Stage One: The Calling
Not every young woman possesses the acute connection to the spiritual world necessary for the practice of witchcraft. Do not force this connection if it does not exist; wait for the calling to come to you.
Hate everything about the small, middle-of-nowhere town that you live in. Hate how the only thing to do after school is hang out at the late-night breakfast place, or that sorry mall, with its two stories of chain clothing stores and circular coin fountain that is always closed for repairs. Wait for the weekends, when you can steal the car keys from the kitchen table, ignoring your parents’ nagging reminders to take out the trash and be home by your ridiculous 10:00 p.m. curfew, and drive. Some days, drive past the high school to watch your classmates at their Saturday track practice, or the abandoned house down the hill from school where you’ve heard rumors that the popular kids go to drink and smoke on Friday nights. Other days, drive all the way out of town until you’re surrounded by an infinite maze of cornfields. One day, drive so far that you end up in the next town over, a tiny place with dingy bars and diners and storefronts with signs faded to illegibility. Park the car and venture inside one of the shops, a used bookstore with a tiny bell that rattles as you open the door.
The book will be hidden behind some others, carelessly shelved with books on spirituality, self-help, and natural remedies. Feel drawn to the worn, canvas cover, adorned with faded gold symbols. Words like “guide” and “introduction” and “witchcraft” may appear in indented letters across the spine. Feel the bumps of each letter across your fingertips as you run them over the words. Open the book and flip through the pages, taking in the spells on love, money, life, death, and revenge. The penciled-in price on the inside cover will seem too good to pass up. Bring the book to the white-haired shopkeeper at the front of the store and ask for a paper bag to carry it home; you may have to hide it under your bed to avoid any unwelcome questions from your nosy parents.
Stage Two: Basic Spells
A young witch should begin by mastering some simple charms, many of which can be performed using basic household items. Keep in mind that these spells materialize in subtle ways; their results may not be evident at first, but if performed correctly, one should see them come to fruition.
Bring the book to school the next day to show to your best friend, Becky.
Becky will cough dramatically and fan her hand in front of her nose as the old book flips open in her arms. “Creepy!” she will say. “Do you think any of this actually works?”
Tell her you don’t know, you only just got it yesterday. Hear a deep voice behind you whisper, “Freaks,” accompanied by a squealing laugh. The voice will belong to Buck, the high school quarterback, who will have his arm around Madison, one of the pretty girls from the wealthy part of town. Shift your body so you and Becky are facing the lockers and block the book from view, but by then Buck and Madison will be gone. In your wiry glasses, off-brand sweaters, and too-short jeans, you may not be oblivious to the things your classmates say behind your back, and but feel relieved that Becky didn’t seem to hear them this time. Still, feel self-conscious that the smelly old book you’re both bent over isn’t doing anything to help your reputation.
“We have to try one,” Becky will say. Tell her you need supplies, like candles and herbs. Explain that your parents might think it’s suspicious if they see you collecting those things around the house. But Becky will insist that it’ll be easier than you think. You’ll be slightly irritated that Becky thinks the book is just a game, but remember that that’s just how she is. She will have been your best friend since first grade, when everyone cliqued up and you were the only ones left. Even though she can be too dramatic sometimes, too quick to jump to conclusions, let it go; after all, she will be your only friend.
Becky will choose an easy revenge spell and explain the plan.
Madison will be walking in a fashion show audition at the mall after school. Real casting agents all the way from Chicago will be there, plus Buck, the rest of the football team, and tons of Madison’s friends to cheer her on. As the spell will describe, the results should be minimal for an amateur witch; think, maybe she’ll trip on the runway, or suddenly forget how to speak during the interview portion. Finally, agree that it all sounds simple and harmless enough.
Arrive at the mall shortly after dinnertime. Follow the colorful, cardboard signs to the big open space on the main floor. A black tent and a long runway will be set up, lined by thick, red velvet chords, with spectators gathered on either side. The aspiring models will be sitting at a bundle of folding chairs near the tent and filling out clipboards.
Becky will pick a patch of white linoleum floor behind the black tent, out of sight from the crowds. Kneel down in the open space. Pull the supplies out of your backpack.
Together, pour salt into a circle and place candles at the edges. Sprinkle herbs into the center, carefully pinching the perfect amount of each one. Open the book and turn to the bookmarked page. Begin to whisper the spell.
Floodlights will flash on, pouring a deep glow through the tent fabric and onto your performance space. The crowd will burst into applause as the music starts, something loud with a booming beat. The first model will step onto the runway. Hold hands and continue to mutter the spell as each model sashays down the runway, distinguished from one another only by the rise and fall of applause.
There will be a crash. Then a scream. Drop your hands and run around to the edge of the tent. Peek around the corner to see Madison on the ground next to the runway, a floodlight on its side beside her.
A casting agent will run to her side to see if she needs help. Blood will drip from a cut in her forehead where it hit the lamp. Her foot will be twisted at a horrible angle. The spike of her high heel will be sticking straight into the air.
Becky will start to panic. “Oh my god, oh my god,” she’ll mutter. Madison’s friends will be frantic; they’ll jump the red velvet rope and crouch around her.
Grab Becky’s wrist and pull her back to your spot behind the curtain. Begin kicking the salt and herbs out of formation.
“What are you doing?” she’ll say. But think only about covering up the evidence and getting out of there as quickly as possible.
Becky will be flustered the whole drive home. Keep quiet as you drop her off. Don’t allow a smile to creep across your face until she is out of the car. Remember that moment, when the sound of your voice muttering those words was interrupted by that immediate crash. Remember that surge of power that erupted through your body. It could have all been a coincidence, but think of how perfectly the events seemed to have lined up, that feeling in your gut of how real it seemed. Let the smile on your face grow wider and wider.
Madison will be fine. She will come to school the next day with nothing more than a cast around her leg and a bandage on her head. But the school will be buzzing with details about the previous night’s events. Find Becky as quickly as you can, but when you show up next to her locker, she won’t look at you. Ask her what’s wrong. Ask her, wasn’t it incredible how it all happened?
“That was awful,” she’ll say. “I never want to think about it again.”
Remind her of all the horrible things Madison and her friends have said to you. Remind her that it was her idea.
“Come on,” she’ll say. “I didn’t actually think it would work. It was messed up.” Becky will collect her books, slam her locker, and hurry down the hallway.
Stage Three: Advanced Spells
The following spells should only be performed by the most experienced witches. Requiring an extensive period of time to simply collect the necessary materials, let alone perform the spell, these spells are especially tricky to execute. If performed incorrectly, the results can be drastic.
You and Becky won’t speak for the rest of the day, or the next day, or the next. Don’t let it bother you too much. Spend all of your time pouring over the book.
Start dressing the way you would imagine a witch to dress, talking in the way you imagine a witch would talk. Notice your closet filling with more and more black, and one day, throw out anything colorful for good. Dye your hair a wicked shade of red, and as you’re rinsing out the excess color in the shower, love how it looks dripping down your face and arms and chest. Steal herbs from your mother’s spice rack and shake them into plastic lunch bags: allspice for luck, cayenne for protection, rosemary for love. If your parents comment on your change in appearance, or ask why Becky hasn’t come over lately, roll your eyes, stomp off to your room, and slam the door shut behind you. Find an old suitcase in the basement and fill it with candles, salt, gemstones, and incense. Secure the brass buckles and hide the chest next to the book under your bed.
Before, you may have been the quiet girl, who sat in the back of the classroom and spoke to no one. Now, you’ll be known as the girl in black makeup and leather boots, who struts down the hallway, forcing anyone in her path to move aside. Don’t mind that you don’t have any friends anymore. Don’t even let the cautious glares Becky throws you in the hallway bother you. Perform a simple protection spell. Eventually, Becky will be nothing to you at all.
Madison will graduate from her ugly cast to a simple medical boot, but the talk of her accident won’t die down. Your transformation will cause some whispers and odd looks, and eventually, out of frustration or hurt or jealousy, Becky will join in on the gossip and tell your classmates about the spell you cast together. But when Becky will tell it, she’ll insist that it was your idea, that you tricked her into doing it, and that you were morbidly obsessed with the results. And with your new attitude, your new look, why won’t they believe her?
At first, your classmates won’t treat you much differently than they did before. Madison’s friends will slam your locker shut as you’re pulling out books or knock pencils off your desk as they brush past. In the lunchroom, one of Buck’s friends will drop a cherry Coke as you walk past, splattering soda all over your boots. In the bathroom, two girls will hold the stall door shut with you trapped inside until you miss the bell. Every time, keep your composure, your head held high. Add the names of each bully to the list of people you’ll perform spells against later that night.
Do continue to perform spells—simple incantations to give your classmates bad grades, pregnancy scares, make them fight with their parents, or get sick before a big game. Subtle charms that can’t be traced back to you. But when the cruel tricks won’t stop, when Becky’s rumors will move past that night at the mall and she will start spreading other secrets you’ve shared with her, when she will join in on the teasing about your weird new look, decide you’ve had enough.
Begin to prepare a new spell, the biggest one you will have ever attempted. This spell will ensure that no one will ever make fun of you again. The curse you will prepare will affect every student and teacher with so much sickness and fear and pain that even you will be awestruck by its potential.
You will need a quiet, empty space to perform the spell. Remember the empty house near school where your classmates drink and smoke on weekends. It will be close enough to school for the scope of your spell to reach, and if you arrive early enough in the evening, no one will be around to bother you. Over the next few days, drive out to ethnic grocery stores and specialty boutiques to find all the necessary materials. Practice the incantation under your breath everywhere you go, in the shower, in the car, walking through the halls between classes. By now, you will be used to spending lunches alone, and you will be happy to use that time to mull over your notes for the spell.
Stage Four: Reception
When working in tandem with the spiritual, it is possible that not all those you encounter will be as understanding of your magical abilities.
Arrive at the abandoned house and begin setting up your supplies. Choose a cool evening in late autumn; the sky will be a deep, twilight blue, and the overgrown grass will be covered with a delicate frost. It will be quiet all around the house.
Time will slip by as you go through the mechanics of preparing your spell. Don’t notice that the sky is dark by the time you are ready. Feel that familiar rush in your chest as you begin to say the words.
Admit that you half-expected what happens next.
When the door crashes open it will be Buck and a couple of his friends from the football team. Their fingers will be wrapped around the necks of bottles of whiskey that they’ve stolen from their parents’ liquor cabinets. They will stop and go silent as soon as they see you, and then burst into laughter. “Get her!” one of them will screech. They will lunge toward you, knocking over the materials you have spread across the floor. They will grab your arms and hips with their thick hands, letting the bottles smash and crack open on the wooden floorboards. Mumble a few spells under your breath—nothing to make them stop, it will be too late for that—but quiet curses for them to live with for the rest of their lives. Miserable wives, reckless children. Constant night terrors, where you will appear to them in their dreams, hair on fire and snakes spilling from your mouth. Make sure they never stop fearing you.
Buck’s friends will hold you down, their hot breaths pungent with alcohol. Buck will stand up to light a cigarette. But the match will fall and hit the spilled liquor, and that dot of light will explode into flashes of white, yellow, orange, and red.
Buck and his friends will jump up and run out the door. Try to stand up and follow them, but the doorway will cave in, and brightness will devour every surface.
They won’t realize what they’ve done until the next morning, when they will wake up to the headlines in the paper, the news vans lining their streets, the police knocking at their doors. But for now, they will stumble down the front lawn, their minds foggy and dumb. The old house will continue to crumble. Release a cackling laugh, the kind that will shatter through this pathetic small town for years. Make sure the last word is yours.