It wasn’t that the location of her home was secret. On the contrary, both her address and phone number had always been listed in the phone book, right next to her real name. Well…real name…what does that even mean? Could she even remember her ‘real’ name?
No matter, she was listed under the name everyone knew her under and that was all that mattered. Still, no one came to her home. And why would they? She had worked very hard to curate a specific persona. Only the ones very desperate or very dumb ever graced her door.
So when her buzzer rang she was only a little surprised. Mostly annoyed. She had been crafting a delicate spell and had become so lost in thought that when that wretched BBZZZZZZZZT came out of the tinny little speaker near the door her entire body lurched in shock, causing the beaker of purple, sizzling fluid to go all over her workbench. She stared in dismay as the purple ate into the wood, burning holes half an inch deep before finally dissolving completely.
“Third time this month,” she muttered to herself.
BBZZZZT! BBZZZT! BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT!
“I’m coming!” she screamed at the buzzer, as though the channel were already open and whoever was standing forty-six stories below could hear her.
“What?” she barked after finally pressing the button.
“Is this the home of the Crow Witch?” asked a voice so delicate she immediately imagined its owner to be made of silk.
“Fucking speaking,” she said, keeping her voice gruff. Maybe if she was scary enough whoever this was would kick rocks and she could go back to work.
“I need to talk to you.”
“Make an appointment on my website.”
“Your next available time is in June.”
“And? Will you be dead by June?”
“Not quite. But by then I’ll have pricked my finger on a spinning wheel and will be a deep, unwaking sleep.”
The Crow Witch blinked.
Has it been so long?
She pressed the button to open the door downstairs without another word.
It took long enough for the girl to get to the penthouse suite that the Crow Witch began to wonder she had lost her nerve and fled. But, no, she finally heard the elevator on the other side of the hall spring to life. Having the entire top floor of the nicest building in the city was nice. Sitting on top of forty-five floors of neighbors was not.
The Crow Witch made the girl knock on her door before answering.
Standing in front of her was not the girl the Crow Witch expected because, she realized, she had been expecting a princess. Fine clothes, bubbly demeanor, royal countenance, perhaps a lady in waiting or two behind her, trailing nervously. Instead, the girl in front of her was just that – a girl. If it wasn’t for her mother’s eyes and her father’s hair the Crow Witch would have been inclined to believe the girl was an imposter. There was a slouch in her shoulders as she stood there at the doorway, and her clothes weren’t that of royalty. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
“Hi,” the girl said.
“Princess Amelia?” the Crow Witch asked, raising an eyebrow.
The girl shrugged. “So they tell me.”
Mother’s eyes. Father’s hair. And swarming with the Crow Witch’s very own magic. This was the lost princess, all right.
“Come on in.”
The Crow Witch led her deeper into the apartment. The living room was in the corner, panes of glass on both sides, the entire city opening up below. The girl crossed to the north window and stared out. Not at the city. At the palace on the other side of the city. Like a toy this far off. Small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand.
“I have to admit,” the Crow Witch said, going to the wet bar by the television. “I thought you were dead. When they announced you had been sent away for your safety, I assumed they simply drowned you in the river.”
“Maybe they would have, if your curse hadn’t been so public,” the princess said, still staring across the sea of lights. “I grew up watching the videos on the internet. Same as everyone else. You can’t really see the baby in any of them. Even if I could I doubt I would have figured it out.”
The Crow Witch nudged the girl’s arm, making her jump. But the only thing the Witch had in her hand was a glass. The girl eyed it like it might start sizzling.
“It’s a martini.”
“I don’t drink.”
“Maybe you should start.”
The girl took the glass and, after a second, a sip. The Witch had put in a lot of olives.
“Where did they stash you, anyway?” the Witch asked. “Some sub-basement below the palace? Or maybe Mars?”
“Nah.” The girl pointed behind her. Not north. West. Across the river. “I was in Pleasant Point.”
The Witch sneered. “That ghastly suburb? But that’s so…so…boring. Please, at least tell me you were living in a basement or something.”
“No. I lived in a house on Pine Street, and my bedroom is on the second floor. It faces the back yard. We have an above ground swimming pool, and the old playset from when I was a kid. Trying to get rid of it was a huge problem so they just gave up.”
“My moms and my aunt Judy. Mom’s the school nurse at the elementary school and Mama ran a flower shop on Main Street. Aunt Judy was a seamstress at a dry cleaner’s. I went to public school. I’m still at Pleasant Point High. I’m supposed to graduate this May. I played violin in the orchestra and I was on the track team. I applied to a bunch of colleges and I was still waiting on hearing if I got into any of them. Then, last week, the three of them sat me down. Told me they had something important. I thought I was going to get a car. Instead I found out my whole life is a lie.”
The girl threw back the martini in a single shot before the Crow Witch could stop her and grimaced. She held the empty glass out, and the Crow Witch switched her for her own, still full.
“Hiding you with magic, right out in plain sight,” the Crow Witch said. “What a bunch of shitbirds.”
“They said I was always safe, because you’d never come to a place like that.”
“And they were right,” the Crow Witch said. “Disgusting.”
The Crow Witch looked the girl up and down. Plain, yes. Entirely plain. Living her plain little life, only to find that the nasty Crow Witch had taken it away before she ever known it was gone.
“So, what the hell do you want? I’m not in the business of apologies and a curse is a curse. Couldn’t lift it if I wanted to.”
“I know,” the girl said. “And I don’t want you to, anyway.”
The girl drained the second martini and put the glass down on the coffee table. Whilst she turned to stare moodily out of the window the Witch snuck the glass away before it could damage the wood.
“My whole life is a lie,” she said again. “Worse than that, my whole future is a lie, too. They kept encouraging me to apply to colleges and programs, knowing I’d never get to go to them.”
“If they were hiding you in a suburb, surely they also got rid of all the spinning wheels in town?”
“I’m not talking about the curse,” the girl said. “I’m talking about my life after I managed to dodge the curse. My eighteenth birthday comes and goes, not a spinning wheel in sight, and then what?”
“I guess, then, you go back to your old life. Your real one.”
The girl laughed bitterly. “My old life. The one I lived for exactly three weeks before I was whisked away. And my real life?”
She turned around and gestured to herself, her clothes, her hair.
“This is my real life! I’m not a princess. I don’t know what I’m doing! No one ever trained me to be royalty, or the head of state, or any of that shit.”
“As I understand it, you’re still betrothed to the prince from-”
The girl rolled her eyes and made a jerk-off motion. “Prince Wallace, yeah, I’ve seen him on the internet. He looks like a real peach. Thing is, I already have a boyfriend. And friends. And a job. I have a life! And they want me to drop it all and walk back into the palace like nothing happened and I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that.”
The Crow Witch nodded slowly. “So, you’ve decided going to sleep for a hundred years is better than a life as a princess?”
“At least I won’t have to marry Prince Wallace.”
“You’re looking for a spinning wheel?”
The girl shook her head. “I’ve found one. My moms and Aunt Judy…excuse me, the fairies…they don’t know. It was abandoned in the woods, on the far side of the dump. I had to Google it to make sure I was looking at the right thing. If I can’t have the life I want, I’d rather take my chances in the future.”
“Then why did you come here?”
“I wanted to apologize.”
The entire conversation had been like getting punched repeatedly in the stomach, and this was the KO. The Crow Witch gaped. A sight not many had seen.
“Girly, you have nothing to apologize for,” the Crow Witch said. “In fact, I’m sorry I dragged you into this. When I get mad, I don’t process it very well.”
But the girl was shaking her head. “Like I said, I saw the videos online. And we talked about it in PoliSci sophomore year of high school. My parents were complete assholes.”
The Witch raised an eyebrow. “This is what your teacher said?”
“Oh, sure. Wait, do you not know? Most people don’t really blame you, not anymore. I mean, the most sycophantic royalists do, sure, but out in the ‘burbs? Everyone knows my parents should have invited you but didn’t on purpose. They used my Christening as a giant middle finger. They fucked around, and they found out. And in another week, they’ll find out again.”
Maybe the suburbs aren’t such a bad place after all.
“So…yeah…I’m sorry my parents suck.”
“I’m sorry, too.”
She let the girl get halfway to the door before calling after her.
“Why don’t you come here, when it’s time? It’ll be safer. I’d hate for you to prick your finger on some rusty spindle and end up with tetanus while you sleep or something.”
“Is that possible?” the girl said with wide eyes.
“Probably. I don’t know. You can stay here, in my guest room. God only knows where they’ll stash you if you go to the palace. Or who will be there when you wake up.”
The girl shifted her weight. “But you’ll be there?”
“Unless one of these bastards finally manages to kill me. Which they won’t, because for the most part they are very, very stupid. You don’t have to. Keep the other spinning wheel safe. But if you want to. And if you can. Come back here.”
The girl who was supposed to be Princess Amelia said she would think about it, and went out the way she came. It was only hours later, while the Crow Witch was watching Late Night and eating cheese that she realized she had never gotten the girl’s real name.