“Only six more months working at this hell-hole, then I’ll have enough money… And people won’t suspect what I am as much一I mean, who names a shop Witchcraft Bakery when witches are treated the way they are?”
Maya energetically scrubbed down the counter of Witchcraft Bakery, limbs sore from a long, tedious day of work.
Only six more months working at this hell-hole, then I’ll have enough money… And people won’t suspect what I am as much一I mean, who names a shop Witchcraft Bakery when witches are treated the way they are?
Maya would know, she was one herself. Her fingertips itched to cast a spell that would make the counter shine in a matter of seconds, but she knew it was too risky.
With that in mind, Maya continued her task, spraying a few more drops of bleach on the unclean, metal surface. There were still a few more hours before closing time, but Maya’s eyelids felt as heavy as lead.
She swiped a hand across her sweaty forehead, trying to ignore the ache in her arms. All of her coworkers were either on break or simply ditching, so Maya was alone in the shop. It was up to her to clean, serve customers, and man the cash register. Fortunately, there were no customers in line at the moment, so she had taken this moment of respite to tidy the area.
The bells over the front door chimed, signaling someone had opened it and entered the bakery. Maya glanced up from the counter, her eyes meeting those of the stranger who stood in the doorway.
He was tall, dark-haired, probably around sixteen, with fair skin. His cheekbones were high, and his nose was angular, perfect for looking down at people. Beneath dark, bushy eyebrows were cold, brown eyes, which penetrated Maya to the core. She shivered, face blazing.
She searched the boy’s face for any trace of revulsion at the sight of her, but his face remained impassive, thin lips drawn in a straight line.
Well, he sure was good at hiding his emotions, Maya bitterly thought. Her reflection shone in the bright metal of the counter. Her long, black hair, her tan skin, green eyes. Her freckled nose, and her red lips. But, her features were often ignored, obscured by the scars, sores, and red, angry burns on the right side of her face.
Maya tensed as the beautiful boy walked toward her. She subconsciously brushed her hair in front of the scars and bowed her head.
“Welcome to Witchcraft Bakery,” she began neutrally as he reached the counter. “What can I get you today?”
“A chocolate chip cookie and… A date with you,” was the answer.
Maya’s head snapped up in astonishment, meeting the boy’s eyes. Something told her he was used to getting what he wanted.
“I-I’m sorry?” she stuttered, sure she had heard incorrectly.
Her cheeks heated up even more than they already had.
“You heard me,” smirked the boy, raising an eyebrow. “A date with you.”
“A…What?” gaped Maya.
The boy laughed softly.
“You know what? We can forget about the cookie. How does the date sound?”
Maya hesitated, examining him from head to toe. When she said yes, it was for all the wrong reasons.
* * *
As Maya scavenged through her nearly empty pantry for food, the events at the bakery, a few hours ago, really began to hit her.
She had been asked out on a date.
Her first date.
And it had been by a complete stranger. And she had said yes.
Maya still remembered the boy’s satisfied smile as she agreed. She knew his type. He was the kind of boy who always got girls on the first try, and then dumped them after the first date. She had seen him scan the place, lips curling in an expression of disdain for a second, before turning neutral again.
“Then, it’s a deal,” he had said.
He had dropped a business card on the counter. As he passed the cash register, he had dropped a twenty-dollar bill in the tip jar, winking at Maya one last time, before exiting the bakery.
Maya stopped her search for dinner to go to her purse, taking out a crisp twenty, and a now-rumpled business card. She unfolded the card, rereading its content, and debated whether to laugh or cry at it.
Call me, it said. Underneath it was a number, and the name Gregory Oktresson.
And twenty dollars could probably keep Maya going for three days, but he had dropped that amount in a tip jar as if it were nothing. In fact, that was the main reason Maya had agreed to the date with Gregory in the first place. Yes, his charming smile (and adorable dimple) had played no part in convincing her.
Well, almost no part. But, that was beside the point.
You see, going on the date with Gregory could very well bring Maya’s plan to an early end. He was rich. Maya, or just about anyone for that matter, could tell. Perhaps it was because of his silky, beige coat, and the way he was always flicking invisible specks of dust off it. Or, maybe it was because of the way his black dress shoes were so shiny, you could have seen your reflection in them. Of course, it could simply have been the way he stood tall and straight, and looked at everyone condescendingly with his hooded eyes. The way he had just seemed out of place in the small, mundane bakery. He was like a jewel in a pile of cheap, plastic beads.
Maya was going to get close to him. She would make him fall in love with her, she decided. She would be the very first girl he brought on a second date.
And when their relationship was serious enough, Gregory would begin to give her money. And Maya would begin to ask for more, subtly, of course, until he eventually gave her enough to hire a private detective. Then she would dump him, and he would never see her again.
In this way, Maya would finally find out who had killed her parents.
With that, she continued preparing her dinner.
* * *
Maya swore. She was certain she still had a loaf of bread in one of the cabinets, but apparently, she was wrong. All Maya had left now were three apples and half a bag of Fritos. She quickly devoured one of the fruits and a handful of the chips.
Her stomach grumbled in protest at the incomplete meal, but Maya ignored it. She was used to it anyway. When she was fourteen, Maya had escaped her foster home and come to the city. She had saved up enough money to make all of the fake papers and IDs she needed to survive alone as a minor. Maya had rented the apartment she was currently staying in from a family who owned it. They hadn’t glanced twice at her false papers, and had barely asked any questions. Since Maya could cover the rent with her paychecks from Witchcraft Bakery, the current setup worked for the family as well. She knew this couldn’t last forever, but she tried not to think about it, pushing the unpleasant thoughts to the back of her head.
For now, all Maya could do was live by her motto, never let your guard down. If she trusted the wrong people and was found out, they would do things to her…
Like they had done to her mom and dad.
It was a normal December evening, and the little girl and her parents were eating dinner in the kitchen. The atmosphere shifted in a matter of seconds. One moment, the three of them were chatting and laughing around the table; the next, the little girl’s mother was grabbing her arm and turning deathly pale.
“Maya,” she whispered urgently, “There are some bad people coming to the house. I need you to pretend you’re playing hide and seek with us, only this time, it’ll be a little different, okay? You can only come out when you don’t hear anything anymore.”
The little girl wordlessly stared up at her parents with wide eyes, sensing something was wrong, but unable to understand what it was. Her father squatted down in front of her, and for the first time, the little girl saw fear in his eyes.
“Honey, you have to do what Mom told you. These people coming are bad guys. If they find you, they will do bad things to you; they hurt people like us. You need to hide, okay? Do you understand, Maya?”
The girl nodded.
“But, will Mommy hide with me?” she whispered. “Will you, Daddy?”
Her father was silent. The little girl looked up toward her mother. She was looking out the window, hands clenched around the windowsill and muttering words under her breath. The air seemed to be shimmering around her mouth. She looked toward her daughter, eyes filling up with tears, but never stopping her chant.
The little girl tottered toward the window in uncertain, meandering steps. She saw the bad people. There must have been around seven. They were all dressed in black, facial features completely concealed. The two leaders of the group carried maroon staffs topped with strange, silver symbols, in their hands. They were trudging up the path to their house.
“Maya!” half-whispered her father, “Come with me, now!”
He forcefully grabbed her arm and led her to the living room.
“Daddy?” asked the little girl, tears spilling over her eyes. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing, Maya, nothing,” he replied.
He pushed away the rug covering the floor of the living room, revealing a small trap door the little girl had never known was there. It was not very deep, but relatively wide.
“You need to stay in here until it’s silent outside,” ordered her father, hiding his desperation behind a calm facade. “Remember, Mommy and I both love you very, very much.”
The little girl felt her father’s lips on her forehead one last time, before he wrapped her up in his arms and lowered her into the little alcove. She met her father’s eyes one last time before he slid the trapdoor closed over her, engulfing the girl in darkness.
It was almost pitch black in the shelter. The little girl was scared, but she knew she couldn’t cry. She had to be quiet, or the bad guys would find her. She curled up into a ball, shivering with cold, and fighting against the tears. Where were Mommy and Daddy? When were they coming back?
The shelter was almost completely soundproof. The little girl could feel the vibrations of heavy footsteps thundering over where she was hidden. She shrunk into the shadows even more. If she strained her ear, muffled shouts and crashes could be heard.
The relative silence in the shelter was broken by two screams. Two inhuman shrieks of agony. They pierced the air, resonating through the entire house, their echoes following them long after they had died down.
The little girl wrapped her head in her arms, rocking her body back and forth, and cried herself to sleep. When she woke up, everything was silent. The little girl was thirsty, hungry, and sore. She could see a small crack in the trap door, so she reached for it, and pushed it open, some light filtering through, despite the carpet that still covered the entrance.
It was strange, she thought as she hoisted herself out, how hot it was all of a sudden. Then the little girl saw why. The living room was slowly being devoured by little flickers of orange light. She knew what they were—Mommy and Daddy had told her. They were flames. Fire.
At the thought of her parents, the little girl’s eyes anxiously darted across the space, ears straining to catch sounds around the house, other than the crackling of the fire, but to no avail. Her tiny hands balled into fists as sweat trickled down her forehead and tears dripped from her eyes.
“Mommy! Daddy!” She cried, sobs shaking her tiny frame. “Where are you?”
The little girl tottered to the entrance of the kitchen, precariously avoiding flames that still licked the floor and blackened, fallen furniture scattered around the space. As the girl pushed open the kitchen door, a horrid smell assaulted her nostrils and she recoiled. There was still a fire burning in the kitchen as well. It was burning something, but it wasn’t furniture. A horrid feeling in the little girl’s gut told her what, or who, it was.
“Mommy! Daddy!” She yelled, the smoke burning her throat and eyes.
She stumbled toward the charred, unrecognizable masses that lay on the ground. The little girl didn’t realize that she was growing dangerously close to the fire, until it was too late. Her cheek grazed the flames, and that was all it took to send excruciating pain through every fiber of her being. She fell backward, clawing at her face, tortured howls escaping her mouth.
And then, she saw it. Half-melted, lying on the floor, feet away from her. Made of silver, small enough to fit into the palm of her hand. She knew it belonged to the bad guys. Somewhere from within her pain-induced delirium, the girl’s fingers curled around the little crest as she committed the image of it to her memory forever.
The flame inside the seven-pointed star. Then everything went black.
A tear slid down Maya’s scarred, rough cheek as her hand closed over that same crest, and the cold metal dug into her palm.
* * *
Maya took a deep breath as the two uniform-clad men, standing at the mansion’s entrance, pulled open the shining double doors, bowing as she daintily stepped over the threshold. She carefully arranged her mane of hair so that it fell over the scarred side of her face. Hiding her trembling hands within the folds of her midnight blue gown, she attempted to calm her beating heart.
The gown, as well as her heels and matching clutch, had been gifts from Gregory. Maya remembered her phone call with him from a few days earlier. It had been short and sweet, with Gregory simply asking her dress size and then her address. Maya had answered him mechanically, any common sense she may have had before had flown out the window at the sound of his husky voice. All she knew was that the package containing her outfit had arrived in the morning, and a man driving a shiny limousine had stopped in front of her building, at a quarter past eight, precisely to drive her here.
Maya’s heels clicked on the wood floor as she joined a throng of glittering guests chatting underneath a magnificent crystal chandelier, that hung from the high ceiling and illuminated their faces with its warm, golden light. Her eyes darted around the large room, and her stomach sank as she realized that most of the guests were adults. Maya’s sweaty hands feverishly gripped the clutch as she walked around the room, inconspicuously trying to locate Gregory. Her gaze finally landed on him, and she hurried towards the corner he was standing in.
As if sensing her presence behind him, Gregory slowly turned around and offered Maya one of his signature smirks as she stopped by his side. Despite the warm air, a shiver snaked down Maya’s bare back as he appraised her from head to toe.
“I have to say, you do clean up well,” he stated, finally meeting her eyes.
“I-I wish I could say the same about you,” Maya managed to blurt, trying to maintain her stony facade despite her mind screaming quite the opposite—Gregory looked absolutely dashing in his black suit.
Remember why you’re doing this, she schooled herself. But Gregory frowned slightly and hurt flashed across his face at Maya’s sharp words. Her gut twisted inside her, and she nervously bit her lip. Had she gone too far? Would everything she had worked so hard for come crashing down because of a single rude comment? If something went wrong, Maya would never forgive herself. Neither would her parents.
A husky laugh with an undercurrent of disdain broke through her thoughts. Gregory stared down at her with mirth in his eyes.
“Gotcha,” he grinned, and Maya’s guilt was quickly replaced with anger, which only fueled her determination to bring her plan to a successful end. Now, not only would she use Gregory to avenge her parents, she would take pleasure in doing it.
The words Maya grumbled to Gregory next made a rather portly woman, standing near them, throw the pair a scandalized glance, before waddling away.
“You wound me, Maya!” replied the boy, sarcastically bringing a hand to his heart. His bicep flexed under the fabric of his suit, and Maya grudgingly decided that maybe the heat blossoming on her cheeks wasn’t completely due to the warm lights overhead. She was about to jab him with another sharp reply, when she saw Gregory stiffen slightly, and the expression slowly faded from his face as he looked at something behind her. Maya turned, and realized that a couple was advancing toward them, a man in a dark suit and a woman in a maroon cocktail dress, who looked so much like Gregory; they could only be his parents. Maya’s face grew hot as she looked inquisitively at him. Gregory threw her a quick glance before turning back to the couple and gesturing towards Maya, who suddenly became very focused on a patch of carpeting at her feet. Her heartbeat seemed to have tripled its pace.
“Mother, Father, this is Maya,” he quickly introduced her. “And, Maya, these are my parents.”
Maya peeked up at them from beneath her eyelashes, muttering an incoherent greeting.
If the couple had any thoughts on Maya’s disfiguration, they hid them well, faces remaining studiously unreadable as Gregory’s mother held out a hand for her to shake first. Maya nervously gripped it and let go almost immediately, a shiver snaking down her back. Something was wrong; a cloud of something dark and ominous surrounded these people, she was sure of it. And as Gregory’s mother retracted her hand, Maya saw it glittering on her finger.
Silver. A ring.
The flame inside the seven-pointed star.