The Hollows series
I leaned over the glass counter, squinting at the price of the high-grade redwood rods, safe in their airtight glass coffins like Snow White. The ends of my scarf slipped to block my view, and I tucked them behind my short leather jacket. I had no call to be looking at wands. I didn’t have the money, but more important, I wasn’t shopping for business today—I was shopping for pleasure.
“Rachel?” my mom said from halfway across the store, smiling as she fingered a display of packaged organic herbs. “How about Dorothy? Make Jenks hairy, and he could be Toto.”
“No friggin’ way!” Jenks exclaimed, and I started when the pixy took off from my shoulder where he’d been nestled in my scarf ’s warmth. Gold dust sifted from him to make a temporary sunbeam on the counter and brighten the drab evening. “I’m not going to spend Halloween handing out candy as a dog! And no Wendy and Tinker Bell either. I’m going as a pirate!” His wings slowed as he settled atop the counter next to the stand of low-grade redwood dowels suitable for amulets. “Coordinating costumes is stupid.”
Normally I’d agree, but, silent, I drew back from the counter. I’d never have enough disposable income for a wand. Besides, versatility was key in my profession, and wands were one-spell wonders. “I’m going as the female lead in the latest vampire flick,” I said to my mom. “The one where the vampire hunter falls in love with the vamp?”
“You’re going as a vampire hunter?” my mother asked.
Warming, I plucked an uninvoked amulet from a vanity rack to size my chest up. I was hippy enough to pass for the actress I was trying to mimic, but my excuse of a chest wouldn’t match her spell-enhanced bust. And it had to be spell enhanced. Naturally big-chested women don’t run like that. “No, the vampire,” I said, embarrassed. Ivy, my housemate, was going as the hunter, and despite my agreement that coordinating costumes was stupid, I knew Ivy and I would stop conversation when we walked into the party. And that was the point, wasn’t it? Halloween was the only time doppelgänger charms were legal—and Inderland and the braver slice of humanity made the most of it.
My mother’s face went serious, then cleared. “Oh! The black-haired one, right? In the slut outfit? Good God, I don’t know if my sewing machine can go through leather.”
“Mom!” I protested, though used to her language and lack of tact. If it came into her head, it came out of her mouth. I glanced at the clerk with her, but she clearly knew my mother and wasn’t fazed. Seeing a woman in tasteful slacks and an angora sweater swearing like a sailor tended to throw people off. Besides, I already had the outfit in my closet.
Frowning, my mother fingered the charms to change hair color. “Come over here, honey. Let’s see if they have anything that will touch your curls. Honestly, Rachel. You pick the hardest costumes. Why can’t you ever be anything easy, like a troll or fairy princess?”
Jenks snickered. “’Cause that’s not slutty enough,” he said loud enough for me to hear, but not my mother.
I gave him a look, and he simpered as he hovered backward to a rack of seeds. Though only about four inches tall, he cut an attractive figure with his soft-soled boots and the red scarf Matalina, his wife, had knitted him wrapped about his neck. Last spring, I’d used a demon curse to make him human-size, and the memory of his eighteen-year-old, athletic figure, with its trim waist and broad, muscular shoulders made strong from his dragonfly-like wings, was still very much in my memory. He was a very married pixy, but perfection deserved attention.
Jenks made a darting path over my basket, and a package of fern seed for Matalina’s wing aches thumped in. Catching sight of the bust enhancer, his expression turned positively devilish. “Speaking of slutty…” he started.
“Well-endowed doesn’t equal slutty, Jenks,” I said. “Grow up. It’s for the costume.”
“Like that’ll do anything?” His grin was infuriating, and his hands were on his hips in his best Peter Pan pose. “You need two or three to even make an impression. Fried eggs.”
From across the store came my mother’s oblivious “Solid black, right?” I turned to see her hair color shifting as she touched the invoked sample amulets. Her hair was exactly like mine. Sort of. I kept mine long, the wild, frizzy red just past my shoulders, instead of in the close cut she used to tame hers. But our eyes were the same green, and I had her same skill in earth magic, fleshed out and given a professional stamp at one of the local colleges. She had more education than I did, actually, but had few opportunities to use it. Halloween had always been a chance for her to show off her considerable earth magic skills to the neighboring moms with a modest vengeance, and I think she appreciated me asking for her help this year. She had been doing great these last few months, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was doing better because I was spending more time with her, or if she simply appeared more stable because I wasn’t seeing her just when she was having problems.
Guilt slithered through me, and giving Jenks a glare at his song about big-busted ladies tying their shoes, I wove through the stands of herbs and racks sporting premade charms, each having a distinctive sticker identifying who had made it. Charm crafting was still a cottage industry despite the high level of technology available to smooth out the rough spots, but one tightly regulated and vigorously licensed. The owner of the store probably only crafted a few of the spells she sold.
At my mother’s direction, I held each sample amulet in turn so she could evaluate my appearance. The clerk ooohed and ahhed, trying to push us into making a decision, but my mom hadn’t helped me with my costume in years, and we were going to make an evening out of it, ending with coffee and dessert at some overpriced coffeehouse. It wasn’t that I ignored my mom, but my life tended to interfere. A lot. I’d been making an effort over the last three months to spend more time with her, trying to ignore my own ghosts and hoping that she wouldn’t be so…fragile, and she hadn’t looked this good in a while. Which convinced me I was a crappy daughter.
Finding the right hair color was easy, and I nodded when my red curls turned a black so deep they were almost gunmetal-blue. Satisfied, I dropped a packaged, uninvoked amulet into the basket to hide the bust enhancer.