Rosario enjoyed walking down to Byron’s Pub. It wasn’t far from her apartment, she didn’t need to worry about drinking too much, and, especially on summer nights like tonight, the night sky looked perfect. The streets were spared of traffic and when cars did drive by they were moving at a respectable speed that was appropriate for the respectable suburb that she called home. And it was Friday.
Friday, just hearing the word in her head made her feel better. Sitting in her “cube farm” (as Richard from IT calls it) organizing and distributing data from one server to another in regard to car insurance claims is, for Rosario, one of the most soul killing things that she has ever done so when it’s finally Friday… words uttered by human lips would only make a mockery of weight that she feels lifted off of her shoulders, a weight that returns all too quickly by Sunday night.
But for now it is Friday and she is all decked out: her new black skirt that looked like real leather in the dark, a fun dark blue top with sheer sleeves and a bodice frame that showed enough cleavage to walk the line of tasteful and slutty, and her shoes – oh the shoes! The pride and joy of her going out collection! A particularly expensive purchase made in a bold moment of choice when she decided that she was a grown up and deserved a pair of expensive shoes. They were black, like an insect’s shell, and had a distinctive red sole. She almost felt guilty walking this far in them, but they were surprisingly comfortable and what good is owning a pair of decadently expensive shoes if you aren’t going to wear them? Her curly dark hair bounced around her shoulders in time with her steps. She could feel the weight of her make-up, more than she usually wore, braced against her face. She was in costume and ready for curtain.
A car pulling out of the parking lot of the complex where Byron’s Pub sat in the far corner yanked her out of her head. Following along the sidewalk that leads directly to the door she looked to see if she recognized any of the cars around the building. None looked familiar. It was still early, just a little after 8 pm, so there was still hope that someone she knew would come out, in the mean time getting a drink or two certainly couldn’t hurt. As she got closer she caught a whiff of the place, the smell of gourmet sliders on the griddle, stale beer, and that little bit of cigarette smoke that places like this still can’t avoid. The sounds were there too, loud conversations, clicking dishes and Heart’s Barracuda playing over the sound system at a volume that was high enough to hear over the business of the restaurant, but still low enough to be able to talk to people. There was a spot at the bar near the center – a perfect place to have ready access to the bartender – that would be her perch for the night.
Ricky was working and he smiled when he saw Rosario and motioned that he’d be over in a minute. Ricky was a college kid who had given her his life story a few months ago during a particularly empty night when there weren’t many people to talk to. She remembered the big details, his family lived close by and that he was studying communications and really wanted a job in public relations, but she preferred to think of him as more of a “bartender boyfriend.” In that way he was perfect! He was polite, attentive, and just the right amount of flirty. He never made a move, but always hinted that he would. He was younger than Rosario by a few years, he couldn’t have been older than 24, and it was enough of an age difference where she’d never reallythink anything would happen (certainly not a serious relationship) but after a margarita or two it was nice to fantasize. Athletic and approachable with dark hair and eyes, not too handsome but handsome enough; he made his way to Rosario, “Hey, you’re in early tonight. Get you a drink?” He winked as he finished his question.
“Yes, please, “she responded with a flirty turn of her head making sure he got a full look at her big brown eyes, “a margarita.” As Ricky wen to make her drink Rosario turned on her stool and surveyed the room. Just a little over half full, it was clear that there was still some time before the evening dinner crowd would change over to the fun, night time crowd. There were business men in dress shirts laughing over beers in booths, office girls (not unlike herself) sharing stories over glasses of wine. The dining room was visible from here where families were eating burgers and chicken fingers and a variety of salads and soups. It was life, plain and normal, right here on display. Nothing strange or extraordinary, so a drink is exactly what she needed.
Margarita one: The switch over started. It began with the families finishing dinner and going home, back to television and bed. Then the business men left, ribbing each other about how their wives would be mad and how they would be back to work on Monday. Then the office girls, the younger ones ready to move on to different hot spots. As they all left, the evening crew arrived: the pick-up artists, the neighborhood boozers, and the late twenty-something crowd, like herself, who wanted to take the edge off the week. The music volume rose slightly and it was time for drink two.
Margarita two: Her friends arrive. Well, friends may be too generous a word. These were her Byron’s friends, the friends that existed only within these walls and only for a few hours each week. Jenny, the life of the party, she introduced Rosario to Fireball shots and Tim. Ugh, Tim, the less she thought about him the better. Tina and Sarah, the bar gossips, if these girls saw or even heard about something happening they were talking about it (and probably exaggerating a bit). Bill, the professional drinker, who no one really knew much about; he was a trivia machine who always had a fresh drink in his hand. He was also the only person, besides her parents, who called her “Rosie.” They greeted Rosario as they arrived, giving hugs and smiles and starting conversations that would be forgotten by morning.
Margarita three: Rosario starts feeling the full effect of liquid courage. As the conversations drifted on and topics began to get scarce Rosario started to feel brave enough to branch out of her little circle.
“Hey, Rosie,” Bill was trying to get her attention as she scanned the bar. “Who are you looking for? Aren’t we interesting enough?”
“Bill, you leave her alone! I think someone might be on the prowl tonight.” Jenny cocked her eyebrows on the last sentence and made a playful growl noise at Rosario.
“Wait, Rosario is looking to hook up?” Sarah popped out of nowhere, with Tina right behind, “Who is it? Did Ricky finally make a move?”
“Hey guys, I just serve the drinks!” Ricky winked at Rosario as he walked away to pull another beer for Bill.
“No, sorry, I just wanted to see who was here.” Rosario covered her eyes with her hand embarrassed that she had been caught and shouted back over to Ricky for one more. As she turned back she noticed a man coming in and sitting at the bar. Not bad looking, brown hair done in a casual “it dried this way” manner and dressed casually, but still neat: nice jeans, a button-up shirt, and a hip sport coat that looked like black velvet. He was just attractive enough to get her attention, but not keep it. Ricky dropped off her drink and she went back to her friends.
Margarita four: Rosario’s curiosity got the better of her. Tina and Sarah had left, they were going to a party at a friend’s apartment, and Jenny was starting to get a little hand-sy with Bill who didn’t seem to mind too much. Rosario’s eyes drifted back to the stranger she had noticed before. He was still in his spot, nursing a beer, and rolling a coin in his fingers making it flip in between each finger before grabbing it with his thumb as it went over his pinky and bringing it back up to the top to make its way back down again. He was doing it over and over again, never stopping. It was fascinating to watch, almost hypnotic (especially after a few margaritas). He seemed to be watching the TV over the bar, some baseball game, but his fingers kept flipping the coin like they were on automatic pilot. She wanted to meet him. She didn’t know why, but she wanted to meet him.
“Hey guys, I’ll be right back.”
“OK Rosie.” Jenny and Bill were too into each other at the moment to care. Rosario slipped off her bar stool and headed for the stranger. Walking was a little bit tougher than she expected. She started to wonder if this was actually a good idea or just the tequila talking. After a few more steps she didn’t care, she was going to meet the guy who was flipping coins no matter what the motivation! She got to the spot next to him and tried to be as graceful as she could.
“Hi,” she smiled as she said it.
He seemed surprised, but turned and smiled, “Hi, are you Jessica?” Rosario was taken aback. Who was Jessica? And why did she care, she just met this guy?
“Oh, no, I’m Rosario. I was down the bar a little with some friends, but I noticed you flipping that coin in your fingers and, well it sounds stupid now that I say it out loud, but I wanted to meet you.” The coin was still rolling in his fingers.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you Rosario. Sorry for the confusion. I was supposed to meet someone here tonight and I’m starting to think that I’ve been stood up.” He was still rolling the coin.
“Well that’s a terrible thing to have happen. Would you mind if I kept you company while you wait?” Rosario was feeling brave. Being this close she could see his eyes, they were a very clear blue. It was a very contrasting color compared to his skin and hair. She was surprised that she hadn’t noticed them when he came in earlier.
“Uh, sure, if you don’t mind hanging out with a guy who can apparently chase off a blind date?” He laughed as he finished and she did too. He was still rolling the coin.
“So… you’re still flipping that coin?” She pointed down to his hand and then took a sip of her margarita.
“Ha, yeah, “he looked down at his hand too and brought it up between their faces. “This is an old habit that I don’t bother trying to stop. It helps me with my concentration and with my dexterity. I’m a magician.” Instinctively Rosario rolled her eyes and groaned. “Wait, hold on, I’m not just your average magician. I don’t do card tricks to pull rabbits out of hats, well, not often at least. I’m the real deal.” Rosario made an “are you fucking kidding?” face and spun on her stool to leave. What a waste of time. “No seriously.” Then he tapped his finger on her glass and her drink, almost gone, suddenly filled back up to the top and salt re-crystallized around the rim of the glass.
“Shut. The fuck. Up.” Rosario sat back down; jaw dropped and put the glass on the bar, hands trembling.
Ricky came over, “You guys need a refill? Oh, never mind; just give me a holler if you do.” He winked at Rosario as he walked away.
“What the fuck.” Rosario looked at him again. His eyes were brown now, a light brown that matched his hair and skin tone. “What the fuck?”
“I told you, I’m a magician. Go ahead, try it. I promise, it’s exactly the same as what you were drinking before.” Rosario looked down at her drink. It looked just like the other margarita’s she had been drinking all night. Maybe she had too many?
“No, no way!” She leaned in and whispered sharply at him, “Did you work this out with Ricky, because I swear…”
“Ha! No, no I haven’t worked anything out with Ricky. But it’s pretty cool, right?”
“It’s scary is what it is! No wonder you scared away your date! Did Jessica know about this?” Out of panic and without thinking about it she took a sip to calm herself. It was a margarita, same as she had been drinking all night. “Oh my God. OK, no bullshit, how did you do this?”
He smiled a friendly smile that was surprisingly reassuring after what had just happened, “Magic. Real, honest to God magic. The kind you read about in fairy tales and fantasy books.” He was so matter a fact about it that Rosario found herself calming down and pondering what this all meant. Magic? Real magic in real life? This is 2014 and all of a sudden she was supposed to believe in magic? She took another sip; this was quite a bit to get used to. “Are you OK? I really didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Uh, well, yeah I guess. I may need another one of these. Can you just do that whenever?” She sipped again at the margarita.
“Eh, yes and no. Right now, no, I’m tapped out. I need to build up the energy again to do it, but, all things being equal, yeah I could do it again. But I don’t want to take the bar tender’s job away from him.” He winked and then signaled for Ricky, “Another round, please”
“Sure thing,” Ricky nodded as he poured a beer for a different customer.
“So are you, like, Harry Potter or something?” Rosario took another sip to finish off her margarita.
He made a face and half nodded as he thought about how to answer. “Not really, I’m more like a scientist applying a technique or a cook following a recipe.” He started rolling the coin again.
“I don’t understand?”
“I know it’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around. Now-a- days nobody really understands magic. Most of the secrets were lost during religious purging and pogroms and then those religions kind of took magic’s place. But that’s the tricky thing about it, magic, religion, exorcism; any supernatural effect you’re going for is really just the appropriate application of a person’s will guiding the energy forces of the universe.” Rosario’s face went blank. Ricky dropped off their drinks. He kept rolling the coin. “I know it sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. It’s all about the amount of focus applied by the magician. Prayers, incantations, chanting; all of these are just methods of focusing the mind and then manipulating the existing forces that surround us.”
Rosario finished her next sip, “Like The Force?”
“Well, yes? I guess, kinda’, in a very simplified way. Except now we live with all these electronic devices, WiFi signals, radio signals, copper wiring everywhere, metal pipes and girders, all kinds of materials that get in the way. So a lot of the really impressive magic, like the biblical stuff or the things in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, aren’t as easy to do as they used to be. That’s why we haven’t seen a dragon for thousands of years or have wars fought with a hail of fireballs raining down from the sky. Things that the ancient Egyptian priest and the witches of Salem used to be able to do just aren’t as possible in the modern world. For those kinds of effects you need to get away from it all, abandon civilization, get out to the deep deserts, rain forests, places where the natural order is still fairly undisturbed.”
“Like the woods?” Rosario took another sip, not breaking eye contact and trying to keep her drunk brain from drifting.
“Sure, yeah, but even more remote if you can. Conclaves and covens, whatever you want to call them, gather there and study and pass on the techniques. It’s not Hogwarts but it’s how the art is maintained.”
“Is that where you learned?” Rosario was completely fascinated now. And slurring.
“Yeah, it takes a lot of study, a lot of study, but my parents and my grandparents passed it on to me.”
“So, there must be, like, wizards everywhere!”
“Actually, no. Between organized religion and shrinking attention spans there aren’t many magic users left in the world, but we get by.” He kept rolling the coin and his eyes started to have a blue hint again.
Rosario took the last sip of her margarita and looked at him hard, searching for any sign of a lie. “So, if the city and all the stuff in it makes magic weak why don’t you live out in the boonies?”
“Are you kidding? Have you been out in the middle of the jungle or some Arizona desert? I have, there’s nothing to do and the people are nuts.” He knocked back the last of his beer, “Nope, I like the city. Besides, I’m not that dedicated a magician.” He continued to roll the coin in his fingers. His eyes were bluer. “Actually, I am going to visit my dad after this. I know it’s getting late but they can do some pretty crazy stuff, do you want to come?”
She did, Rosario definitely did want to see more, especially now that his eyes were becoming that light blue again. But the last, tiny sober part of her brain thought better of it, “I don’t think that’s a good idea, “she slurred, “I’ve definitely had too much tequila to make good decisions.”
“I know.” He reached up and tapped the side of her head. She instantly felt stone sober and had to pee like crazy! “Go the bathroom, quick, I just sobered you up and your body wants to get rid of all the booze. Think about it and let me know.” Rosario got up and made her way to the bathroom, legs practically crossed she had to go so bad, and he turned back to the game rolling the coin in his fingers.
Rosario sat in the stall; she had pee’d for about two minutes straight. Not an exaggerated two minutes, a real two minutes. The water in the bowl was a deep orange and the whole stall stunk of tequila, and there was still more coming out. Now that her head was clear she seriously considered what to do. She did want to see more. Just seeing what she had seen was pretty impressive, especially the getting sobered up part, and the thought of what might come next was very exciting. But she had just met this guy, a guy she literally walked up to tonight just because he was flipping a coin in his fingers and she was drunk. Was that part of his deal? Was this all just a clever trick to get her back home with him? But how could it be, there’s nothing that she knew of that could 1) re-fill her drink and make salt crystals appear and then 2) suddenly, instantly, sober her up! Hell, if this was some kind of drug then maybe she should go home with him because he could sell that drug and make a mint! She finally finished and made her decision. Tonight she wasn’t going to play it safe, it’s Friday and if she’s going to have an adventure tonight is the night to have it. Besides, she thought, given what she had seen already if he is a creep and he can do what he says then she’s screwed whether she goes or not. She gathered herself, washed her hands, and committed to her decision with a mental “you can do it” to herself in the mirror.
Rosario left the bathroom and looked back at the bar. Bill and Jenny were gone, probably back to Bill’s place (that was going to be a good story next week) and Ricky was picking up the check from the magician. She gave herself one last shot to back out, but, no, she was going to do it. She walked back up to the bar and said, “All right, let’s do it.”
He smiled, his eye’s pale blue again, “OK, well we’d better go. We have a decent drive ahead of us.”
“How do I know you didn’t use some spell or something to get me to go with you?” She asked, giving him a shot to come clean if this was some kind of trick.
“Well, frankly, you don’t. But I did go to the effort of sobering you up; you do still feel sober, right?” She nodded. “If I really wanted to take advantage of you I could have actually messed you up more and just let that be that. But it’s rare that someone shows real curiosity about actual magic, even if you were pretty drunk. Like I said, we’re a dying breed. And it’s not like you need to be born into this, magic is something that can be taught and learned. So, maybe you come with me and like what you see? Maybe you want to start to dabble? Maybe that dabbling turns into real study? Who knows, you might take to it and start teaching others? This is a once in a lifetime shot. And I’ll even give you ride back if it doesn’t work out.” He smiled as he finished and held out his hand. Rosario reached for it and waved at Ricky as they walked out.
The car ride was more fun than she expected. They were headed for some woods at the base of the mountains. According to him it wasn’t a perfect circumstance but the coven could do more there than in the heart of the city. He drove a black Honda Accord. It was simple and well kept. He blared classic rock as they drove and they sang along to the songs that played: “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Jesse’s Girl,” “Magic Man” (the last one had them laughing). Even though it was a decent amount of time to drive it passed very quickly. Rosario started to think about what he had said; maybe she could learn magic? Even if it was just enough to keep refilling her drinks, that’d be enough, right? Or instant sober? She could drive her car to the bar again! Maybe even invest in some more fancy shoes! She’d never have another mistake like Tim. Ugh, maybe she could turn him into a toad to match his personality.
“You OK over there?” She must have been quiet for a while for him to ask.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just started thinking about doing magic and what that might be like.”
“And who you could turn into a toad?” He smiled and turned back to the road.
Rosario’s jaw dropped, “How the hell did you know that?”
“You’d be amazed at how many people think of that as one of the first things they’d like to do with magic. There’s always someone in their lives who they would prefer as a toad.”
“Have you ever turned anyone into a toad?” She asked mischievously.
“Ha! No, never a toad, never a toad…” He drifted off at the end and they listened to the radio as they drove into the forest. The radio signal started to get weaker and the road went from pavement to dirt. He turned off the radio as the static took the place of the music and drove slower as the dirt road turned to mud.
“Well,” he said as he stopped the car, “This is where we need to get out. We’ll have to walk from here on in. No more road.”
Rosario’s eyes got wide, “I totally don’t have the right shoes for this. I didn’t even think about it!”
He scrunched his face and turned to the back seat, “I didn’t think about that either. You’re right, those shoes will not do.” He rummaged around a bit and then snapped his fingers, “I got it!”
“You’ll magically make my shoes into hiking boots?” She said hopefully.
“No, but I do have a pair of my hiking boots in the trunk. You’ll have to wear them barefoot and obviously they’ll be a bit big on you, but better than messing up the shoes you’re wearing.”
“Well that will be just fine, thank you.” He got out of the car and got into the trunk. He came back around to the passenger side and opened the door for her as she slipped her shoes off and turned in the seat to get the hiking boots on. They were big, but she could get the laces tight enough that she would be able to walk, at least well enough to get where ever they were going. She stepped out the car and he guided her into the woods.
“Leave your purse, or at least your phone. There’s no signal out here and any technology interferes with what people do out here.” Rosario flinched at first but then looked at her phone. Sure enough, no signal. It was a brick out here. She flopped her purse and phone on the seat and they headed off.
The woods were dark, the trees blocking out what little light there was. There were all kinds of motion and activity in the trees; animals and insects, the sound of water and crunching branches. None of it was scary or menacing, but Rosario felt like she was in an alien place surrounded by alien beings.
“Maybe we should have brought a flashlight?”
“Nope, remember any technology interferes. Besides if you want light…” he pointed his fingers at a nearby tree like a gun, “bang.” A bolt of bright blue lightning scorched out of the sky and nailed the tree he was pointing at making the loudest thunder Rosario had ever heard and setting the top of the tree on fire. “Now they will know where to find us.”
About five minutes later they started to hear rustling in the trees. There was low chanting and the sound of footsteps coming closer to them. The coven had arrived. They stepped out of the trees in robes wearing crowns made of the leaves and vines of the woods. Their faces would not seem out of place in the local grocery store. There were middle aged clean shaven men, women who you could tell, even in the dark, were wearing some make-up, older people who were well into their elderly years but seemed shockingly spry. There was only one who stood out, their leader, an older gentleman with a long white beard that seemed to glow in the dark (for all Rosario knew his beard may have been glowing). He smiled a big grin when he saw them.
“You made it! You came!” The leader hugged the magician like you would someone at the airport after a long trip and then grabbed his shoulders and looked him up and down. “You look good, and you brought a friend.” The leader came over to Rosario. Not quite sure what she should do she reached out her hand to shake his.
“I’m Rosario. It’s nice to meet you.” The leader took her right hand in his left and then grabbed her left hand and lifted her arms. Not sure what to do, Rosario just went with it even as he spun her around to get a look at her. The leader turned back to the magician and released her arms.
“She seems very nice. Is she sober?”
“Stone sober, sir.” Rosario blurted it out, excited that she had passed the first test.
“And are you a virgin?” The leader looked her right in the eyes as he waited for an answer with no sign of any emotion on his face. Rosario got nervous. What the hell kind of question was that? She didn’t want this all to come down to whether or not she had slept with someone before or not. A virgin? What was she, some kind of sacrifice? She decided to be honest.
The leader made a quick face, then smiled and said, “Nobody’s perfect. Come get her!” As he called the rest of the coven came toward Rosario and the leader pulled a wad of cash out of his robes, counting off bills to the magician. “Next time, a virgin please.”
“I’ll do what I can.” The magician turned to walk back to his car.
It was very clear to Rosario that this is NOT what she had signed up for. She tried to reach for him and called out, “Wait! Where are you going?!” The coven were wrestling her to the ground and tying her arms behind her back.
“Back home, to the city. I told you, they’re crazy out here. They do all kinds of old school incantations and crap. Whatever gets them focused.” He lifted the roll of cash that the leader had given him, “I’m just glad it worked out.” He turned to the leader, “Hang on to the hiking boots, Dad, I’ll grab them the next time I’m out.” The leader smiled and waved as he started chanting again and the magician turned back toward the car as Rosario screamed to be let go and was dragged deeper into the woods. The coven chanted louder as they walked away, all of their eyes turning light blue.
“Virgins, huh? Where the hell am I gonna’ find a virgin?” He got back to the car, opened the passenger side door and dumped Rosario’s stuff in the underbrush. As he drove away a bright flash lit up a section deep in the woods and it started to rain, a warm, summer solstice rain.