On Halloween night, there was a knock at the door.
This wasn’t unusual—there had been knocks on the door all evening.
I stopped at the mirror in the hall, adjusted my tall black witch’s hat to a more rakish angle and smoothed the tresses of my long, black wig.
“Johanna, you are one terrifying witch,” I said to myself.
I adjusted the wart on my nose for good measure and then grabbed up my bowl of candy and hurried to the door.
I threw the front door open and gave my best witch’s cackle.
But instead of a group of trick-or-treaters in adorable costumes, there was a grown man standing on my porch, apparently all alone.
I stared at him.
He was tall with thick dark hair and very dark eyes. He was wearing black jeans and a very tight T-shirt that showed off his muscular physique.
Not that I noticed.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Dave.”
“Hi, Dave,” I replied. “You look a little old to be trick-or-treating.”
He appeared to be about my age—in his mid-twenties—and though he definitely wasn’t old, he was too old to be going door to door for candy.
“Oh, no—I’m not trick-or-treating.” His smile was boyish, and it lit up his whole face.
He paused expectantly, and I tried not to get distracted by that smile while I racked my brain trying to figure out what this handsome stranger was doing on my porch.
He was good-looking, so it was possible he was selling some product or other. Or maybe he was stumping for a political candidate.
Whatever he wanted, I wasn’t interested in buying anything.
Reluctantly, I began to close the door.
“I’m sorry. Not today—”
Dave held out a hand. “Wait! I—I’m Dave.”
“You already said that.”
“But I thought you would understand.”
He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “I’m a witch.”
He smelled really good—like the woods and the outdoors—but I ordered myself not to be distracted.
“You’re Dave the witch?” I said.
“Oh—okay. I get it.” I opened the door a little wider and stepped out onto the porch.
This was clearly some kind of prank. He was some teen’s older brother or somebody’s uncle or something.
“Very funny, kids!” I said. “You can come out now!”
As I looked up and down the darkening street, I could see the pink and orange of the setting sun, and a few streetlights were popping on. There was no one on my street at the moment, but I could hear the shouts of children in the distance. My lawn was strangely full of fireflies, but other than that, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
I did remember that there was a hiding place nearby, however.
I turned to Dave.
“Are they under the porch?”
A look of bewilderment crossed his handsome face.
“Is who under the porch?”
“My—what?” He shook his head. “I’m Dave. I’m a witch.”
He said the words as if they explained something.
“All right, Dave the witch,” I said. “I can’t figure out what’s going on here, so I’ll take the bait. What do you want?”
It was a night of fun after all—I figured I could play along a little.
Dave’s eyes roamed over my face, and I found myself wishing that I wasn’t wearing green makeup and a fake wart.
“You really don’t know, do you?” he said softly.
“I’ve got to go with no,” I said.
Dave sighed. “I just assumed. I thought you would be one of—”
He sighed again. “Never mind. I supposed I should begin with an introduction. I’m Dave Crespo.”
He held out his hand.
I took it. It was warm and strong.
I hesitated for just a moment, but Dave didn’t seem threatening—just intriguing.
“I’m Johanna Bee.”
“Bee?” Dave said.
“Yes—it used to be something much longer and hard to pronounce, so my grandfather cut it down to just the first three letters. Now it’s just ‘Bee.’ ”
I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, so I just waited for what he would say next.
Dave seemed lost in thought.
“Johanna,” he said at last, “could I tell you the whole story? It’ll be quick, I promise. And maybe you could help me make sense of it all.”
I glanced around. A group of kids that had already been to my house ran down the street—I recognized the little girl with the elaborate, orange-and-white Bride of Frankenstein hairdo. Behind the children came two moms pushing strollers.
“All right,” I said, closing the door behind me. “I have to admit I’m interested now. And I guess I’ll be safe enough with you out on the porch.”
“Of course you will. I’m a witch and a gentleman.”
I glanced at Dave’s face to see if he was kidding, but he seemed to be perfectly serious.
“No spooky tricks?” I said.
“No spooky tricks.”
I took my candy bowl and sat down on my porch swing.
As Dave settled his sleek, black-clad form next to me, I wished I weren’t wearing such a ridiculous costume.
I thought longingly of the skimpy, sexy costumes I’d seen hanging on pegs at the Halloween store.
I wished now that I’d bought one of those.
As surreptitiously as I could, I removed the wart from my nose.
Then a sharp breeze kicked up and swirled around us, and I was glad I wasn’t wearing a tiny, barely there outfit. We’d been lucky enough to have a pleasant Halloween night, but it was still October, and it wasn’t exactly balmy—plenty of the children were wearing jackets over their costumes.
Dave shifted a little, causing the swing to creak, and I glanced at his marvelous, T-shirt-clad torso.
“Would you like a blanket or a jacket or something?”
Dave shrugged. “I’m good. I spelled myself against the cold.”
Dave sighed. “So here it goes. I’m a witch—”
“Which you said already.”
He shot me an irritated glance.
“Sorry,” I said. “No more interruptions.”
“So to make a long story short,” Dave said, “there’s a curse on my family, and I came here tonight to break it.”
I frowned. “A curse?”
I was startled—that wasn’t at all what I’d expected to hear. I didn’t know what I had expected, but somehow that wasn’t it.
Dave nodded grimly. “A curse was placed on my great-grandmother many years ago. Any witch in our family line is incapable of falling in love.”
I was startled again.
“You can’t fall in love?”
Dave shook his head. “I have no idea what it feels like.”
“So you can’t get married?”
“Oh, we can get married—we just won’t be in love.”
I blinked. “That’s awful.”
Dave simply nodded.
“What about your parents?” I said. “Weren’t they in love?”
“My dad is most definitely—at least he says he is. But he’s not the witch—my mom is. And I know she likes my dad. ‘Like’ is something I can understand—and she can, too. But she’s always said she wishes she could be truly in love with him.”
“Are you sure—” I said suddenly.
Then I stopped.
“What?” Dave said.
“Are you sure it’s actually a spell and not just something normal? Unfortunately, there are a lot of couples in which one partner is more invested than another. Maybe they just need some counseling.”
Dave shook his head vehemently. “No. It’s a curse—like I said. Another witch—a male witch—placed a curse on my great-grandmother when she spurned his advances. He said if she didn’t love him, she would never love another—and neither would her children. There was a hole in her heart ever after that. She knew something was missing. They all did—and so do I. I can feel it right now—it’s like something I’ve lost that I desperately need.”
“All right,” I said. “I believe you.”
And I really did. There was a desperation—and a desolation—in his eyes that was hard to discount.
He truly did believe he was missing something he needed.
And he still didn’t seem dangerous—or crazy—just intriguing.
In fact, he was just the type I usually fell for—soulful.
Or not so soulful, since he couldn’t fall in love.
I sighed. “So what makes you think I can help you?”
Dave gestured to the lawn.
“Well, the fireflies.”
The front yard was indeed still full of fireflies—and none of the neighbors’ houses were similarly lit up.
“Walk me through it,” I said. “Just in case I don’t get the fireflies thing.”
“I went to a seer—someone who can see things that are…beyond.”
“Like the future?”
Dave nodded. “Yes—the future sometimes and also the past—and the present. Someone who can see truths in a realm beyond this one.”
Dave gave me an ironic smile. “I can see that you don’t. But let’s just say the seer has mystical powers.”
“Is she a witch, too?”
“No. A seer can be a witch. But in this case she isn’t.”
“And your seer saw fireflies?” I said.
“Yes, she did. She said I should follow the trail of them. They led right from my house to yours.”
Dave frowned. “You’re not a witch, are you? Despite the costume.”
“No, I’m not a witch.”
“You see, this complicates things. The seer said I would find someone at the end of the trail tonight who could help me. And then she said, ‘Someone must sacrifice for a witch.’”
Dave turned to look me full in the face. “I thought that meant you would be a witch, and maybe you would sacrifice something, like a crow.”
I made a face.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said quickly. “I didn’t like the idea, either. I’m not the kind to sacrifice anything—not even birds. I definitely don’t do that stuff. But the curse was placed by dark magic, so I thought maybe dark magic might be required to lift it. Or, if not dark exactly, then at least murky.”
He gave me a small smile. “I was hoping for murky rather than dark.”
“Well, I can’t do anything like that,” I said. “Fireflies or not. So what do you suggest?”
“Maybe you could show me what love is.”
“That is the worst pick-up line ever.”
But his face was sincere, and it seemed to me that it grew a little red.
“So you can feel embarrassment,” I said.
“Of course I can feel embarrassment,” Dave said. “And—other things. Just not love.”
“Maybe I can help you think of something tomorrow. Perhaps over coffee or lunch?”
Dave shook his head. “It has to be tonight.”
“Tonight is a special night. Many things are possible on Halloween night that aren’t possible at other times. The spiritual energy is different tonight—more powerful. If the curse is to be broken, it must be tonight.”
He paused. “Can you help me?”
I didn’t see how, but I felt a strange tug toward this so-called witch.
“Well,” I said. “I do have a yard full of fireflies. Let’s see if we can come up with something together.”
“So what next?”
I glanced around. “I doubt we’ll solve much of anything sitting on my porch. Let’s go for a walk.”
The two of us left the swing and the porch, and as we walked down the short path to the street, I had a sudden urge to take his hand.
But I didn’t.
The fireflies still glimmered softly in my yard as we began to walk, but the sunset was fading fast and the sky was rapidly deepening to black.
There was plenty of light, however, as the streetlights were coming on, and each one threw out a welcoming arc of illumination.
The light apparently wasn’t quite enough, as Dave soon stumbled on a crack in the sidewalk, and nearly tumbled face-first into the street.
I held out a steadying hand. “Careful.”
Dave quickly righted himself, but he looked shaken.
“Thank you, Johanna. I, uh, I don’t usually—”
“No explanation necessary,” I said. “Sometimes accidents happen.”
He grinned sheepishly. “They do indeed.”
I happened to notice once again that he had an extraordinarily nice smile.
“So is there anything else you can tell me about the curse?” I asked as we started walking again.
“Like—did the seer tell you anything else about how to break it?”
Dave shook his head. “Her advice was basically just to find you, and then—”
He shrugged. “Well, I was kind of assuming you would know what to do.”
“I see,” I said.
“But there is one other thing. The seer didn’t tell me about it, though. It was my grandmother.”
“What is it?”
“My grandmother heard it from her mother—my great grandmother—the one who was originally cursed. She said that the curse can be broken retroactively.”
“What does that mean?” I said.
Dave frowned. “Maybe I’m not phrasing that properly. If the curse is broken tonight, it will be broken all along the timeline. All those relationships in my family in which one person was in love and the other wasn’t will be fixed. All those marriages will become true love matches. And my mom will finally be free to love my father for real.”
“Wow,” I said.
“That’s why I have to do this,” Dave said. “It’s not just about me. I’ll be saving generations of my family.”
“Wow,” I said again.
We walked on, and Dave suddenly tripped once more. This time I didn’t see a crack in the sidewalk—it looked perfectly smooth and even. But Dave went tumbling face-first and nearly cracked his head on the concrete.
Luckily, he took a few stumbling steps and put out a hand just in time.
I hurried over to him, alarmed. “Are you okay?”
Dave reddened and straightened up. “Yes, of course. I just—”
He glanced back and saw, as I had, that there was nothing on the sidewalk to trip over.
“I guess I just tripped over my own feet,” he finished.
“Please be careful,” I said. “That’s the second time you nearly face-planted into the ground.”
Dave grew even redder and then he went unexpectedly pale.
He stopped walking, and his face was serious in the lamplight.
“There’s one other thing. Something my grandmother and the seer both said.”
“They said the curse will seek to protect itself. They said it knows when one of our line is working to end it, and it will work to destroy us rather than allow itself to be broken.”
I felt a chill run through me.
“I’m sure that’s not true,” I said quickly. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
But Dave and I turned as one to look back at the smooth, unmarked sidewalk.
“We’ll both be more careful from now on,” I said. “I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
We walked on.
“So what’s in your repertoire?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“When you’re not guarding yourself against the cold and following fireflies, what kind of spells do you do?”
“Well, I’m on level three of my training. I guess that wouldn’t mean much to you since you’re not a witch, but it means that I’ve advanced to learning the highest level of magic my particular group practices. I’m adept at potions, incantations, rituals, and spells involving the use of wands and familiars. I’ve even begun work on levitation and psychokinesis.”
“Levitation? Psychokinesis?” I said.
“You know—using my mind to move myself and other objects.”
“It is. But I’m only just beginning.” Dave glanced at me. “Why the interest in my spells?”
“Since I’m the chosen one,” I said, “at least for the night, I thought I should try to figure this out. Maybe find out what’s in your arsenal that we can use.”
Dave looked startled. “What do you mean for the night? I am a witch and a gentleman. I don’t go in for casual…anything. You were chosen because you’re special. And you have a special purpose far beyond tonight.”
He looked at me, and his face was again serious.
“If not for this curse, I could see myself—”
He broke off.
“It’s just that I find myself drawn to you in more ways than one—”
He stopped again.
“But you couldn’t love me?” I said.
“No. Johanna, I—”
“I should tell you—there’s another reason why this is so important tonight. I can’t—I’m not like the others in my family. I’m not even like my parents. If this doesn’t work out—if this curse can’t be broken, then I’ll never get married myself.”
“Never?” I said.
“No. I can’t get married if I’m not in love. Even if I don’t actually know what that is.”
“I can understand that.”
Dave looked at me. “You can?”
“Yes. And you—and I—are not alone. There are other people like that. They’re called hopeless romantics.”
Dave chuckled. “I’ve heard of those.”
“So let’s say this does work out tonight,” I said. “And somehow we manage to break the curse. How will you know it’s broken?”
“Both my grandmother and the seer said there will be a sound like the breaking of chains.”
I smiled. “And then you’ll be free to fall in love with the first person you see?”
Dave smiled back. “Something like that. Actually I wouldn’t mind if—”
There was a breaking sound then, and I looked around, startled.
But it wasn’t a curse breaking. Instead, the glass in the streetlamp next to us suddenly shattered, and the bulb inside it shattered, too.
Glass shards flew everywhere, and Dave and I turned to shield our faces.
Then there was an ominous creaking sound.
Dave had just enough time to jump out of the way before the entire lamppost came crashing down toward him.
“Whoa,” he said.
He was visibly rattled.
I rushed to his side.
“Are you okay?”
Dave nodded. “That was just—unexpected.”
I placed a comforting hand on his arm. “That’s certainly something you don’t see every day.”
I looked down at the fallen streetlamp, and an unpleasant thought popped into my head.
“It’s the curse,” Dave said, giving voice to my fears. “It’s trying to protect itself.”
“No,” I said hastily. “It was just a really strange accident.”
Dave looked at me. “You think it’s the curse, too. I can see it in your eyes.”
“No—” I said again.
But Dave gave me a wry smile.
“At least I know you believe in the curse now.”
“Maybe we should get off the street,” I said.
“I think that would be an excellent idea,” Dave replied.
“Let’s go to a coffee shop or some other public place,” I said. “I feel like the curse is more likely to attack if we’re isolated. A crowd might be safer.”
I glanced around. There were fewer and fewer trick-or-treaters all the time, and other passersby were becoming rarer, too.
Dave looked a little embarrassed. “I, uh, didn’t drive here—I actually walked.”
“That’s okay. We’ll go back to my house, and we’ll take my car. I’ll get my phone, too. Maybe we can do some internet research on how to break a curse.”
Dave paused in a driveway we were passing and looked at me in the lamplight.
“I really do appreciate this. You don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me, and you’re still going to help me—even though this whole curse thing is new to you. I have to say—”
There was a screech then as a car came careening around the corner.
It was headed straight for us—and more specifically toward Dave, who was still standing in the driveway.
The car surged toward him, and he seemed rooted to the spot, staring at it.
The car’s headlights made right for him, and I acted without thinking.
I pushed him out of the way.
I watched the headlights zooming up to me.
And then they suddenly stopped.
I glanced over.
Dave was standing with his knees bent and his arms outstretched.
He appeared to be under great strain.
“Hurry,” he gasped. “I can’t hold it much longer.”
I glanced at the car—it was completely motionless, just a few bare inches away from me.
I quickly scrambled out of the way.
Dave pulled his hands back, and the car leaped forward, bouncing over the driveway and careening over the lawn of a nearby house.
Then the car lost its momentum and came to a stop.
There was no one inside.
“What?” I said. “How did you—what just happened?”
At the same time, there was a tremendous cracking sound.
Dave rushed toward me and grabbed me in a hug.
He spun me around.
“You did it!”
Dave set me down, and I stared at him breathlessly.
His eyes were shining, and there was a glow about him that hadn’t been there before.
He looked like a man transformed.
I looked back at the stationary car.
“Dave, what’s going on?”
“You did it! You broke the curse! The curse threw everything it had at me, and your sacrifice shattered it.”
“Sacrifice? What sacrifice? I’m fine.”
“Yes—but you’re only fine because I saved you right back. You pushed me out of the way when I surely would have been killed and saved me. And you put yourself in harm’s way. You sacrificed yourself—for a witch. Just like the seer said.”
“But then—” I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around what had just happened.
Dave took my hands. “You did it. You really did. You’ve saved me and my entire family.”
“The curse really is broken?” I said.
“But how do you know?” I said.
“Because I feel like I’m in love right now.”
He looked at me in the lamplight, and there really did seem to be love in his eyes.
“But how can you be sure?” I said. “Especially since you’ve never felt love before?”
Dave grinned. “I know it—I really do. And I’m perfectly willing to take a chance that I’m falling in love with you.”
“You are?” I said.
“Yes. I’m totally sure about that.”
“No spooky tricks?” I said.
“No spooky tricks.”
© 2019 by Catherine Mesick
Image by Irina Alexandrovna/Shutterstock
Thanks very much for reading!