Witch for Hire

Written on 10/06/2020
Melissa Storm

My name is Tawny Bigford. I’m 35, single, and I love hot showers. Seriously, all I wanted was a hot shower to start my day off right, but when I went to confront my landlady about the broken plumbing, I wound up talking to her corpse instead.

Now everyone thinks I’m to blame for her murder—not the best way to make an impression on the new neighbors, let me tell you. But how can I prove I’m innocent when I know practically nothing about the woman I supposedly killed?

Especially not the fact that she was the official Beech Grove Town Witch. Her former boss—a snarky black cat named Mr. Fluffikins—says I have to fill her vacated role until the real killer can be caught and brought to justice.

So, whether I like it or not, I’ve just been recruited to the Paranormal Temp Agency. Now I need to solve my landlady’s murder, figure out how to wield my newly granted powers, and maybe even find a way to fit in around here.

Yup. All in a day’s work for this novice witch.

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Read the First Three Chapters!

Chapter 1

“Aaaaaaaaaah!” A scream tore from my chest as I leaped away from the frigid stream gushing out of the old showerhead.

Normally I loved starting my mornings with a slow and steamy rinse while I let all of my thoughts boing around my brain and eventually meld themselves into some kind of plan for the day. Ever since moving to Beech Grove a couple weeks back, however, I was lucky to get a good five minutes of warmth before the water heater suddenly gave up the ghost and a punishing spray of liquid ice ruined my good mood.

“That’s it!” I shouted as I twisted the faucet off. My landlady would be hearing from me today, whether she liked it or not.

For her part, old Mrs. Haberdash had given me very careful instructions when I signed up to rent the small guest home at the back edge of her hilltop property. Even though she lived in the main house, just a short walk away, I was never ever supposed to visit her there. Anything I needed could be explained via a phone call or better yet—at least according to her—an old-fashioned letter.

Yeah, no.

I tried to do it her way, but so far my attempts at getting help with the plumbing had gone unanswered, and unfortunately, a useless shower made for a useless me. I’d tried playing by her rules and still had nothing to show for it. Now it was a time to play by mine.

Still dripping, I bunched my soapy hair into a bun to get it off my shoulders, threw on a shift dress and flip-flops, and headed out to finally confront my apathetic landlady.

I guess now would be a good time to introduce myself.

The name’s Tawny, Tawny Bigford. Tawny is short for Tanya, a name I’ve hated ever since Tanya Mills stuck a chewed-up wad of bubble gum in my hair during our second grade spelling test. So now I’m Tawny.

I’m 35, love my showers—as you already know—and am wonderfully, happily, unapologetically single.

Sure, I had a husband once. George was his name. But several years into our marriage, he decided he made a much better pair with some PTA mom named Patricia.

A PTA mom!

As the story goes, they’d bumped into each other outside of the local middle school one afternoon, and it was love at first sight. Why George was there in the first place, I’ll never understand. It’s not like we had kids of our own or any other reason for him to find himself at exactly the wrong place and wrong time.

But it happened and changed all of our lives in the process.

Honestly, I’d have rather he slipped off with his younger, prettier secretary. At least then I could bemoan the cliche.

But he and Patricia, who is two years his senior, are disgustingly happy together. Most days I just pretend that neither of them exists.

Okay, so I may sound a little bitter. And I may live by myself in a rented guest house, but—disappointing showers not withstanding—I absolutely love my life. Basically I write two books per year, ship them off to my publisher for a paycheck, and then do whatever I want with the rest of my time.

Yes, I could write more to make more, but why? I’m perfectly happy to live frugally because that means living freely. And as such, I have more hobbies than any one person should probably ever have.

But I digress…

This wasn’t the time to discuss my hobbies, it was the time to confront Mrs. Haberdash and to demand a steady supply of hot water that lasted more than five minutes per day. It was, after all, a simple and basic necessity.

On her doorstep now, I sucked in a deep breath to calm my rage, raised my hand, and knocked gently.

Just kidding, I pounded on that door with every bit of ire I had in me.

When no one answered, I started to shout. “I know you’re in there! And I need to talk!”

Still nothing, so I tried the doorknob and was surprised to find it unlocked, given how much I knew the woman valued her privacy.

I pushed it open and charged in, ready to give old Mrs. Haberdash a piece of my mind.

Unfortunately, while all this righteous storming was going on, I hadn’t kept an eye on my feet. I hadn’t thought I needed to, but something big and heavy was lying on the ground just beyond the threshold and I slammed right into it, lost my balance, and thudded to the ground in an awkward tangle of limbs.

Not just my own, but Mrs. Haberdash’s, too. Uh-oh. My stomach churned with an aching certainty.

“M-M-Mrs. Haberdash?” I asked, my voice quavering with fright as I turned my face toward the old woman sprawled across the entryway floor.

Her mouth remained firmly closed, her eyes glued open, her body even colder than the shower I’d just escaped.

Yup, she was dead, and—thanks to my unfortunate stumble—I’d just gotten my DNA all over her corpse.

No, no, no! I attempted a scream but came up short.

And here I thought a cold shower was the absolute worst way to start the day. Oh, when would I ever learn to leave well enough alone?

Chapter 2

I scrambled away from Mrs. Haberdash’s prone body in an awkward crab walk that sent an uncomfortable twinge tearing through my underworked arm muscles—because even though I had a lot of hobbies, none of them related to fitness.

“That’s okay about the plumbing,” I sputtered, despite knowing Mrs. Haberdash could neither hear me nor do anything about it now. “I’ll just… Yeah. So bye for now.”

I used the banister at the base of her grand staircase to pull myself to my feet, but before I could fully regain my composure, another horrible thing happened.

Law enforcement arrived.

“What’s going on in here?” A tall man with thick salt-and-pepper hair and a light beard glanced from Mrs. Haberdash to me and back again, then picked up the radio attached to his belt and—

“Stop!” I cried, unsure of what to do with my hands. I ended up grabbing the banister with both hands, just to appear non-threatening.

The cop lowered his handheld and regarded me skeptically.

“What’s going on here?” he asked again, his eyes fixed firmly on me now. They were a pale gray, the kind of eyes I would write into a character to show the reader he was handsome. And he was handsome, but unfortunately, I had a few more pressing things on my mind at the moment.

I looked incredibly guilty here. There was no denying that. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Officer Pretty Eyes pressed me up against the wall and started reading me my rights at that very moment. Brain, stop freaking out!

I needed to stop thinking about what could happen here and just focus on remaining calm and collected while I explained exactly why it was I’d wound up alone with a dead body.

“Well… I…” I fumbled for my words, sighed, and began again. “I mean… Mrs. Haberdash is dead, so…”

Oh, c’mon, Tawny! If you can’t use your writing superpowers to explain away something you didn’t even do, what’s the point of even having them?

I simpered at him uncomfortably, waiting for the guy to either arrest me or to tell me to be on my way. It didn’t seem like there was much chance for an in-between here. I mean, I would have arrested me.

“Yes, dead. I can see that,” he said, glancing toward her body demonstratively before snapping his gaze back to mine.

A jolt shot through me, but whether it was excitement, fear, or something else entirely, I couldn’t quite tell.

“Why did you kill her?” he pressed, his eyes boring into mine as if trying to see straight into my thoughts.

“I didn’t!” I stomped my foot for good measure. Maybe my body could say what my words could not. “This morning in the shower…”

He raised one suggestive eyebrow that sent flames straight into my cheeks. Why did he have to be so good looking? That made this whole situation so much worse. I’d always been great at writing banter, but not so great at actually doing it in real life. Besides, it’s not like flirting could get me out of this one.

“No, not that. I mean, yes, the hot water,” I back-pedaled again and then panicked when he reached back toward his belt. “Wait! I didn’t kill her! How could you even think that?”

He crossed his arms and stared down the bridge of his nose at little old me. “How could I think that? Easy. I’ve never seen you a day in my life, not until you suddenly showed up at a murder scene.”

I gasped in horror. “Murder? No, she wasn’t murdered. I mean, at least not by me. And, hey, why do you automatically assume foul play? You’ve been here all of five seconds and have hardly even glanced at her. Don’t you have to do like an investigation or something first?”

Ugh. Me and my big mouth!

First I couldn’t defend my innocence, and then I accused him of not doing his job properly. I may have written one or two police characters in my books, but that wasn’t quite enough to make me an expert here.

He groaned and shook his head. “Yes, and I will investigate, just as soon as I’m done questioning the suspect.”

I backed up until my shoulders were pressed flat against the wall. “Look, Deputy Quick Draw, Mrs. Haberdash is my landlady. I was just coming to lodge a complaint. A small one. Nothing to kill anyone over.” I inserted a nervous laugh here as one does when a topic is quite literally dead serious.

“She was like this when I got here,” I added as an afterthought.

“Looks like she’s been here for a while,” he said with a sniff.

“I don’t know anything about any of this. I just wanted some hot water for my morning shower. That’s all.”

Gathering every last vestige of strength, I pushed off from the wall and carefully navigated around poor Mrs. Haberdash in a last-ditch effort to get the heck out of there.

The cop’s light eyes roamed over me, and the slightest smile quirked on his lips.

“Hang on,” he said, stopping me in my tracks as a heavy veil of horror dropped over me once again. “You’re going to have to come with me.”


Chapter 3

Officer Quick Draw left me no time to argue. When I hesitated to follow him toward his squad car, he unhooked a pair of handcuffs from his belt loop and dangled them before me. “Would you prefer we give these babies a workout instead?”

Motivation had arrived. And just like that, I was power walking across my dead landlady’s dead lawn and yanking open the passenger side door to throw myself inside.

The officer gave me a strange look, but I shrugged it off. “If I’m not under arrest, then I’m not riding in the back. I’ve lived in enough small towns to know how fast and far rumors can fly.” Things couldn’t get much worse at this point, so I had to fight for whatever small dignities I could retain. I’d already been driven out of my former hometown by the embarrassment of my ex-husband’s indiscretion.

Since then, I’d briefly lived in two other small towns, but neither felt quite right. I’d been hoping Beech Grove would finally offer a new place to put down roots, but that was probably ruined now. Still, I’d rather whatever time I had here be as pleasant as possible.

I glanced back at Mrs. Haberdash’s dark, imposing house. It looked like the kind of place where murders happened. Why hadn’t I seen that before?

The cop slammed his door, jabbed his key into the ignition, and chuckled as the engine rumbled to life. “So you’re new.”

I nodded in confirmation. “And I’m guessing you’re not.”

“Born and raised right here in Beech Grove,” he admitted with a faint blush. “It’s all I’ve ever known. What I don’t know is your name. You still haven’t told me that little piece of info.” He smiled to himself as he maneuvered the squad car with me in it. It would have been easy to like him under other circumstances, but now he would forever be the guy who took me in for murder.

I offered a sarcastic laugh to hide my discomfort. “It’s kind of hard to introduce oneself when one’s companion is hurling murder accusations around like they were Mardi Gras beads.”

“Oneself, eh? Smart. You a new professor at the academy, then?” We’d already pulled out of the driveway and were rumbling down the torn-up back road. He did glance at me briefly as if making some kind of assessment.

“What academy?” We were at least an hour away from any kind of big city. Seemed a weird place for something as fancy as an academy.

He frowned but didn’t clarify. “How about we try starting over here? Hi. I’m Parker Barnes. It’s nice to meet you.”

I kept my eyes fixed firmly ahead and nodded.

“And you are?” Parker prompted after several silent moments passed.

“Tawny,” I answered even though I really didn’t want to.

“There. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

I shook my head and let out a beleaguered sigh. “I’d really rather not make chit-chat with some guy who thinks I killed my landlady. Let’s just get the questioning over with and go on our separate ways. Okay?”

“Touché, madame. Lucky for you, we’re already there.”

The car jerked to a stop, shocking me with how short this journey had been.

I widened my eyes at the sight of the sprawling brick building before us. It wasn’t just a single building, but a whole complex—and it definitely wasn’t a police station. I didn’t remember ever passing it before on my walks through town, either. Though it obviously wasn’t far from where I lived, judging from the short time between climbing into this cruiser and reaching our destination.

“I thought you were taking me to the station?” I said, crossing my arms across my chest in open defiance.

“This is the station, at least for our purposes today. C’mon. We’ve lost too much time already.”

I turned to stare at him. He didn’t look like your garden variety murderer-rapist-all-around-psycho, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t. I refused to follow him blindly just because he wore a uniform. Uniforms could be faked, after all.

“Everything only just happened. How have we lost time?” I demanded, sitting firm. “And, no, I know better than to go into a strange building with a strange man. I’m staying right here.” Not that camping out in his strange car was any better, but still, a girl had to stand up for herself—otherwise who would?

“Okay, but if anyone asks, you’re the one who chose to do this the hard way,” Parker answered with yet another frown before exiting the car.

I watched as he marched around the car, came to my side, and then flung the door open. “Out,” he said firmly.

I opened my mouth to argue but let out a scream instead. My hands were moving to unbuckle the seatbelt, my feet to pull me from the car. I had told neither of them to do those things. “Hey,” I cried in a pathetic protest. “Stop it.”

“Follow me,” Parker said, obvious enjoyment now dancing in his light eyes.

My legs answered as if they belonged to him instead of me. The no-good traitors.

And into the unmarked office in the non-police building I went, thanks to my frighteningly bossy companion and inexplicably disobedient limbs.

Yup, this day just kept on getting worse and worse.

And that definitely didn’t bode well for whatever happened next.