The old wizard’s house was ordinary. Catherine dodged a stray sprig of rhododendron on the way to his gray-blue door. It felt good to ring the bell, and wait, as the dog started barking inside and its owner made calm shushing sounds.
“Yes?” Said the wizard, finally opening up. He was wearing an ordinary blazer and square-rimmed glasses, and looking the normal amount of annoyed at the sight of an uninvited guest.
“Yes, hello,” said Catherine, hurrying through her introduction and finding the right amount of change in her purse. “I’d like to purchase a spell, please.”
“Agh.” The old man relaxed, and opened the door a bit more. “I was just about to have myself some soup. Would you care to come in?”
“If that’s how it’s normally done, then of course,” said Catherine, tucking her perfect amount of change back into her purse’s side-pocket.
Soon they were both sitting at the wizard’s kitchen table with a big bowl of soup and a ham-and-cheese sandwich apiece. The old man’s Doberman lay at their feet, quietly thumping his tail.
“So,” said the wizard, with his mouth full of sandwich. “What kind of spell are you looking for?”
Catherine looked at the table, taking her time to chew and swallow what was in her mouth.
The wizard chuckled knowingly. “Dark days, these are. Hard times we’re living in.”
“Yes,” said Catherine. “They are.”
“You’ve come for the Hero Spell. The same formula that all of the others have been buying lately. Isn’t that right?”
The lady reached for her napkin. “I don’t know what formula the others came for.”
“But you do know, don’t you, that not all of them could make it work?”
Catherine didn’t answer.
The old man’s eyes took on a sparkle. “You really believe in heroes.”
Catherine shrugged. “I believe in formulas.”
The wizard told her that was good enough. She paid about what she would to see a movie, and the wizard dredged up, from the back of a kitchen drawer, a laminated scroll. Same old recipe, he explained. Pretty new text. Then he was showing her the door.
“I mean – well,” said Catherine, pausing on the threshold. “I am the right type, right? Your formula does call for a girl exactly just like me?”
“We shall see,” said the old man smoothly, pushing her through the entry.
* * *
Catherine checked her outfit one more time before she left her house. The long gray trenchcoat obscured her figure. A tight ballerina bun and glasses completed the disguise. Beneath the coat, her half-bare bosoms nestled in a costume sleek and stark. But no one had to know her secret yet.
The moon was bright above her as she started on her walk. She headed up a bar-lined side-street, listening for catcalls. This was step two in the recipe – the easiest piece of instruction, by far. She just had to get into trouble.
She took her hair down as she stepped past a particularly unruly group standing outside a pub. It fell in bright cascades around her shoulders. She ditched the glasses and kept walking, followed by the sound of hisses. She reminded herself as she headed for the parking garage, it was ok to be afraid. It was even ok to cry. Step three was the hero. She wasn’t there yet.
“Watcha got under that?”
Someone yanked her coat from behind. Buttons burst. She couldn’t close it.
Step two, step two, she thought. Next was step three, and the hero, if she’d done it right. There was a single building, multi-storied, between her and the parking lot. She pinned her eyes to the corner of its rooftop, waiting.
Step one had been too easy. There were hands closing over the slutty suede cat suit. Two different voices – three. Nothing moved on the roof.
Step one, step one. Where had she gone wrong?
There were men on each side and behind her. Then a shove. But she was pure-hearted and looked like the woman on tv. She’d done her very best in this regard.
She fell backwards, still looking up.