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Witching and Scheming

Chapter One


Death was the only card laid on the day Penelope was born.

She was a curse. Delivered to the Earth by an innocent witch who had been marked by the devil himself.

Only the devil benefits from death.

“The devil and mushrooms…” I grumbled, though I was adamantly against evil, I personally thought mushrooms were the absolute worst.

Last scoop of coffee on a Sunday night kind of bad.

Also, everything aside from my tarot fate was more conjecture than actual memory.  

The only thing more fake than the ominous memory of my birth was the smile plastered on every hospital worker who passed by me. Though the “prophecy” (I maintain that a tarot reading is not a prophecy, but more of a universal nudge) had actually happened, it wasn’t something I could have remembered.

Not that I needed to remember it.

No, the rest of Huckleberry Hollow was more than happy to do that for me.

My eyes travelled the sea of hospital workers, once again amazed that in the thirty-three years since I’d been born, nothing had changed.

Doctors, mostly women and human, wore pale blue shift dresses or powder blue suits under white lab coats. Though most were witches, none could cast a spell that made the floor look like anything more than a 1950s prom in hell. Circling them were nurses, all female because this place was that backwards, wearing red and white striped pinafores and caps with the red cross in the center.

Though aside from female, species ranged from winged through fanged and any manner of shifter in between.

A Voldemort-esque reminder that wizards were served adoringly by all other magical creatures.

Gag me.

Which left the milk man white clad orderlies, lumbering on the periphery in ill cut white pants and button downs. All of them large, all of them ogres, all of them positively ridiculous in the straight legged pants and chest hugging starched collared shirt.

Frankly, it was more surprising that I didn’t have a line of patients circling the Canadian border for psychiatric services. Magic or not, the town of Huckleberry Hollow, Idaho was trapped in time capsule that everyone insisted was “for the best”.

The same people who insisted that excluding me from solstice celebrations, quarter solstice gatherings, and the high holidays was “for the best”.

Deep breath, Penny. You are a highly educated professional now and…

My pep talk trailed off as I looked at the stack of business cards in my pocket.

And nothing. Because your mom summoned you home and you need clients but everyone says you’re a cursed omen of death.

I sucked in a deep, cleansing breath and blew it out slowly.

Then another, just like I taught my patients back in the Treasure Valley when I finally got my doctorate and started clinicals.

The third breath I blew out led me to the same conclusion my patients usually reached before they threatened to throw something at me if I didn’t do something useful.

“This is stupid,” I muttered, rolling my eyes to the concrete wall of the hospital stairwell and questioning my life’s work while rubbing the slight dent in my shin from a spike shot out by a distressed porcupine shifter. It was the first real inkling I’d had that psychiatry, magic and the supernatural may not be the best combination.

It was also the day my med school roommate and I cooked up our mantra.

“Breathing can’t change the past or fix the future. Hexes and sexes are all that’ll work and sleeping with patients is frowned upon.”

Except she only thought the sleeping part was what you avoided.

“She should have hexed more, rule of three be damned,” I sighed, picturing her massive pregnant belly and small leech hanging off of each arm. Annabelles happy smile had far exceeded the delight she expressed hopping from dick to dick… Though I was in her wedding, there wasn’t really much I could contribute to her procreation.

Aside from making her swear a blood oath not to let them be born here.

Madame Fortuna (a stage name if I ever heard one) had no power to ruin the lives of innocent children outside of the confines of the second floor of the Hollow Hospital and Emergency.

A fact that lent itself to a strict policy of home births for my two subsequent siblings.

“If only my mom had some of that spine to not get bullied by the hunched old crone in the first place,” I grumbled again, sucking in a breath and holding it as a fae nurse passed by close enough to hear mutterings and eyed me suspiciously.

Note to self: Don’t have prolonged conversations with yourself in a stairwell.

Also get therapy for the number of conversations you have with yourself in hospital stairwells.

My hand went to my hair bun, pushing against the magic that reflected an alternate image into the mind of another. The layer was firm, blonde illusion firmly fixed over my own auburn hair. Smoothing my blue dress and lab coat, I took another pointless breath and let it out.

Everything was in order.

The fewer things there were to manipulate, the easier the magic.

I had the dress, the shoes, the lab coat and the hair bun.

The rest I could handle.

My appearance, for all its problems in Western culture’s beauty standards, was not going to be an issue.

Picture the patient belonging bags, I coached myself.

The more difficult magic is moving matter.

Concentrate on the bags. Putting your card in the bags.

Next to the patients’ socks.

Work on convincing hospitals to let patients wear their own socks.

I nodded to myself, feeling the sweat pooling between my thick thighs and in the seam beneath my boobs. Being fat in the fall was usually fine, but something about being in this hospital had me sweating like a witch on a Roomba in a lightning storm.

A hazard to my disguise, since the witch I was presenting didn’t have touching thighs and mine sounded like a slip and slide just after the hose turned off.

Hex it all, Woman Up Dr. Odenberry!

It might be impossible to be a woman, or give yourself a pep talk as an adult that didn’t end in because you’re too healthy to fall over dead and make it look like an accident.

But it wasn’t impossible to own mediocre white man magical confidence for a 200-yard walk through a psyche ward.

Fake it ‘til you make it… literally.

I took my first step out onto the floor and felt every other thought evaporate.

What I lacked in personal confidence, I had in spades for my magic. Illusion charms, memory charms… if it involved manipulating the mind, I was unstoppable.

Getting a medical degree in psychology was like a native German speaker getting a doctorate in German.

Borderline cheating.

With clipped strides, I ate up the hallway with single minded purpose. Simultaneously checking room flags, connecting with the object of interest, and putting my card smoothly beside the socks.

Pink, difficulty learning and socializing – card.

Orange, depression and anxiety – card.

Blue, backfiring hex turned trauma – card.


I froze at the sight of the purple plastic flag over the door to my left.

Puberty transformation.

The words felt like lead in my gut.


But worse than teenagers.

Teenagers with bodily modifications and potentially weaponized hands, teeth or… genitalia.

My body had been frozen too long and at the blood curdling scream on the other side of the door jolted my body backward. Stumbling over the mandatory heels (because doctors didn’t spend the whole day on their feet, *eyeroll*) I fell backward, colliding with a passing laundry cart and landing hard on my ass.

“Watch it!” An ogre grumbled, heavily browed face contorted in a disapproval.

“S-s-sorry,” I whispered, backing away from the purple door on all fours. My back connected with the wall as the scream transitioned into a hollow piercing sound that shattered my concentration.

“What?” The ogre’s eyes bored into mine and I froze, trying to remember etiquette. For fae, you offered a bit of magic with the phrase power your forgiveness, leprechauns a bit of gold, lucky metal that we met… Centaurs required a fist to the heart and a bowed head with a sincere misunderstanding or silence if the words were empty. Ogres had… or required… No, ogres didn’t have any apology etiquette. “Did you just apologize?”

“Yes?” I asked, as confused as he was outraged. It had been a few years since I lived amongst the magical, but certainly such a major change would have appeared in an email blast.

“You’re not Misty!” He shouted, grabbing my hair and shoving through the illusion. His fingers hooked into my hair tie and the band snapped, releasing the waves of red hair that shattered the magic. Dr. Misty Marino’s thin, medium stature evaporated, and I was looking down at my own extra large and extra tall frame in the too tight blue dress.

“It’s death!” A three-foot pixie candy striper squeaked, feinting where she stood.

Then all hell broke loose.

“She’s here! Death is here!”

“Death ate Dr. Marino!”

“Abandon the nut jobs and run! I’m not dying for these assholes!” The last was a doctor I recognized from junior high, a weaselly blonde man who was more suited to a nineties boy band than being a witch doctor in northern Idaho.

It was impossible to resist, I threw magic at his back. The spell exploded and the man was bathed in neon yellow warts, tripping over his own feet into an elven elder seeing to her son. With a gentle shake of silver blonde hair, the elf sent the spotted man careening toward an open window.

Bouncy butt, I thought just has he tumbled out into the daylight.

His scream lasted a moment, then a bark of concern, and his face reappeared in the window before continuing up, up and up… then gliding back down.

“Penelope Ophelia Odenberry!”

Her sharp bark was as familiar as my own face. I glanced behind me to watch the slender, blonde woman in a skirt suit of deep marron eating up linoleum on toothpick heels.

Anywhere but here, as long as it’s safe, I begged the universe, drawing a finger circle on the floor that widened beneath my body to pull me through until my body was falling through space and time. Everything had darkened, the bleach scented sage of medical and spiritual cleansing replaced by jasmine, pine and palo alto musk…

My eyes snapped open only to clench shut again at the bright autumn sun.

“Sadistic sunshine, hex off!” I muttered, but the sound was drowned out by a tippy tapping thunder punctuated by the metal rattle of tags.

“No!” I whispered, opening my eyes to dodge the incoming missile.

It was too late.

His momentum transferred and I fell off the black heels, toppling over under the efforts of 90 pounds of Pitbull Husky mix. My body landed with a punctuated thud beneath the unfinished sign in front of my newly acquired practice.

Dr. Penelope Odenberry, Psycho

“That bastard better be dead or he’s getting herpes the size of golf balls,” I swore to Grim, who was actively bathing my face with a sandpaper tongue. “Big, pus oozing herpes on his balls that will never go away because I’m a vindictive hexer and if he wants to see psycho…”

“Is this one of those self-fulfilling prophecies situations? Or truth in labeling laws cracking down?” A rumbling timbre drifted to my ears from somewhere beyond the great black dog and sensual heat flooded my body. “Did you forget your medically mandated coffee, or have you decided to watch the world burn?”

Taking Grim’s head between both my palms, I tilted it over and away to look up at the hottest voice I had heard in over a decade.

Maybe before that, but my need for survival had far outshone any potential sexual attraction.

You can’t run and lust at the same time.

But now… Now I was an independent medical professional with a deep appreciation of art.

And what was in front of me was the best kind of art.

Not to mention the potential for deep…

Black combat boots, battered jeans, green flannel, russet complexion, dark black hair in a lazy bun at the crown of his head, shaved underneath, and an artistic web of impossibly complex tattoos snaking around the forearm of a wet dream come to life.

Emphasis on wet.


His name slipped out like a moan, breathy and a little too dreamy for talking to your once best friend.

“Penny,” he smirked down at me and took a long, slow inhale that reminded me shifters, even half shifters, could smell everything… EVERYTHING.

I snapped my legs closed, feeling my face burn hot and red. Cowering back behind Grim’s head, I tried to think of the least sexy things my brain could imagine.

Racists. Too general.

Sexist politicians with no regard for women. Getting cooler.

Trump supporters. Polar bears might be headed north.


The last one did the trick and every happy thought vanished from my mind. In its place was a weight that made me both nauseous and desperate for wine with a side of chocolate.

System reset complete.

“What brings you to…”

“How dare you, Penelope!”

The woman’s clipped tone had been replaced with the screech of a strangled hen and my eardrums nearly burst at the accusation. Grim winced above me, ears flattening as he slunk down beside me, shoving his big head under my back and propping me up so he could cower behind me.

“Baby!” I whisper-hissed in his direction, knowing that I’d have given anything to protect him. If he hadn’t cowered behind me first, I’d have put him there myself. But the woman marching toward us on toothpick heels in her skirt suit wasn’t dangerous to anyone who wasn’t spawned from her womb and living as the world’s biggest disappointment in all the areas that counted.

Occupational success.

Being thin and beautiful.

Having a rich or good-looking husband, preferably both.

Magical ambition to wield my power as her enforcer.

“Penelope Ophelia Odenberry!” She shouted again and I flinched against the reminder that my mother had thoughtfully named me POO.

It’s like she wanted Madam Fortuna to be right.

It’s like she wanted to be right.

“Yes?” I asked hesitantly, sending a mental curse at Artie when he started to snicker into his hand. The sound turned into a cough, a brilliant butterfly bursting from his lips, half obsidian black and half an opalescent rainbow.

Huh… not what I was going for.  

“What the hell were you doing at the hospital impersonating me?”

I sucked in a breath, preparing some sort of defense, but the air came with the butterfly I’d plucked from Artie. It went straight to the back of my throat, tickling the soft red flesh of my tonsils while I prepared to cough.

Except there was no need to cough.

The butterfly slipped, smooth as honey, into my throat. A warmth started in my chest, spreading out until a fulfilling light stretched from the top of my head to the toes being pinched by hideous hospital heels. Everything was brighter, more vibrant and for the first time, not overwhelming.

Until a pointed insult killed the light and every positive feeling inside of me.

“You could have at least tried to lose weight before pretending to be me, Penelope,” my mother said, looking down on me critically. My eyes met hers and much like the entirety of my childhood, teens and every day until I turned 18 and ran away, I prayed the devil would open the ground beneath me and suck me into the underworld.

It would make the town so much happier if they’d been right, after all.

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One Comment


    Great premise. Lots of possibilities. I think you should write another couple of chapters so I can see where this is going.

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