The Bone Witch by Ivy Asher

1





My feet ache as I plod up the cement stairs that guide the way to my third floor apartment. Each step saps the last vestiges of my energy, and I’m ready to call it quits halfway up the concrete flight. Step number seven is starting to look awfully cozy, I tell myself, and I would be saving the food delivery guy from having to trek up this Everest to deliver the shrimp scampi I just ordered.

I chant a steady stream of I think I can, while promising my tired muscles and barking feet a warm bath and a soft bed just as soon as they get us through the front door. I groan and make a note to find a ground floor apartment before accepting any more double shifts.

I am bone tired.

I had three cancellations today, which means I had to take walk-ins. This would normally be fine, except Leann called out sick, and her appointments were divided up between the masseuses that were there. I, of course, got stuck massaging the woman who smelled like garlic and the dude who kept fishing for whether or not I was going to give him the happy ending he was hoping for.

Ugh.

I need to find a new job. Or better yet, I need to open up my own place instead of working for an evil massage chain. Too bad rent is exorbitant, and trying to run an I’ll come to you massage business is just asking to be seen and treated like a sex worker.

Finally, I crest the top of the stairs, but my arms hurt too much to raise them in triumph. With a tired huff, I shove my key into the lock and shoulder my front door open. I’m so ready for a glass of wine, my just big enough tub, and some Witcher. Lord knows I need a healthy dose of Henry Cavil in my life to remind me why I shouldn’t look into becoming a lesbian.

My purse slides down my arm like it too is exhausted and can’t wait to veg out. A clang fills the quiet of my apartment as I drop everything onto the black entry table and pull in a deep inhale of home. The scent of wisteria and lemongrass settles in my lungs, and the stress of work starts to sluff off my shoulders. A twinge of pain shoots through my back as I step deeper into the comforting smells of my cozy apartment. I snort at the irony of needing a massage to help combat all the aches and pains I have from giving massages for a living.

Today’s need for Tylenol is to be blamed on Mr. Nobo. He was my last massage of the day and the one who pushed my aching back over the edge. I mean, good for him for being so fit at his age. If silver fox was my thing, I’d be all over that and then some, but I hate massaging ripped guys. Don’t get me wrong, I love muscles. Nice body definitely ticks off a big box for me when I’m on the prowl and hunting for a bed buddy for the night. But getting knots out and relaxing all that muscle, it’s like the worst kind of hardcore workout, and Jillian Michaels I am not.

Thoughts of shrimp scampi float through my tired mind as I head toward my room. I should be able to fill up the tub and get Netflix streaming on my tablet just before dinner is delivered to my doorstep. Eagerly I start to strip down. I pass the espresso-colored table nestled in my dining room when out of the corner of my eye, I spot something that was not there when I left this morning.

Perched dead center in the middle of the dark wood is a deep purple velvet pouch. I freeze at the sight of it, and my blood runs cold. Dread floods me as questions try to burst through my mind like faulty fireworks. My head shakes back and forth like the simple no motion will undo what I know in my gut has already been done. I retreat away from the table, putting as much distance between me and the curse that’s just sitting casually, uninvited, in my dining room.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” I screech, like some sailor-blessed exclamation will scare the bag away, erasing this moment and everything I know is about to happen.

But how?

Why?

Did they get lost on the way to their true home, stop to take a nap or something?

I mean, I get it, I’ve had a long day too, but as much as I want to think that there’s been some kind of a mistake, deep down I know that’s not how this works.

I scramble for my purse. Phone. I need my fucking phone. The trill of my ringtone suddenly fills the panic-laced air all around me, the sound like a cannon going off in the eerie quiet of my apartment. With shaky hands, I scramble to open my bag. I finally find my still ringing phone but drop it in the process of trying to accept the incoming call. The phone goes quiet as it clangs against the floor, ominous silence once again filling my apartment like a dense fog. I clamber to pick it up. Adrenaline slams into me like a sumo wrestler, and with a trembling grip, I open up my recent calls and click my cousin’s number.

My alarmed gaze lands back on the velvet pouch. I pinch myself and blink profusely, testing that I’m not currently hallucinating or somehow passed out and experiencing a fucking nightmare. My call barely makes it a full ring before a silvery tenor voice answers.

“Leni? Did you hear?” Tad demands, out of breath and in place of the friendly hey you that he usually greets me with.

“They’re here,” I choke out, cutting off whatever he’s about to say. “They’re fucking here!” I shout into the phone, you know, just in case he didn’t hear me the first time.

Tad goes silent, stunned by my panicked revelation as much as I am.

“Holy shit,” he whispers reverently, and I nod in agreement regardless of the fact that he can’t see me. We’re both silent for a beat. “Gwen is going to shit kittens,” he finally blurts, and I begin to massage my temples.