‘Think it through’ – this from the sister that once changed me into a girl as I was getting onto the bus to summer camp?  I spent two weeks as a teeny-bopper just because you were jealous that I got to go to camp!”

 

Tabitha giggled.  “You were so cute -- especially the expression on your face when you looked out the bus window!”

 

“Uh huh.  And I know you like to play games with your boyfriends, sis.  How many times has Kevin been a girl?  Or other things?”

 

Tabitha blushed slightly.  “That’s none of your business.  Besides, there is a big difference between changing someone temporarily and making a permanent alteration to your life.  You and she have to agree to this or you stand a good chance of doing more damage to your relationship.”

Lyle slumped back in the couch.  “I was hoping that if I came to her as a girl, if I could show her how it could be, that maybe…”  Lyle’s words trailed off as he stared at the ceiling.  “She’ll never agree to it.  We’re sunk.”

 

Tabitha tilted her head at him.  “Oh I don’t know.  There’s always room for compromise.”

 

 

Later that evening Melissa was trying hard to focus on final plans for the wedding.  Most of the big items on her list had been done for weeks.  It would be a somewhat small wedding with only witches in attendance.  Mundane friends had originally been on the list but given the circumstances they had decided to keep the ceremony with the family.  One of the coven elders was an ordained minister and would handle the ceremony.  The bridesmaid’s dresses were on order, and she thought she had done a pretty good job picking out dresses that were pretty without being goofy.  Green and ivory were the colors of the day, so the dresses were a shimmering emerald with ivory lace at the neckline and hems.  Other than worrying about whether the shoes would arrive in time she was satisfied.

 

The men were her current problem.  The tuxedo shop she had lined up had lost the order and now claimed they could not provide what they needed.  Catalogs from the only other men’s stores in town were spread across her coffee table.  She was equally displeased with both catalogs.  The tuxedoes all looked exactly alike.  The only real differences were the cut of the legs and the general materials.  Wide collars were also back in, something that she absolutely despised.

 

One of the catalogs did have some items that seemed aimed at the younger crowd, with pastel colors that almost jumped off the page.  She giggled as she tried to imagine Lyle or her father wearing such a thing.

 

She turned to a third catalog.  It was from a local store that did both men and women’s clothing.  They at least had some more options in style, she saw as she opened to a page with a full wedding party.

 

Melissa paused over the picture.  She decided she liked the tuxedos and the way the cummerbunds used both of the wedding colors.  She also liked the girls’ outfits.  She looked more closely at the maid of honor’s dress, which was a bit more formal than the rest of the bridal party.  She liked it, she decided, although it was daringly cut.  Melissa’s gaze was drawn to the maid of honor’s décolletage, which revealed a smooth expanse of curving flesh.  Melissa’s eyes traced the daring curves and she idly wondered what it would be like to run her fingers over that soft flesh, to slide the gown off of the lovely redhead, and—

 

“Oh god!” Melissa said and sat back on her couch.  “What am I going to do?”  The change in her orientation hit her at the oddest moments.  She felt completely normal most of the time and went through her days just as she had before Amy’s wish.  Every once in a while, though, she would see a pretty girl on television or walking the mall and it would take her breath away, just like seeing a handsome man had before, and yet not.  Before she had wanted to tease, to be caught and held in strong arms and surrender herself to masculine strength.  Now her feelings seemed more complex.  She wanted to hold and be held, to tease and be teased, to intertwine herself with her lover until she could no longer tell where she left off and the other began.

 

And now she was getting excited over pictures in a catalog like some horny teenaged boy.  She closed the catalog with a sigh.  “I think that’s enough of that for now,” she said and had just stood to look for the television remote control when her doorbell rang.

 

Melissa smiled with a bit of trepidation when the door opened to reveal Lyle. “Hi, sweetie!” she said as he stepped in.  He had an odd look on his face and she was suddenly, irrationally certain that he would know what she had just been thinking and she felt the heat of a blush rising on her cheeks.  “Um, I wasn’t expecting you.  Is everything ok?”

 

Lyle smiled a bit absently.  “I’m fine.  I’m here to try something – sort of an experiment you might say.”

Melissa tilted her head.  “OK…”

 

“It’s something Tabitha and I worked on.  Not exactly a permanent solution or anything but…well it might at least get us through the wedding.”  Lyle looked at the magazines spread across her coffee table and Melissa’s blush went up a notch.  She forced herself to concentrate on his words.  “Of course we’ll need to think about what to do long term but I think this could work for us –“

 

“Lyle, honey, you’re babbling.”  Melissa’s eyes narrowed.  “What did that sister of yours cook up?  She isn’t going to change you into a girl is she?”

 

Lyle’s eyes widened.  “No, she was expecting me to ask that too.  She wouldn’t, not without your approval.”

 

“I take back all the blonde jokes I ever made.   That was very smart of her.”

 

“Am I the only one who took a while to come up with that as a solution?”

 

“You were very busy trying to find Amanda, Lyle.  I, on the other hand, have had all sorts of time to think about this situation.”  She moved closer to him, looking up earnestly into his eyes.  “You are very sweet for even considering such a thing.  Most men I know would never go through such a major change!  But Lyle, I don’t want you to change so drastically just to be with me.  At least, not yet.”

 

“Not yet?”

 

She dropped her gaze.  “I have to admit that the idea is…tempting.  To have the love of my life able to touch me again, to be with me…how could I not want that?  But I don’t know if I’m ready to be an openly gay woman.”  Her eyes took on a familiar stubborn gleam.  “And besides, I am going to be the only bride at my wedding.  I don’t need competition from my husband.”

 

Lyle laughed.  “Exactly.  We knew you would feel that way.  To be honest, I’m not sure I can imagine wearing a bridal gown, either.”  Melissa smirked.  “Seriously, though, something has to change.  You know it and I know it.”

 

She wanted to deny it, to tell him that they could handle it, but her mouth would not give voice to the lie.  She began to cry.  “I can’t stand this Lyle!  I want to wrap my arms around you and hold you and…”

 

Lyle placed a finger under her chin, and raised it till she was once more looking into his eyes, tears streaming down her face.  Suddenly it occurred to her that she should be shrinking from his touch, but for the first time it days she felt no revulsion.  Her eyes widened in wonder as he suddenly leaned down and kissed her quite firmly.  Melissa was dazed but returned the kiss.

 

Lyle broke the kiss and smiled. “How was that?” he wondered.

 

“It was…nice,” said a bewildered Melissa.

 

“Just nice?”

 

Melissa nodded.  “It was nice, I enjoyed it but...um…how can I say this?  It was kind of like kissing a relative.  I didn’t feel revolted but I didn’t feel, well, you know.”

 

Lyle smiled a bit sadly.  “I suppose that makes sense.  Still, I was hoping for something more.”

 

Melissa stood back and crossed her arms.  “OK, Mister, give!  What did your sister do?”

 

“It’s what she calls a compromise.  Since she wouldn’t change me into a woman, we agreed on a partial change.  I’m kind of in between.”

 

“In between?  What exactly does that mean?” she demanded.

It was now Lyle’s turn to blush.  “She changed me but not completely…I’m mostly myself still.”

 

Melissa stared at her fiancée.  “What. Did. She. Do. To. You?”  she said, enunciating each word sharply.

 

Lyle jumped and said in a rush, “I’m female, but only where it counts. The rest of me is my normal self. Well, except apparently in how my body handles hormones.  Otherwise I would start growing breasts and acting more feminine and stuff so Tabitha had to—“

 

“Wait!” snapped Melissa, holding up one hand.  “Do you mean to tell me you’re a girl, just a very male looking one?”  Lyle nodded silently.  As he – or apparently, she -- did, Melissa noted that the skin of her feminized fiancee’s face looked smoother than normal, the eyes just a touch larger, the cheekbones ever so slightly higher.  The differences were subtle but definitely there.  “Call her right now, tell her to undo this.  And here I thought she was being smart—“

 

 “No, I won’t.”  Melissa began to protest but Lyle silenced her with a long kiss.  Her arms wrapped around Melissa, and after a pause Melissa returned the hug and the kiss.  For a few magical moments it was almost like it was before Amanda and her wish.  Finally the kiss ended but the lovers’ arms stayed firmly around each other.

 

“Listen to me, Melissa.  Just holding you makes it all worth it to me.  I’ll do anything to just have you in my arms.”

 

Melissa caught her breath.  “This is crazy!” she protested weakly.  “How is this different from letting her make you into a complete woman?”

 

“Like I said, it’s a compromise.  It lets us be together, and more importantly it lets you have the wedding you’ve always dreamed of.  After all, how were you planning to handle our first kiss at the altar?”

 

Melissa ducked her head.  “I was trying not to think about that.”

 

“Uh huh.  Somehow I don’ think it would look good to have the bride throw up when the groom tries to kiss her.”

 

Melissa rolled her eyes.  “This is dangerous, not to mention dirty pool.  You and your sister are just trying to get me used to the idea of you being a girl, hoping I’ll give in.”

 

Lyle smirked and kissed her again, quickly.  “Is it working?”

 

Melissa tilted her head at him, her chin thrust stubbornly forward. “Fine.  I think it’s time we found out,” she said, and took Lyle’s hand firmly in hers as she headed for the bedroom.

 

“Um…what?” wondered Lyle as she was pulled along by her determined future wife.

 

“First, we’re going to get a look at what Tabitha did to you.  Next I’m going to decide if I like it or not.  If I do, we’re both going to find out what being a lesbian is all about…if you’re lucky.”

 

Lyle’s eyes widened.  “But…um…”  Melissa gave Lyle a look over her shoulder that completely silenced the transformed man. “Shouldn’t I get flowers or something?  It is my first time.”  Melissa laughed and pulled Lyle into the comfortable darkness of her room.

 

 

Hours later, as they snuggled together gathering their breath and their wits, Melissa trailed her fingers over Lyle’s mostly masculine chest.  Lyle’s nipples were larger and thicker than they had been, and to Melissa’s amused delight were wonderfully sensitive as well.

 

Lyle moaned as her feminized nipples stiffened under Melissa’s touch.  “Again?” she wondered.

 

“I told you this was dangerous,” giggled Melissa.  “After careful consideration of your strategy,” she said in a mock serious tone as she tweaked a nipple.  She grinned at Lyle’s yelp and moved her hand down Lyle’s taut abs.  “And evaluating its risks and benefits…”  Melissa’s teasing hand wandered further down, fingertips tracing the outline of the overtly feminine mound nestled between Lyle’s firmly muscled thighs.  “I’ve decided further exploration is necessary.”  A slim finger parted Lyle’s new nether lips and dutifully matched her words, exploring the warm depths as Lyle gasped and shuddered in delight.

 

“I’ve created a monster,” moaned Lyle, though she did not seem at all displeased with her creation.

 

 

That same night, in a tiny hotel room in Tokyo, a short middle-aged Japanese man sat before a mirror mounted above the room’s dresser.  He quietly contemplated a small package wrapped in brown paper resting on the cheap dresser’s cheap laminated top.  He was conservatively dressed in a dark grey business suit and black leather shoes.  His salt-and-pepper hair was cropped short, his scalp clearly visible except at the very top.  He had a poor complexion, pock-marked from childhood acne.  His deep brown eyes looked up and silently regarded his reflection for several long moments before quite unexpectedly sticking out his tongue at his mirrored self.

 

“I’ve had enough of you,” declared the man, in English and with a slight Kentucky drawl.  With that, the grey suddenly fled from his hair as it turned deep red and burst from his scalp to swirl about a body that was expanding slightly at shoulder and hips and narrowing at the waist.  His clothes crawled across his body, darkening as they became a simple black dress whose neckline was rapidly stretching across full twin mounds as his skin became lighter and smoother.  Then it was done, and Amy sat looking at herself in the mirror.  “That’s much better,” sighed the witch.

 

Her reflection looked pale and drawn.  The last few weeks had been the hardest, scariest, and most exhilarating time of her life.   Her new magical senses had constantly felt the probing of Lyle’s scrying and the coven’s magic.  To her it was like hearing the roar of some beast on her heels.  Distance from her pursuers had helped quiet the roar, and she also found that being among other people helped disguise her own presence.  Here in Tokyo, thousands of miles away and surrounded by the teeming masses of the city, the coven’s pursuit was reduced to a distant rumble.

 

She had also found that transforming herself confused Lyle’s far sight, and so she had been nearly every race she could think of, not to mention older, younger, skinny, voluptuous – even male like tonight.  It had been fun at first but she was getting tired of seeing strangers in the mirror.

 

For the first time in over week she felt comfortable enough to take on her normal shape and relax for a few moments.  She knew it could not last.  The Bardstown coven had friends in surprising places, and it would not be long before someone in Japan began looking for her.

 

Amy returned her attention to the small package before her.  She undid the twine to reveal a statuette of a snake coiled over and over itself.  The snake was entirely made of black onyx with the exception of tiny rubies for its eyes.  The detail was exquisite, each scale painstakingly carved with such precision that she found herself watching for the ribs of the coiled body to breathe in and out. 

 

Under the statue was a sheet of paper.  At the top was a series of Japanese characters that meant nothing at all to Amy.  Below was a translation in blocky Western characters.  Certain words were not translated, such as ‘yokai’ and ‘hebi.’

 

The paper and the statue were her other reasons for coming to Tokyo.  She had had precious little time to strategize while she was on the run, but she had heard rumors along the way of a special shop in Tokyo, one that might have what she needed to tip the balance in her favor.   At last she had found the shop and to her delight the owner had known just what she needed to take care of Lyle once and for all – and especially Melissa.  Her lips curled at the thought of what she had already done to them but she was not through, not by a long shot.

 

Amanda picked up the paper and began to read the incantation, softly at first and then more loudly as she fed her power into the gathering spell.  Faster and louder came her words, her voice rising to a feverish plea.  She stood and threw her arms out in an ecstatic release of power, her body enveloped in shimmering waves of energy.

 

Before her the snake idol’s eyes glowed crimson and Amanda’s exultant voice suddenly dissolved into frantic screams.

 

It took the police just ten minutes to knock down the door, to find only an empty room with no sign of the screaming woman reported by the hotel staff.  A few scraps of brown paper crumpled atop the dresser were all that remained of the nondescript businessman that had checked into the room earlier that evening.

 

 

 

The days before the wedding seemed to fly by after that night.  Melissa and Lyle were much like their former selves; inseparable and obviously in love.  They decided to keep Lyle’s transformation to themselves, knowing that their parents would not approve.  They explained away their renewed ability to touch as the result of a carefully constructed spell that fooled Melissa’s subconscious into believing that Lyle was female.  Melissa became so convincing at describing the fictitious spell that she actually had Tabitha make Lyle male again and tried to cast a real version of it – with disappointing results.  For the rest of that day she insisted on calling her fiancée “Lisa,” and could not understand no one else used that name nor why “Lisa” was wearing male clothing.

 

For her part, Lyle was becoming accustomed to her unusual condition.  In some ways it was nice.  Her feminine anatomy did not bind in clothing or get in the way when she was climbing over or crawling under houses, though her pants felt a bit baggy in front.  She also did not have to shave, as her facial hair was now as light and sparse as a natural woman's. Female orgasms were also a heady experience for the transformed man, whether they were from her private fumbling attempts or from Melissa’s occasional ‘experiments’.    On the other hand, peeing and cleaning up afterwards was much less convenient as a woman.  She also could not escape the feeling that something was gone even though she knew that her anatomy had been transformed rather than removed.

 

There was also a rather embarrassing moment when the tuxedos came in for fitting.  The tailor looked quite surprised when he attempted to measure Lyle’s inseam and encountered something quite unexpected under the pant’s fabric.  Fortunately Tabitha had been on hand and a quick spell later the tailor had forgotten the incident, although he still gave Lyle some odd looks.

 

Lyle took it all in stride as she still considered this only a temporary solution.  She knew that it could not go on forever.  As pleasurable as her altered body was, Lyle wanted very much to be a real husband and someday a father.  She also knew that while the partial transformation allowed them to be closer, Melissa was not really attracted to her mostly masculine body.   She looked forward to the day when they found another djinn and could undo Amy’s meddling.

 

As eager as she was, it was still a surprise to her when the day of the wedding arrived.  She drove out of Bardstown to Heritage Hall bemused by thoughts of the changes that day would create in her life.

 

Most of the others were already there when she pulled into the parking lot.  Lyle stepped out and began walking to where families and friends were gathering on the large lawn behind the Hall.  A temporary altar had been constructed there, white arches, latticework, and lacey awnings creating an ethereal sort of beauty.  A low stage supported a table and podium for the minister and was adorned with vases full of ivory and pale pink blossoms. More flowers were twined in the latticework and cascaded over the arches.  Rows of folding chairs adorned with ribbon and more flowers awaited the wedding guests.

 

“You look very handsome today,” said her sister’s voice as an arm slipped around her waist.

 

“Thank you,” said Lyle, looking down at her tuxedo.  She had never been one to dress up but she had to admit that the clothes felt good on her.  “And you’re looking beautiful in that dress.”  He was not exaggerating either.  The swirling bridesmaid’s dress complemented Tabitha’s figure very nicely, making the conservative cut somehow look daring.

 

Tabitha smirked up at him. “This old thing?” she said in a mock-offhand tone.  “I actually do like it better than most such dresses.  That fiancée of yours has much better taste than a lot of brides – well, except for her taste in men!”  Lyle rolled her eyes and they both laughed.   “At least your groomsmen are more punctual than you – they’re waiting in your tent.”  She nodded at a small pavilion at the right rear of the outdoor chapel.  A similar one stood at the left rear for the bridal party.

 

Lyle laughed.  “I’m surprised, considering what they drank last night.  I think they were determined to sample every whisky in the bar.”

 

“Did you have fun then?  It must have been a bit strange for you.”

 

“Yes it was strange, but I was just sorry that more of my friends aren’t in the wedding.”

 

Tabitha nodded and sighed.  “I understand, but with Amanda’s trail suddenly going stone cold a few weeks back the families are worried about what might happen.”  She nodded at several warlocks and witches scattered in a loose perimeter around the tree line.  “Hopefully nothing will happen, but mundanes would be in a lot of danger if she tries something.”

 

Lyle nodded.  “I know, I know.  I even agree – I just wish it were different.”

 

 Tabitha decided to change the subject and pointed at the altar.  “Like it?”

 

 “I do,” Lyle said.  “But the pink flowers are a bit girly for me.”  She noticed Tabitha’s boyfriend Kevin walking up, looking dapper in a black suit and tie.  One of the ivory blossoms was tucked into his lapel. Lyle nodded and gave him a friendly nod and smile.

 

Tabitha giggled.  “Girly?  So even after all this time with female equipment you haven’t gained any appreciation for flowers?”

 

“Tabitha!” protested Lyle, waving a hand at Kevin.

 

“It’s, um, ok, Lyle,” said Kevin.  “She told me about your…solution.” 

 

Lyle glared at her sister, who managed to look somewhat abashed.  “He is my boyfriend,” said Tabitha defensively.  “And he would be my fiancé if he’d get up the courage to ask.”

 

To Lyle’s surprise, Kevin laughed instead of looking nervous or embarrassed.  “Nice try, Tabitha, but I don’t think you’re going to distract Lyle that way.  And I’ll ask when I’m good and ready, thank you very much.”

 

Hmph,” pouted Tabitha.  “There could still be a lily pad in your future, ya know.”

 

Ribbit,” said Kevin and they both laughed, leaving Lyle looking somewhat bewildered.  Kevin noticed and said, “Sorry, old joke.  Anyway, do you think you guys will find a permanent solution soon?”

 

Lyle shrugged her masculine shoulders.  “I hope so.  We’re at least able to be together this way but I can tell she’s not really happy with it.”

 

Kevin looked as though he were going to ask another question when Lorinda Brookwell’s voice rang out.  “Ladies and gentlemen, we will begin seating now.”

 

“Oops, that’s my cue, I’m ushering today,” said Kevin.  He shook Lyle’s hand and said, “Good luck!” before heading off.

 

“We should go too, big brother,” said Tabitha.  “The groomsmen are probably wondering where you are.”  She kissed him on the cheek and told him, “You are very lucky, Lyle.  Melissa is a wonderful girl.  I’m also proud of you for sticking with her!”

 

Lyle looked surprised.  “What?  That almost sounded like praise from you!”

 

Tabitha giggled.  “Don’t let it go to your head.  Now get to your tent!”  The brother and sister parted and headed for their respective tents.

 

Waiting in the tent were Lyle’s three groomsmen.  Two were her older brothers Marcus and Zach.  The other was a cousin of his named Jack Tannery.  Lyle sighed and wished again that her mundane friends could have participated, but she kept those thoughts to herself as the others shook her hand, clapped her on the shoulder, and made ribald jokes about the wedding night.  If only they knew what’s under my boxers, thought Lyle with a smirk.

 

Outside the tent, music began to play.  “This it, little brother,” said Marcus.  “Are you ready for this?”

 

Lyle wanted to say something flippant but saw that he was being serious.  “Yes,” she said decisively.  Her brother hugged her and then half-shoved her out of the tent.  The female groom and her groomsmen walked slowly to the altar, Lyle striving to ignore the all of the eyes on them.  She was not used to large audiences and decided that she was actually happy the wedding was so small.

 

Henry Cooper stood at the altar waiting for them, dressed in a flowing white robe.  He was somewhat unique among the local covens, being both an ordained minister and a warlock.  His bald head gleamed in the sunlight as he smiled at Lyle and motioned for her to stop.  As one, the groom’s party turned to look down the aisle.

 

At that moment the music shifted to the familiar bridal theme, and there she was.  Melissa was a vision in white dramatically offset by the masses of her ebony hair.  She had freed her hair from its typical braid and it swirled about her shoulders in an wavy mane somehow barely constrained by a fine netting of silver and pearls as it fell past the puffy fabric concealing her shoulders. The gown’s bodice clung to her upper body, with more silver and pearls worked into the fabric in a pattern that made Lyle think of the wings of a fantastic bird.  The pattern continued onto the swelling skirt and down the long train of her dress, but Lyle paid no attention.  Her eyes met Melissa’s, and Lyle quickly lost herself in that emerald gaze.

 

She was aware of Melissa and the bridesmaid’s procession down the aisle, of the minister speaking in a solemn yet joyous tone, of the exchanging of rings and vows, but it all seemed so distant and unimportant.  Melissa’s hand in hers, the sound of her voice, the promises in her eyes; these were all that mattered.  As if in a dream she heard Henry Cooper saying, “You may kiss the bride.”

 

Lyle gently removed Melissa’s veil and looked down at the woman who was now her wife.  Her lips descended towards Melissa’s to the enthusiastic applause and even somewhat teasing cheers of the onlookers.  As her lips brushed Melissa’s, Lyle realized she wanted this moment to last forever.

 

Of course, all good things must end, and this one did in screams and chaos as a gaping hole opened in the aisle before the altar.  Sulphurous fumes filled the air with a reeking stench as they streamed out of the glowing pit that had rent the grass.   Chairs were tumbling away from the pit as coven members fell to the ground.  Others farther away began casting protective spells, and the guardians that had been placed around the clearing were running towards the altar.

 

Two massive hands covered in shimmering black scales reached from the pit, and grabbed at its edges.  A head soon followed, its features a combination of woman and snake that looked at once deadly and beautiful.  Crimson eyes flashed as the creature’s muzzled face broke into a fanged grin as it looked on Lyle and Melissa at the altar.  Lyle instinctively moved in front of Melissa as the creature continued to rise.  Its torso was vaguely humanoid, although covered in more of the midnight scales on its back and sides.  Its curving breasts and stomach had silver scales that became broader and flatter as the descended to her lower body, which was completely that of a snake.  Coil after coil emerged from the rift to squirm up the grass, scales shining in the sun.

 

Melissa was caught between fascination and fright, unsure what to do.  The creature was enormous!  If the upper torso had been a normal woman’s, she would have stood at least eight feet tall.  The bizarre creature was horrifying, yet somehow familiar.  The shape of the eyes, the way it was smiling, even the way it folded its arms across its scaled belly. She knew that face, altered as it was.  It was –

 

“Amanda,” said Lyle in shock.

 

The word shocked Tabitha out of her own daze.  She stepped in front of the newly wedded couple and screamed in defiance as her hands unleashed a barrage of white-hot magical fire.  Amanda reared back in the grip of the flames.  A darkness emanated from her, a flowing umbra that absorbed the fire as though it had never been.  The snake woman gave a hissing laugh and the umbra swelled in one fist, a dark ball of energy that leapt towards the altar and enveloped Tabitha completely.

 

“Tabitha!”  yelled Kevin from the back of the audience.  “Let her go!”  Lacking any other weapon, he picked up a metal folding chair and swung down as hard as he could on the end of the Amanda’s tail.  She looked casually over its shoulder at Kevin, and he was enveloped in another ball of dark energy.

 

The transformed woman looked around the congregation of witches and warlocks and grinned hugely, exposing long fangs and a flickering forked tongue.  “No more heroes today,” she hissed in a deep melodious voice.  The crimson eyes flashed and each and every onlooker found themselves suddenly enveloped in a ruby red haze of magic, only their eyes free to move and watch the unfolding spectacle before them.  Lips fell silent, charms and wands clattered to the ground, and the meadow became completely still.

 

“Much better,” said Amanda with smug satisfaction as she returned her red gaze to the altar.  The only sounds were muffled grunts and moans from the spheres that imprisoned Tabitha and Kevin.  The spheres lifted into the air before her and the darkness faded into transparency as she regarded her captives.  “Hmm, another Mansford by the look of you.  You must be Tabitha.  And who is your would-be rescuer?  A boyfriend?”

 

Kevin looked through the swirling spheres that contained them and saw Tabitha looking back at him.  They instinctively reached out as though to touch each other.

 

“Oh, how touching,” sneered the creature that had been Amanda.  “You want to be together?  That can be arranged.”  At her words the spheres that contained the two lovers moved closer together until they touched, merging into one large oblong that surrounded them.  Tabitha and Kevin tumbled into each other’s arms.

 

“Kevin!  Are you all right?” gasped Tabitha.

 

“Yes, and you?”

 

“I’m fine.  I’m also going to kill you when this is over.  What were you thinking—“

 

“Tabitha?  The walls – they’re still moving.”

 

Amanda laughed in delight at the couple’s plight.  The frozen congregation could only watch in horror while rippling waves of energy constricted tighter and tighter around the two.  Finally the waves touched them.  Their clothing dissolved into a fine mist and the magic flowed over their bodies freely.  Still the magical force tightened, shoving them together in a horrible parody of an embrace.

 

Lyle watched his sister’s plight with growing dread.  Their bodies were pressing so hard against each other now that Lyle was sure Amanda meant to crush the life out of them.  A moment later, she realized that the truth was more insidious.

 

Everywhere that Tabitha’s skin touched Kevin’s there was a strange blurriness that faded to reveal that their flesh was merging, combining, becoming a horrific blending of the two lovers.  Their limbs became a tangle of partially merged skin, muscle, and bone.  Their torsos joined into a single massive blob with her breasts thrusting out at odd angles.  Their legs twisted around each other and through each other.  Finally, the hideous blackness surrounding them fell away to fully reveal the grotesque co-joining that had been forced upon them.

 

Amanda gave a hissing laugh at what she had wrought.  “Ah, togetherness.  That ought to keep you two occupied,” she said and with an offhanded gesture the merged tangle of limbs and bodies was thrown behind the altar to groan incoherently in pain and horror at what had been done to them.

 

The snake creature swept its crimson gaze around the congregation.  “Power,” she said.  “You all think you have so much power but look at you now, caught like flies in a web.  You thought you could find me and punish me.  Hah!  I found the real power, more than two of your pathetic covens combined.”

 

Lyle gazed upon the creature that had once been her girlfriend and shuddered internally.  She was not sure exactly what Amanda had done but it was obvious that demonic forces were involved.  She did not recognize the form that Amanda had taken on but it was clearly from some plane of Hell. 

 

Lyle’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of movement behind the altar.  She dared not turn her eyes to look but she knew it was coming from the general area where Tabitha and Kevin’s bodies had fallen.

 

“No more!” shouted Amanda in her sibilant voice.  “You will not chase me anymore.  Now you are mine – all of you!”  A collective gasp rose from the captive coven members as they felt a heady rush of magic through their bodies.  Only Lyle and Melissa were unaffected.  They could see the effects, though.  Their family and friends were all shifting in their magical prisons.  Scales rose from their flesh, eyes developed vertical pupils, legs began to soften and merge.  The more powerful ones, like Devin Mansford and Jennifer Brookwell, were fighting the changes but were slowly losing the fight.  Less powerful witches were changing more quickly.  Lyle turned a fearful gaze upon her father to see that his legs were already merged into a sinuous snake-like body.  Nick’s upper torso was changing as well, slimming and developing feminine curves.  It would not be long before Lyle’s father was a miniature twin of Amanda.

 

At that moment, Lyle heard an odd scraping noise from behind the altar.  She risked a glance over her shoulder and saw an arm coming from under the stage to draw a familiar looking pattern on the ground.  An unreasonable thrill of hope ran through her – until she looked back to see that Amanda’s hate-filled gaze was upon her.

 

“And now we come to the main attraction,” hissed the snake woman.  She reached down and picked Lyle up in one massive, taloned hand.  “Enjoying your wedding day, Lyle honey?” she mock-cooed.  “Oh and look how handsome you are in your tuxedo!”  Amanda’s tongue flickered in Lyle’s face as she mocked her.  Lyle wished desperately she could speak but had to suffer Amanda’s taunting in silence.

 

“How is it, I wonder, that you’ve gotten around my wish?  You were about to kiss her – don’t deny it! – and that shouldn’t be possible.”  Amanda’s gaze became hot on her flesh, penetrating to the bone.

 

Amanda’s hissing dissolved into screeching laughter.  “Oh you little cheater!” she said in glee.  She looked down at Melissa.  “Or was this your idea?”  She tilted her head as though listening for something.  “Oh I see.  This has been your little secret, hasn’t it?”  She paused and looked around at the slowly transforming coven members.  “I think you should all know what these naughty things have been up to!”  She raised her hand and Lyle found herself floating in midair, high enough for all eyes to see her.  Amanda made a quick gesture as though flicking her fingers, and Lyle’s tuxedo flew from his body, along with his socks, shoes, and underwear.  Her limbs suddenly flung themselves outwards, arms straight out and legs and a sharp angle.

 

Lyle rotated slowly in midair above her family and friends, her new womanhood clearly exposed to all of them.

 

“How pathetic,” declared Amanda.  “Were you really that desperate?  Or maybe you were really wanting to be a girl all along.”  She looked down at Melissa.  “And you!  I’m impressed; most brides wait until after the honeymoon to neuter their husbands.”  She giggled and hissed at her own joke and then turned thoughtful.  “So this is how you managed to get around my genie.  I don’t think it’s really what you want, though, is it Melanie?  No, you’re too afraid.  Little Miss Goody Two Shoes could not come out of the closet all the way and marry a girl so you just let your future hubby give himself a nice soft pussy!

 

“Pathetic,” she repeated.  “I can see what you really want, you know.  I know just what kind of woman you lust for.  But you didn’t want to do that to your big strong man, did you, since you’re so noble and all?  Well I think it’s time that he knew what you really want, along with everyone else!”

 

With that, Lyle was lowered back to the altar, to stand next to Melissa once more.  This time she was turned so that she could look down into Melissa’s eyes.  A familiar crawling sensation started to move across her skin.  She had been transformed by her sister enough times to recognize it, along with the twisting in her stomach and the sudden burst of dizziness as she began to shrink, Melissa growing ever taller next to her until she could look straight into her eyes.

 

Melissa looked on in horrified fascination as Lyle shrank.  Short-cropped hair spurted from her head to fall in wild waves of blonde curls that cascaded over her Lyle’s shoulders, down her back, and past her bottom.  Lyle’s face rapidly softened, lips swelling and cheekbones rising, her heavy chin narrowing and softening, and eyes growing larger and slightly canted. 

 

Lyle was not done shrinking, though.  Melissa had to look down to see her beloved’s blue-grey panicked eyes.  Her body was changing in other ways as well.  Her thick abdominal muscles faded as her waist narrowed and hips suddenly curved outwards.  Her bottom shifted beneath the waves of blonde curls into a girlish heart-shaped derriere that was a bit overstated for her shrinking form.  The curves of her lower body were soon matched by those above, however, as flesh swelled underneath her nipples.  Lyle’s nascent bosom developed the conical breasts of a young teenager that soon began to hang more heavily upon her chest as they ballooned into perfectly tear-drop shaped mounds topped with very large, light pink nipples.

 

Finally the transformation ended and a petite girl stood before Melissa.  The top of her head barely reached the level of Melissa’s shoulder.  An incredible, almost cape-like mane of blonde curls surrounded her and gave teasing glimpses of a body that was very curvaceous for such a small frame.  Her face was more cute than classically beautiful, with huge shining eyes above a turned up nose and full lips that seemed to naturally curl into a naughty little smile.

 

“Well look at you, Lyle!  Aren’t you the cutest little thing!  Apparently your lesbo slut of a wife likes ‘em short and stacked.”  She grinned down at the two for a moment, relishing their distress.  “Oh, but you’re not at all dressed for your big day are you Lyle?”  With a wave of Amanda’s hand, Lyle found herself abruptly surrounded in white lace and satin.  Her gown was an exact duplicate of Melissa’s, though its bodice revealed a much wider expanse of Lyle’s new bosom.  Her hair was even styled like Melissa’s, with fine silver wires and pearls holding it back from her face and barely controlling the wild curls.

 

“Aw, look!  I made a matched set!”  Amanda hissed happily and looked around at her frozen audience.  She noted with satisfaction that even the stronger witches were succumbing to her will.  Many of them now had tails instead of legs and scales covering most of their skin.  “Looks like we have some more time to play while we wait,” she hissed and looked down at Melissa.

 

“Do you like my wedding present?”  She stroked a taloned finger through Lyle’s hair.  “You sure took to being a lesbo quickly, didn’t you?  I wonder if you were one all along!  Or maybe you just want to wear the pants in the family.”  Amanda grinned broadly.  “That’s perfect!  We have a new blushing bride so you can be the groom.  Then you can do the honors and break her in – right here, right now!” 

 

With that, Amanda’s eyes once more glowed brightly.  Melissa closed her eyes and waited for the changes to begin – but nothing happened.  She opened her eyes to find Amanda looming over her, the tip of her tail thrashing about in irritation.  “That damned wish!” she hissed.  “You have to be a lesbian so I can’t make you into a man.  There has to be a way!” 

 

Amanda’s hissing grew more strident as she sought some magical means to get around her own wish.  Her attention was so caught up in her attempts that she did not notice as a figure rose from behind the altar.  Mostly humanoid, the figure might at first be mistaken for male with its large muscles and squared shoulders.  Breasts graced its chest, though, and the waist was too narrow for a normal male’s.  The hips were broad and yet firmly toned with muscle.  A thick male organ bobbed in its groin with no sign of a scrotum beneath.  The most bizarre aspect, however, was the two heads that resided on the figures shoulders – one with the features of Tabitha and the other with Kevin’s.

 

In fact Amanda did not notice Tabitha and Kevin’s presence until Tabitha’s head said in her high, clear voice:

 

Mother of life hear my plea

            Life and light circling all

            Let the demon appear before me

            Wretched hellspawn obey my call!

 

Amanda laughed as she regarded the merged couple.  “That won’t work you know.  You have to have my real name – my demonic one.  And my demon side isn’t exactly from around here!”

 

Both Tabitha and Kevin grinned at her words.  Tabitha proclaimed, “Demon I name thee!”  Kevin then spoke in a voice like thunder, “Hebi no Yokai!”  Amanda started, her coils twisting on the grass. 

 

Hebi no Yokai!” shouted Kevin a second time.

 

“No!  You can’t know that!” screamed Amanda, raising a fist as though to smash them both.

 

Hebi no Yokai!”  thundered Kevin once more.  And with a loud clap of displaced air, Amanda vanished from in front of the altar.  A smaller clap announced her appearance in the circle that Tabitha and Kevin and drawn behind the altar.  The circle was quite small, though, so Amanda’s demonic form was correspondingly much smaller, her snakelike head rising only to the level of Tabitha and Kevin’s breasts.  “Gotcha, you bitch,” said Kevin with satisfaction as Tabitha’s eyes rolled.

 

“Now,” said Tabitha firmly.  “Release everyone from your stasis spell and halt their transformations.”  Amanda folded her arms defiantly across her humanoid torso.  “Oh darn,” said Tabitha.  “I suppose I can undo all this myself but it would be faster if you did it.  I guess I’ll just have to release you.”  Amanda raised an eyebrow at her.  “Of course when I release you, I’ll send you straight to Hell, to the plane where your demon side lives.  I’m sure it’s quite lovely once you get past all the flames and eternal suffering and all.”

 

“Bitch,” hissed Amanda.  “You’d do it too, wouldn’t you?”

 

“In a heartbeat,” said Tabitha and Kevin in one voice.

 

“Oh very well,” said Amanda.  All across the lawn, people staggered as they were freed from their magical prisons.  Jennifer Mansford looked with some amusement upon her husband who was nearly a perfect duplicate of Amanda’s snake-woman form.  Nick thrashed his—or rather her—tail about on the ground and nearly fell.  Her full scaly breasts wobbled with the motion.  Jennifer giggled, earning her a glare from Nick’s snake-like eyes.  She stifled her laughter and began transforming him back to normal.  Around the meadow the other witches and warlocks followed suit, and soon the coven members were restored to their normal selves.

 

Tabitha and Kevin took a moment to return themselves to normal as well.  Their eyes closed in concentration and their mutual body suddenly thickened at the shoulders, waist, legs and arms.  A seam developed in the co-joined flesh that grew deeper as it traveled, until the two were suddenly tumbling apart, individuals once more.

 

“Whew,” said Tabitha.  “That was more togetherness than I think any couple wants!”

 

“Very funny,” replied Kevin.  “But could you do something about clothing?  Being naked in front of your parents was not on my to-do list for today.”

 

Tabitha smirked and waved her hand, restoring both of their clothes just as the other coven members began to gather around the summoning circle they had created in the dirt behind the altar until the coven gathered around them.  After making sure Tabitha was all right, Jennifer and Nick immediately headed to the stage and began talking with the petite blonde woman that had been their son.

 

Devin and Lorinda Brookwell were nearby making sure Melissa was unharmed.  All three of them then came to the circle.  “Outstanding,” said Devin as he looked over the crudely drawn circle with the demon trapped inside.  “How did you do it?”

 

Tabitha and Kevin looked at each other for a moment.  “It was…difficult,” said Tabitha at last.  “We had to figure out how to move first.  Of course every time I moved he would try to move too…”

 

“It was like a Push-Me-Pull-You!” said Kevin.  “After a few seconds though we figured out how to roll out of sight by the stage, and out of sight—“

 

“Is out of mind,” finished Tabitha.  The two of them laughed, one high and the other low but otherwise identically.  “I realized I couldn’t undo the change easily, especially without Amanda knowing, so I told Kevin that we had to stop fighting it.”

 

“So by accepting it,” interjected Lorinda.  “You were able to control it?”

 

“More like guide it but that’s basically right.  We were able to move a lot better after that.  I told Kevin our only hope was to summon her—“

 

“—so we drew the summoning circle.  It’s weird but I somehow knew what Tabitha was doing, even kind of remembered how to do it,” said Kevin.  Tabitha smiled at him fondly.

 

“That is a bit strange,” said Lorinda. She was still running her hand through her hair as though making sure it had grown back correctly.  “But what impresses me is that you knew the creature’s name.  It sounded Japanese – where did you study their demonology?”

 

Tabitha smirked.  “I didn’t.  Kevin knew its name.”

 

Everyone turned their gaze on Kevin, who looked abashed.  “Um…well…it was something I saw in anime.”  Lorinda and Devin gave him puzzled looks.  “Japanese cartoons.  They’re something of a collector’s item here in the U.S.  Anyway something like snake-girl over here showed up in Lucky Kitten Goddess IV…” Kevin’s voice trailed off as he saw the dubious looks on the faces around him.  “Well, it worked didn’t it?”

 

“Saved by cartoons,” mused Tabitha.  Amanda thrashed angrily in her confinement, drawing her attention.  “We do have to decide what to do with her.”

 

“Kill her,” said Melissa coldly, earning her surprised looks from her mother and father.  “What?  She meant to enslave all of us!  She’s even more dangerous now than when we started chasing her.  She can’t be allowed to go free and we can’t keep a summoning spell running constantly.  I won’t live my life wondering when that bitch will try something again.”

 

“I agree, kill that thing,” said Jennifer as she walked over to the circle.  Nick and Lyle were still talking, and Tabitha knew her father well enough to see that he was not happy about whatever they were discussing.

 

“I’m sorry, Jennifer, but we can’t.  Melissa, you should know that,” said Devin.  “She is a demon now which means she is an immortal.  Kill her physical body and she will simply be cast back to her home plane.  She will return eventually and most likely with vengeance on her mind.”  He paused.  “I also have to question whether even Amanda deserves such a fate.”

 

“Fine, separate her from the demon, just like Tabitha and Kevin,” said Jennifer.

 

“Could we?” wondered Lorinda.  She cast a thoughtful gaze upon the entrapped demon for several long moments.  “I don’t know,” she said in answer to her own question.  “Amanda has lost much of herself to the demon; their souls are intertwined and merging.  It will take some research to find a way to split them apart.”

 

“But you cannot keep a summoning spell going that long,” pointed out Devin.  “It will have to be released by midnight and then Amanda will be freed.”

 

Lorinda and Melissa both nodded soberly. A moment later Melissa gave a brilliant smile that made her father nervous.  “I have a perfect solution!  We’ll bind her, right here, so she cannot get away.”  With that she looked around, her gaze falling upon the bouquet she still carried.  She took several flowers from the bouquet and then set it down on the grass.  The other coven members looked at each other in bewilderment as the witch began to concentrate, and then sang out:

 

            Mother Gaia we call on your power

            Hold this evil in your earthy embrace

            Root and stem, leaf and flower

            Let her live by your seasons’ grace!

 

Melissa cast the rose blossoms into the summoning circle.  They landed on Amanda’s squirming coils and sank into her scaly flesh.  Amanda suddenly screeched, loud and long, as the tip of her tail pushed itself into the soil below her.  Nearly of a foot of her body had pushed into the soil when the motion finally halted.  Above the soil her scales suddenly rippled, merging together, their color shifting from glossy black to dull brown.  The texture of the scales changed as they merged. They became stiffer and rougher until they looked like the bark of a tree or bush.  This change proceeded rapidly up Amanda’s body until she appeared to be covered completely in stiffening bark. 

 

The snake-woman’s screams grew louder as her tail began to divide into branches covered with thorns.  With each new branch more of her body was drawn into the bush that was inexorably replacing her tail.  Finally only her humanoid upper body, shrunken and twisted, was visible amongst the branches.  Her arms stretched outwards and upwards into more vine-like branches and her torso stiffened.  Finally her screams fell silent as her face flattened into the central trunk of the newly formed bush.  Amanda’s branches developed leaves, thick and green and vaguely oily.  Blossoms appeared; some crimson, some black, others a swirling mix of the two colors.  The rose blooms nodded amongst the protection of sharp black thorns.

 

“There,” Melissa told her mother with satisfaction.  “You should have plenty of time now to figure out how to split them apart.  Those two aren’t going anywhere for a long time.”

 

“Good riddance,” said an unfamiliar feminine voice, high and musical.  “I say let the bitch stay that way forever.”  Everyone looked to see that it was Lyle that had spoken, still standing on the stage near her father.  Melissa nearly gasped as she took in the sight.  Lyle was resplendent in her wedding gown, an absolute vision in white satin.  Her long hair flowed down her back in barely constrained honey-blonde curls.  Melissa’s heart nearly broke at the sight of her and at the thought of what she had to say next.  Numbly she walked back up the stairs to the altar, her gown’s train dragging heavily behind her.

 

She looked down at her transformed lover, a little thrill running through her body at how petite and beautiful Lyle had become.  She wanted to take this wonderful vision in her arms and never let go…but she knew she had to do the right thing.

 

“It’s your turn, Lyle,” she finally managed to say.  “Time to change back to normal -- all the way back.”

 

“No,” said Lyle decisively.  She looked defiantly up at Melissa, trying to ignore just how much she had to crane her neck to do so, not to mention the rustling of her new mane.

 

“What?  But Lyle – everyone knows about our little charade.  You need to be back in your own body—“

 

“Oh hush!” said Lyle firmly.  Melissa blinked in surprise but held her tongue. “I want the truth now, and nothing but.  Is this body – am I – really what you want, or was Amanda lying?  Take your time, think about it, and tell me the truth.”

 

Melissa bit her lip.  She wanted to lie, to deny everything.  She could feel the eyes of their parents on her as well as the rest of the coven.  She could not refuse the beautiful woman that stood before her though, not with that determined little chin and stubborn gleam in her familiar blue-grey eyes.  “Yes,” she whispered and then raised her head to look around the assembled family and friends.  “Yes,” she said more firmly.  “I cannot deny what I am now.  And you…you are literally the girl of my dreams.”  She reached out to gently stroke Lyle’s new curls.  “You’re so pretty,” she said softly.  “I wish you could stay this way.  This isn’t you though.  You need to change back to normal.”

 

“No,” said Lyle once more.  Before the stage, Nick looked as though he would protest but Jennifer grabbed his arm and whispered in his ear until he subsided.  “Don’t you see?  She may have meant to do us harm but all Amanda has done is show us the truth.  Our ‘compromise’ was not a real solution; it just let us avoid thinking about things and put off the inevitable.  This—“ she gestured down at her new body “—is the only way we’ll ever really be happy together.  I am staying this way.”

 

“What about your job, not to mention your friends?  Won’t people think a girl named Lyle is a bit odd?”

 

“The coven can cast an identity spell to adjust the mundane world’s memory and records – it wouldn’t be the first time.  As for my name…”  The blonde took a deep breath and looked at Jennifer who nodded slightly. “My name will be what my mother would have given me if I had been born female.  I am now Lillian Marie Mansford.”

 

“Lillian?” said a dazed Melissa.

 

“Well, I might go by Lily.  Or Lila.  I haven’t really decided yet.”

 

“Don’t I have any say in this?” wondered Melissa in a small voice.

 

“As a matter of fact you don’t,” replied the newly christened Lillian somewhat smugly.  “It is my body, after all, and I choose to be this way.  You just have to decide whether you want to be married to the woman of your dreams or not.  Is that a hard decision to make?”

 

Melissa sighed.  “You are quite the little drama queen, aren’t you?”  Some of the witches and warlocks laughed softly.  Lillian arched an eyebrow at her but remained silent.  Melissa cast a pleading look at her mother who only smiled encouragingly in return. 

 

Finally she reached out and took Lillian’s hand in hers.  “Will you…will you marry me, Lillian Marie Mansford?”

 

The petite blonde smiled up at her.  “I already did, silly.”  She waved her left hand in the air so that her new wedding band glimmered in the sun.  “There was something about kissing the bride though…?”

 

Melissa smiled down at her new wife, joy welling in her heart.  “Indeed there was,” she murmured and bent her head until their lips met in the first kiss of their new lives together.  Lyle – Lillian – was delightfully warm and soft in her arms.  The kiss was unlike any they had shared before, sweet and delicate and intoxicating.  She never wanted it to end.

 

“Ahem,” said Devin archly and the wedded couple reluctantly parted.  They were blushing and smiling as they descended the steps together.  Family and friends began to cheer.  Lorinda and Jennifer hugged each other as both mothers tried to hide their tears. 

 

Nick looked dazed as his son turned-daughter suddenly hugged him tightly.  He looked for a moment as though he might run away but finally returned her hug fiercely.  “Are you sure this is what you want?” he whispered in her ear.

 

“Yes, Father.  I’ve never been so sure in all my life.”

 

Nick was silent for a moment and then whispered, “Then I have gained two daughters today.”

 

For the first time in her life, Lillian found herself crying and smiling at the same time.  “Thank you, Dad,” she said.

 

“Hey!” shouted Tabitha.  “I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m ready for a party!”  She grabbed Kevin’s arm and they began to walk back to the hall and the reception waiting inside.  Everyone laughed and began to follow.  Melissa and Lillian walked arm in arm, their trains trailing behind them and overlapping in waves of silk and pearl.

 

“So, may I have the pleasure of this dance?” asked Melissa.

 

“That depends,” said Lillian with a smirk.  “Who gets to lead?”

 

“I do!” announced Melissa.  She turned and swept the smaller woman into her arms.  Lillian squeaked and wrapped her arms around Melissa’s shoulders.  Both of them laughed with joy as Melissa carried Lillian across the threshold into the happy din of the reception.

 

Silence fell across the meadow behind the old church.  Behind the temporary altar sunlight gleamed on oily green leaves and sharp ebony thorns.  Crimson and black blossoms bobbed in the breeze, biding their time…

 

 

The End

 



[i] Kindhearted Woman Blues by Robert Johnson