After spending a day walking through main town, searching for a job, I stumbled upon a bakery. The smell of fresh bread, creamy milk, and sweet sugar swirled through my nose. Immediately, I had a good feeling in my stomach — or maybe that was just hunger.
Eying the “help wanted” sign, I asked the lady behind the counter, “are you hiring?”
“How soon can you start?” Was her first question. I expected her to ask about my background, my interests, or at least my name. But she was just as desperate for a worker as I was desperate for work. A perfect match.
“Today!” I enthused.
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” she nodded, inviting me behind the counter to immediately train. I suppose this would be a hands-on interview. And then she added, “I love your hair,” admiring my sunset orange tone.
She could see that I had a lot of energy and ambition which was exactly what the bakery shop needed. Little did she know the motivating factors behind it all — the death of my family, a refusal to get married, and, uh… a dark shadow stalking me.
I made it this far in my life without settling — I didn’t come this far just to become a twisted deity’s slave. When my parents died, I chose to keep on living. And now that aunt Lilac has passed, I will still keep on living. I will not sell my soul to the devil who calls himself a god.
After my day at the bakery, I headed to the coven to try and catch Arthur — to make sure he would be okay.
I caught him just in time as he was leaving the building. I sighed with relief to see that his eyes looked okay — not that bloodshot red like before.
“Hey!” I called out, waving my hands.
He turned around and came over my way, “hey,” he greeted back.
“How are you feeling today?”
“Much better,” he smiled. “And how’s your head? Did you figure anything out? Any ideas what happened?”
“Sort of,” I gulped, debating how much I should reveal to him verses how much I needed to hide.
“And what does that mean?” He raised an eyebrow.
“It would probably be best for us to take some time apart,” I gave him a look of awkward pity.
“Just for now,” I sighed, “just for your safety.”
“Is it a demon? What is it? I’m not afraid.”
I paused. There’s no way that he would understand. If I told him anything close to the truth, he would only take it as a challenge. He was too persistent. He underestimated the agony of being tortured by an otherworldly being.
“I mean,” I backtracked, “for your own sake — I need to be alone right now.”
“You really shouldn’t be alone with everything you’re going through right now.”
“Please,” I nearly begged, “I’m not looking for marriage.”
“That’s okay, we can still be friends.”
“We can’t be friends, I’m sorry. At least not right now.”
“Then how long?”
“Don’t quit being a warlock. Keep studying. I got myself a job today and I’m going to find a way to support myself. Focus on your dreams so that I can focus on mine. And then, maybe someday, our paths will meet again.”
He looked down with a heavy sigh, “I really don’t agree with this.”
“But this is my decision,” I told him sternly.
“Alright,” he sighed again. He was about to walk away, but then turned back again to ask, “are you sure this has nothing to do with…”
“There’s no demon,” I convinced him — which was technically true, it wasn’t a demon… just a dark lord.
“What happened to my eyes, then? That was the most terrifying thing to ever happen to me.”
“I spoke to aunt Lilac yesterday, her ghost. She said it was likely an allergic reaction to a rare flower. Remember how we went off trail on our nature walk?”
“Hmm…” he thought for a moment, skeptically, but then chuckled, “won’t be going down that trail again!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle back. And with that, he went on his way. No, I wasn’t going to let the dark lord control me — but I also wasn’t going to let him control Arthur, which meant setting him free.
Shortly afterward, I sold the cottage home. Aunt Lilac did leave behind a generous amount of coins for me, but nevertheless it was time for a new chapter. I bought myself a miniature cottage: a kitchen, a bedroom, and a spare room. It felt much cozier.
Although Oats, my ghost cat, made a lovely companion, it was time for a more lively companion.
“It’s okay with you if I find myself a new cat friend, right?” I asked Oats.
He answered, in his meek and high-pitched voice, “yah.”
“And you promise not to tease the new cat or play any pranks?”
“Hmm… maybe,” he devilishly grinned.
“Oh, Oats!” I giggled, “be a good boy!”
The two of us headed to the Cat’s Corner. “Meow! Meow! Meow!” They all howled.
“I’ve got plenty of treats!” I announced, throwing them meat scraps. And then I turned to Oats, and asked, “how are we supposed to choose?”
Oats scurried off to observe the cats one by one, inspecting them to see who was good enough. He sniffed a few of them. And then he paused in front of one — she was black as midnight. Oats had made his choice for us.
“She’s purr-fect!” I gushed. “Do you wanna come home with me?” I asked her in a cute, baby-voice. She looked terrified yet curious. “Come here,” I scooped her up.
She was very quiet, just like Oats, and it took her a while to open up. I decided to name her “Heka,” the Egyptian word for “magic,” and also an ode to the Greek goddess of magic, Hecate. Her nickname would be “Kaka.”
For the next several months, I worked my butt off. I woke up before sunrise for my shift at the bakery, which I worked at until sunset. Heka stayed home by herself — luckily, she had Oats to entertain her. By the time I came home to my mini cottage, I would make myself dinner (usually potato soup), feed Heka, and then study at my desk by the candlelight. I’d be continuing my witchy studies on my own. I was actually progressing much more quickly because I found it so much easier to study in quiet rather than a group setting.
Working at the bakery was not easy at all. It was physically demanding, as I was on my feet all day, squeezing out dough, running back and forth between the oven and the costumers. I learned that hungry costumers are very demanding. The greatest perk was popping pastries in my mouth all day, so luckily I was never too hungry myself.
I missed seeing Arthur, but I was so busy either working or studying that I had no time for friends at this point. I even lost touch with Olivia, who I only saw every once in a blue moon. I hadn’t seen Annabella again, but I’d heard through Olivia that she was much happier after her separation — she already looked five years younger.
Of course, the dark lord was always on my mind. In the back of my head, I’d assumed that he was continuing to watch my every move. I expected him to make himself known again — but he didn’t.
There was a boy at the bakery, named York. He was close to my age and unmarried. It was obvious that he wasn’t married, the way he spoke to other women here — coworkers and costumers alike.
He was growing increasingly closer to me. Each day, he spoke to me more and more. He started putting his hand on my shoulder here and there, attempting to be endearing.
It was eerie, wondering if he came any closer, that he’d be struck down the same way that Arthur had been. I can’t say that I was fully interested in York, nor did I have the time to entertain any man at all. But there was a part of me… a devious side of me… that wanted to see if the dark lord would react, if he was actually still watching me or not.
The day finally came, when York casually asked, “do you want to get together sometime?”
“Sure,” I smiled, my heart racing. I had expected those words to come out of his mouth at any moment. It was no surprise. But what would happen after? I had no idea…
And so, we arranged for him to meet at my tiny cottage home. We’d walk into town and he’d buy me dinner. As I awaited his knock on the door, I slipped on a nice, blue, ruffly dress. I looked in the mirror and brushed some powder on my face.
I disgusted myself. I didn’t want this. As time drew nearer, I felt a yearning for the dark lord to save me. I realized how much I did not want this.
I stared out my window. He said he’d be here before sunset. The sun was dipping fast.
Suddenly, thunder roared and rain poured down furiously. It was completely random — there had been no prior signs of a thunderstorm. I cheered with glee! Surely, the dark lord had something to do with this!
I spent the rest of the evening playing games with Heka and Oats — my cat and my ghost-cat.
I prepared myself for the dark lord to show up at any moment. He would yell at me with fury and jealousy. And I was excited for it.
But time passed and there was still no sign of him. I sighed in disappointment before falling asleep that night.
The following day, I woke up for another shift at the bakery. I didn’t have any days off — I needed the coins. On rare occasion, my boss ordered me to stay home for a rest day — she said that good workers must be well rested. But days off were rare for me, and I only spent them studying more.
I stood behind the bakery and immediately glued my eyes to the door when York stepped in. I expected him to have bloodshot red eyes just like Arthur did.
Instead, he walked in just as normal. He didn’t even look frazzled — rather calm.
“Oh, hey, Val,” he casually greeted, “sorry about last night — weather was crazy.”
“It’s fine,” I immediately assured, yet stared at him skeptically. It’s not that I was upset he didn’t show — of course not, I was rather relieved. But I was trying to figure out if the weather was a coincidence or not. So, I added, “Are you okay? Did anything strange happen — get stuck by lightning?”
“No,” he shook his head, “so, shall we try again tonight?”
I couldn’t take it. It only felt like I was playing an evil game at this point… and only punishing myself. I didn’t care much for York, but I surely did not want to see him get cursed. And if he didn’t get cursed, then I’d be hurting him myself, pretending to be interested just to figure out if I was still being watched by the dark lord or not. The whole thing was ridiculous. Why not confront him again? It wasn’t worth it trying to make him confront me first. It seemed that I was the one in control, after all.
“I, uh… actually…” I stuttered, quickly attempting to brainstorm how to get out of this one. “I can’t,” I finally blurted out.
“Is this because of yesterday? I’m sorry, didn’t you see how bad the weather was?”
“No, no,” I shook my head quickly and smiled, “I meant to say ‘no’ in the first place. I was really taken aback when you first asked me, so I wasn’t really thinking clearly when I said ‘yes.’”
“So, you’re not interested?”
I felt terrible — “my aunt died only less than a year ago. I’m going through some heavy things, okay? Don’t take it personally, please.”
“I understand,” he shrugged, “and my condolences — I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
I sighed heavily and watched him walk to the other side of the bakery and begin his work. He didn’t seem angry, he actually seemed quite understanding. But the tension in the air was incredibly awkward. I felt tense.
That night, I was determined to call upon the dark lord. I needed to speak with him again.