I’m a sex battery for a witch. No, really.
And it was all Ernie’s idea. Well, the second part of it was all his idea; the first part was mine.
Graduate school is not cheap, especially when it’s the Sullivan School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Scholarships are few and far between, and the interest rates on loans are high. Playing piano at bars, restaurants, and the occasional wedding wasn’t covering the bills. By my second year, I was living in a basement studio apartment and taking home left-over wedding cake.
My part of the idea materialized after ballet class, when I caught Apricot Mulhaven (her name, really) shooting me looks over the baby grand. She came over after the last pas assembleé and just said, “Hungry?”
Always, but I’m man enough and shallow enough to admit that Apricot’s long red curls, sea green eyes, and freckles tipped the scales towards a definite “Yes.”
Two pitchers of beer and a platter of barbecue ribs later, and we were at her place. Her very nice three bedroom, view-of-the-Pacific, paid-for-by-Daddy place. The next morning, she kissed me at the door, patted my cheek, and tucked a wad of bills into my front pocket.
I spent maybe a minute on her front steps, the wheels turning in my head as I calculated how much food I could buy if I hit the discount stores. Sex for money for food. Not such a bad bargain.
I knocked on her door, and she answered with this adorable little put-out pout. “Yes? I’m going to be late for class.”
I offered her my best goofy grin. “Call me again if you want to have a good time.”
She crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe. “I never have the same cutie pie over twice. It’s a rule.”
“Uh — ”
She smiled at me and lifted one finger to tap my nose. “But I have lots of friends.”
“ … That’ll work.”
It didn’t take long for word to spread through Apricot’s circle of well-to-do sorority sisters, frenemies, and casual acquaintances. And from there to the lady professors and administrators at Sullivan. (I wasn’t taking any of their classes so, don’t worry, no conflict of interest. I have standards. I’m not a cheat.)
That’s where Ernie comes in. I met him in the library towards the end of my second year. You wouldn’t know it to look at him — tall, skinny, glasses, and prone to hyperventilating — but the guy can play a mean electric guitar. Same money issues as me, but his solution had been different: he took over the campus’ underground betting ring after the last guy who ran it graduated. (No, that’s not a euphemism. The guy really did graduate and leave it all to Ernie. They’re weirdly civilized about these sorts of things at Sullivan.)
Anyway, Ernie knew who I was, and when he found out how much I was taking in — and that it was all just sitting in my shiny new savings account — he started hyperventilating something about the IRS and insisted that he take over as my financial manager. In exchange for a commission, of course.
That’s where the wizard part comes in.
“Think about it,” Ernie said around a mouthful of cheese quesadilla (no beef; kosher law, and all). “This magic occult whatever stuff, it’s all over the place now. Movies, books, tv. Women eat it up. They love that stuff.”
I squinted at him over the apartment listings I had pulled up on my shiny new tablet. “So, you’re proposing that I, what, market myself as a ….”
“Sex wizard. Or magician. Naw, wizard sounds better.” He slurped blueberry smoothie through a straw. “I’ll have cards printed up. Get some candles and incense and stuff. And a book.”
“A spell book?”
“Yeah, ‘xactly. Sure I can find one in the library or some used bookstore. There’s lots of ’em in San Francisco. Bet I can find something that looks authentic. You light the candles and incense, pull out the book, mutter some mumbo jumbo and wham-bam, thank you ma’am — sex magic.”
I was skeptical, but it turns out that Ernie was right. He passed out the cards to a few select individuals (“For Hire: Sex Wizard. Fertility, Prosperity, Health Spells. Satisfaction Guaranteed. Absolute Discretion Guaranteed.”). We found a beat-up leather book at a thrift shop in Russian Hill, filled with old poems in Latin and Greek, and some wicked looking candles at a craft fair. First up was a divorcee in St. Francis Wood just looking for a fun evening; she rolled her eyes and giggled at the candles and “spell book,” but played along. Second client was a little more serious about it; she insisted we take a ritual bath first. She called Ernie up later to say that the spell had worked and her dirty, rotten, cheating, soon-to-be-ex-husband had signed over the condo like she wanted; and she was going to tell all of her friends. Pretty soon calls were coming in so often that Ernie had to start turning away clients.
And that is when Magdalena called, at the beginning of my third year at Sullivan. I was working my way through an under-rated piece by Schumann while Ernie shuffled numbers and bopped his head along to a guitar riff that only he could hear. The phone rang, he stopped bopping, answered, took her information, and then paused with this weird expression on his face.
“Yes, ma’am,” he finally said, “we are absolutely sincere. How much? Yes, ma’am.”
She must have hung up, because Ernie pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it for a minute.
“Problems?” I asked, trying to get the jump between the C-sharp and the E just right.
“Naw, just … something serious about that lady.”
“Am I going to have to hire one of the ballet guys to act as a bodyguard?”
Ernie snorted a laugh, then grew sombre. “Naw. But keep your phone close.”
So, that night I cleaned myself up, packed the spell book and candles and incense and assorted toys in a satchel, and headed out the door, Ernie at my heels.
The address was on Fulton Street near the University of San Francisco, directly across from Golden Gate Park. Ernie whistled when the cab pulled up in front of the building; converted and refurbed, faced in brick and wrought iron and steel. There was even a doorman, who tipped his hat and waved us into the lobby.
Ernie poked me in the side. “I’ll wait here. Call me if, you know.”
I nodded, and patted the top of his head. “Uh-hunh. Just work on that riff you’re composing, and leave the magic to me.”
Ernie shook his head and plopped into a cushy chair, while I headed up in the elevator. I found 316 at the end of the hall, checked my breath one more time, and knocked. There was a soft snickt as the lock pulled back and the door swung open to … nobody?
I leaned in, feeling a tingle creep across my back. The living room spread out in front of me: hardwood floors, thick rugs in deep burgundy and soft green, and dark brown leather couches. A baby grand, gleaming in the low light. And books. Lots of books. And windows. I’m not sure how long I stood their gaping at the one-eighty view of Golden Gate Park.
“Thank you for coming.”
I dragged my eyes from the windows, across the living room to the kitchen. Stainless steel appliances, brick island, copper pans hanging from a wrought iron ceiling rack, and —
She sat on a tall stool beside the island, long bare legs crossed at the knees. Her short white silk robe perfectly contrasted her dark cinnamon skin. She wore her thick black hair in dozens of neat braids that fell to her hips. Older than me; early forties, maybe. She lifted a glass of red wine in salute, her eyes dark.
“I was not sure if your manager understood that my business truly was urgent, and serious.”
“He understood.” I swallowed and offered her my best smile. She just quirked an eyebrow at me, and took another sip of wine. “How may I be of service this evening? Is it prosperity you seek? Wealth? A healing spell?” I walked slowly forward while I spoke, pulling the spell book out of the bag and twirling it for good measure.
Magdalena lifted a bare foot and pressed it to my thigh, stopping me in my tracks. She took another slow sip of wine, studying me. Her toes flexed, digging into the muscle. She set the glass on the counter, never taking her eyes from me.
I heard the front door close behind me, and the tingle spread up my neck and over my scalp.
“You will not need the book,” she finally said, a slight lilt to her speech. She gestured to the left. “Through there. All is prepared.”
I smiled again, and nodded. Three doors on the far side of the kitchen, two closed, one open. I stepped through the open door. I almost stumbled as I crossed the threshold, but caught myself.
This lady was serious. The far wall was one gigantic altar: bones, shells, crystals, beads, lit candles and incense, and statues of Gods and Goddesses that I sort of recognized from art history class. The walls were covered in masks and rag dollies and stick figures. The floor was bare except for the painted circles: five of them, in the form of multi-colored snakes, interconnected to form one large circle. Lit candles stood at each cardinal point.
I heard the door close behind me and turned to find Magdalena standing calmly behind me.
She untied her robe and dropped it to the floor. Solid black tattoos covered her bare arms from shoulder to elbow: vines and snakes and flowers and eyes. More tattoos curled over her arc of her hips and brushed the top of her thighs.
She smiled, teeth sharp and bright. “Shall we begin?”
She wore me out. She was enthusiastic, creative, and limber; a lot of fun, even if I did bang my elbows on the floor a few too many times. She barely gave me time to recover before we went at it again. She whispered words that I couldn’t understand. I thought maybe she was Hispanic, but whatever she was chanting it wasn’t Spanish. The weird tingling grew stronger and stronger, creeping and prickling over my skin until I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed her round hips, fingers digging into her tattoos, and sort of pushed the tingling towards her. Magdalena arched against me, laughing.
“Sweet, sweet boy,” she panted, dropping a kiss onto my forehead. “It is done. Rest now.”
I did. I slept and slept on that painted floor. When I finally woke up, I pulled on my pants and staggered out of the back room to find that it was well after midday. I had missed all of my morning classes. Ernie must be worried sick.
“Yo,” Ernie said, waving at me from the kitchen island.
I blinked at him, squinting against the light spilling through the windows.
“That was … um ….” I gestured towards the back room.
He pushed his glasses up his nose. “What? Whatever you did, it musta impressed her.” He pulled a stack of bills out of his front pocket. “Can take a break for a few weeks, if you want.”
The tingle was back.
I turned to find Magdalena emerging from the bedroom next to the … altar room. She wore jade tights, leather ankle boots, and a rose lace-and-silk dress with bell sleeves that stopped just short of her knees. She had tied her braids back with a jade and copper scarf and pulled them over one shoulder, the trailing edge sliding back and forth across the curve of her breast. The tattoos on her arms flashed at me through the lace.
She dropped a kiss on my cheek as she sailed past into the kitchen. “You are recovered?”
“Yes. Uh, about that.” I gestured towards the altar room again.
“The spell was a success. I could not have accomplished it without you.”
Ernie straightened. “Say what?”
Magdalena pulled a canister across the counter and filled a tea strainer with loose leaves. “I am grateful. As I said last night, it was a matter of some urgency. A woman did wrong to a good friend of mine, and needed to be held responsible.”
“Say what?” Ernie queried again, eyebrows drawing together above his glasses.
“I would like to keep you on retainer. Exclusively, of course.” She poured hot water over the strainer, and the scents of orange and cinnamon filled the room. “I am certain that I will have need of your particular gift again.”
I lowered myself onto the stool next to Ernie. He was beginning to look a little pale. “Magdalena, I had a great time last night, but I didn’t … I mean ….”
“You are not a wizard. You are apasanka.” She tilted an eyebrow at me.
“I have no idea what that means.”
“You are a conduit, a passageway. ‘The spider who carries me upon his back.’ You possess no magical power of your own, but rather channel the life-force of the universe. Like all qawaq, I have power, but there are limits as to what I can do on my own. You,” she lifted the mug and blew gently across the surface of the steaming tea, “have no limits.”
Ernie was beginning to suck in air erratically.
Magdalena tilted her head. “Certainly you must have suspected. Have you never been contracted by a witch before? Surely some of your spells must have worked.”
“Not really spells,” Ernie panted.
“Well,” I slowly admitted, “there was the client who got the condo she wanted. Do you have a paper bag? And the woman who got the loan she needed. Well, and the actress who got the lead in that new Spielberg film.”
“Mmm,” Magdalena said, rummaging around in a drawer. “Witches, though they may not have realized it.” She pulled out a flattened bag. Ernie was starting to look a greenish-shade of off-white. I grabbed the bag, flicked it open, and pressed it to his face. For a few minutes, the only sounds in the room were Ernie’s harsh breaths and the crinkle of the bag as it expanded and deflated.
“As I said, you are exclusive now.” She set aside the strainer and held the mug up to her nose, inhaling deeply.
I opened my mouth, but she cut me off.
“You think I will allow you to sleep around, boosting the power of every witch between Baja and Seattle? No, that I will not permit.” She leaned forward, elbows resting on the countertop. She swirled the tea in her mug. “You are mine now.”
“And you — ” Magdalena turned her attention to Ernie “ — Keep him loyal and there is a ten percent commission in it for you.”
Ernie bolted upright on his stool, eyes wide. “Twenty,” he said, voice muffled as the paper bag ballooned.
Ernie’s hand shot out, his voice still muffled. “Deal.”
“Wait, hey!” I squawked as they shook hands. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
Magdalena smiled, showing sharp white teeth. “Of course. You could always say no.”
“Uh ….” I thought about that for a moment, rubbing my elbows. I darted a glance towards the altar room. “You’re not killing anyone, right?”
She quirked an elegant eyebrow at me. “Rarely.”
I heard Ernie swallow hard. “Maybe I shoulda asked for thirty,” he muttered.
“There are witches aplenty in the world, many not nearly as pleasant nor as generous as me. You get all of this — ” she gestured at the elegant apartment, baby grand, and panoramic view of Golden Gate Park “ — as well as an ample stipend, the freedom to pursue your studies, and my protection from those who are … less pleasant. All in exchange for sex. Very good sex.” She took a slow sip of tea, licking her lips. “Does that sound like such a bad bargain?”
I swallowed and felt my mouth pull into a tight smile. “Works for me.”
So, yeah, here I am. Sex wizard. Sex battery. Apasanka. Whatever. I hang out with Ernie, study Schumann and Seuerling and Macfarren, and answer when Magdalena calls. Not a bad life, so long as I don’t think too hard about what kinds of spells Magdalena is casting.
But my elbows sure are sore.
[Author’s Note: previously published in New Realm 3:1, which is no longer available. As such, it is being offered here free of charge for readers to enjoy.]
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. She has been published in a variety of venues, a complete list of which can be found on EHS.]