Oh goddess, I feel like breaking out in hives right now, I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M REALLY POSTING THIS.
In February of 2019, I began a short project where I had to post a short story every week, on Thor’s Day, that had only one parameter: it had to be, had minimum, 1000 words long. It could be any genre, any length beyond that, and could even contain mild cliffhangers!
Why? Because some of those definitely turned into novels, let’s be honest here. It was in an effort to get myself working, and, suffice to say, it worked. Two of my last posts for the project were first chapters of finished novels that Thursday Thousand helped me get back to. Around Halloween last year, I wanted to bring this project back for a special one-month adventure of spooky stories, and it was a lot of fun. And now, here I am, craving it again.
I like writing short stories not because I want them to go anywhere, or even because I’m hoping a new novel idea will sprout (though that usually happens), but because I like to dive into quick stories while I’m in the midst of writing a series of novels. When I’m deep in the middle of a writing in my vast universe, it can get a little lonely, and I like to occasionally stretch my words outside of it. This is in no way saying that Thursday Thousand is back for good. Honestly, I cannot write a new short story every week, and, if I do, they’re just going to be the Greek mythos and planets stories all over again because I’ll start looking for an out and just turn to something that’s easy. But, every once in a while, I’d like to throw a short story up, maybe aim for once a month, we’ll see.
Thus, to kick things off, we’re starting with a short story that I wrote earlier this year that was intended as a submission for an anthology. The anthology ended up not happening, so the short story never went anywhere, and that bums me out because I had a lot of fun writing it. It was a challenge for me, too, since it used characters from sister witches, but had to exist outside of it. Not to mention the whole story takes place on a Thursday, it was practically meant to be, rebooting this project with it. Enjoy!
Henley hated Thursdays.
She had an early anatomy lecture that made her want to pull her hair out, and that was only the beginning. She still wasn’t sure why she’d thought picking an 8AM science lecture was a good idea, but it was the only slot that’d fit into the rest of her already stuffed schedule, and she thought learning about how the body worked would come in handy for something eventually. After the lecture, Henley had to hightail it to her internship, where she worked two four-hour shift a week, and though she didn’t mind the internship—in fact, she’d carefully curated it with a simple spell involving green candles, an entire pouch of pennies, and the realization that she was about to set off the fire alarm—she did mind being treated like she was gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe while she was there. Adelaide, her best friend, kept reminding her that that was just how the world viewed interns, and that hexing someone for something so little was probably not in her best interest.
Henley hated when Adelaide applied logic to magic, but, then again, that’s why Henley felt so drawn to her. They’d only known each other a year, but when Adelaide knocked on Henley’s door with a compass in her hand and a frown on her face, Henley was already halfway to accepting that they were meant to be together. She’d never seen this woman before, but she knew what putting blind trust in magic looked like, and so, she asked, “Is that a locator spell?” like it was a completely normal thing to wonder of a stranger.
“It worked!” Adelaide shrieked, and nearly threw the compass in the air.
Later, Adelaide told her she’d gotten sick of scouring the internet for spells on her own, so she’d patched together a spell intended to locate another witch, and just wished for the best when she left her dorm room. “What if it led you to a serial killer?” Henley asked.
“Look, honestly, as long as they were a witch, we’d have figured it out.”
They had a class together in the afternoon, something frilly that neither of them really needed, but they’d wanted to figure out a way to see each other outside of midnight rituals, and so they’d each grabbed the same painting elective and called it a day. Realistically, Henley didn’t hate Thursdays since she got to both paint and see Adelaide, but it was only two bright hours in the midst of all the other nonsense, which usually culminated in her roommates coercing her to go out.
“It’ll be fun!” they always shouted, and they were usually wrong. Adelaide’s logic questioned why Henley kept going out with them, but living with three giggly girls and not going out with them wasn’t really an option. They would whine until she did, and Henley couldn’t stand the mere thought of their combined coercion.
She knew that she was getting crotchety at barely twenty-one, but all of it seemed like a lot of wasted effort. Henley wanted to be past this stage in her life. She wanted to already have her degree, wanted to enjoy her job at the coffee shop downtown instead of dread it because it was combined with school, wanted to make enough money to live with just Adelaide, and wanted to find a third witch to complete what they were tentatively calling a coven. “You can’t have a two-person coven,” Adelaide believed, and Henley agreed.
But first, she had to get through this week’s Thursday.
Henley had long since given up trying to squirrel her way out of Thursday nights out, and so her roommates didn’t bother double checking. She wasn’t exactly agreeable, but she was willingly present, and she felt like that was enough. One of her roommates told her she needed to loosen up as they descended the stairs. Another one sighed at her for scowling when they finally headed out into the brightly lit streets. The third jostled her into the middle of them and tried to infuse her with joy by sheer proximity.
They ended up at a bar, which Henley very specifically did not make noise about, though it was the opposite of her scene. “I’ve got first round!” the joyful roommate yelled excitedly as she dashed over to the bar, leaving the other three women to find a table.
“There’s live music tonight,” the sighing one said as she spotted a table against the wall, grabbing the other two by their forearms and dragging them over. “One of the other TAs said there’s this Mexican chick everyone loves playing the main slot.”
“One of the other TAs,” the other girl echoed as she grinned over at her, “Like we don’t all know you’re banging him.”
Henley’s eyebrows skyrocketed up to her hairline—she was so done with having this same conversation over and over again—so she dug out her phone, snapped a picture of the overcrowded room with a view of the stage ahead, and sent it to Adelaide.
It all unfolded as expected. Henley sipped at her drink, knowing that the other three would end up stumbling home and would need some kind of chaperone to make sure they didn’t end up in a ditch or in the back of some random dude’s car. Sometimes, when she was already in a rotten mood about the rest of her life, Henley thought they brought her along solely to be that person for them, but a large part of her suspected it was true, so she never asked them.
A few acts came and went on the stage, largely ignored by the rambunctious crowd, until some sweet kid from one of the Beverly liberal arts universities shyly crept onstage, and everyone practically melted. Henley wanted to hide under her table.
Straight people are the worst, she texted Adelaide, peppering it with as many explosive emojis as she could find. They were at the portion of the night where her roommates were buzzed enough that they’d given up trying to get Henley to enjoy their company and were instead giggling together over the boy, now crooning awfully onstage over his guitar. It left Henley free to serial text Adelaide, who gave as good as she got, and started sending Henley full paragraphs of the paper she was writing to be edited for grammar.
And so, it wasn’t until the gentle guitar picking started that Henley realized her life was about to change. She vaguely noticed the changeover from the sweet kid to the chaos between acts, held up her still half-full beer when asked if she wanted another drink, and kept on reading the current paragraph Adelaide had sent her. Adelaide loved run-ons, so Henley was busy trying to cut her sentences in half when the next act came onstage, and though she heard an electric guitar start chiming, Henley didn’t look up.
Realistically, it was a full thirty seconds before Henley’s terrible Thursday flipped on its head.
The song had started as just a couple chords blithely following one another, but there was careful picking happening now, and Henley finally lifted her head, eyebrows furrowed, to look at the stage. A lone woman stood at the front of the stage, a dull spotlight shining directly on her so that the rest of the stage remained swamped in shadows until the very soft drums started to kick in, and then amber light flickered across the rest of the stage. The woman was using a loop peddle, layering different melodies on top of one another so that the song came together bit by bit.
Henley had a half-typed text to Adelaide, but she couldn’t look away. This was, undoubtedly, the Mexican chick everyone was excited about if the sudden hush falling over the bar was any indication. They were all starting to sway rhythmically with the drums, staring up at the woman like she was something holy. Henley felt her gaze snagging on her that way, as well.
She was small, short enough that the guitar almost looked strange in her hands, with a sweep of dark brown hair that she’d gathered over one shoulder and that shifted as she bobbed her head in time with the drums cascading behind her. She was wearing a pair of severely ripped acid wash jeans that showed off bony brown knees, a white cropped tee that bared just a tiny bit of midriff, and little black sneakers that tapped gently against the ground. Her head was bowed as she played, but her whole body was starting to roll in time with the music, and that would have been enough to hook Henley.
When the woman started singing, Henley nearly choked.
She frantically erased what she’d been typing to Adelaide and sent instead: oh no.
It only got better from there. When the guitar solo hit, Henley stopped breathing. Instead, she watched the woman curl around her guitar like it was a living organ to protect and pour her entire soul into. The song came to a lulling conclusion after that, but they immediately bled into the next one, which opened with a steady, picked bass and high-pitched, flung away notes from the guitar. The woman with the guitar still carried most of the melody, looping layers with her pedal, body swaying along with her creation. Her drummer pulled out a pair of bongos to add in an extra unexpected element, and then she was singing, and Henley felt everything inside of her melting.
She was never, ever going to admit that she was glad she’d come out tonight, but she could already feel her roommates making faces at her, and even that didn’t bother her. She dashed off a quick message to Adelaide—I’ve just fallen in love send help send lots of help like ambulances and firetrucks and the goddamn SWAT all the help ADELAIDE SHE’S AMAZING—before she pocketed her phone, being careful not to let any of it show on her face, took a sip of her beer, and let the music carry her away.
It was like a lullaby, the set. All of it was the kind of music you just nod along to as the body transcends to some other astral plane, and though Henley really wanted to let that happen, she would start leaking magic all around her if she wasn’t careful. And so, she kept a tight leash on what was happening inside of her, but her face—that, she slowly lost control over, and when the set came to a close, her sighing roommate shrieked with disbelieving excitement as Henley slid off her stool. “No way!” they all chirped, so Henley told them to go pound sand and made her escape.
Growing up, her mother always said the worst someone could say was no, but Henley had learned the hard way that the worst someone could do was laugh, and she wanted to put her best foot forward to try to even the odds. If she looked like someone you didn’t say no to or laugh at, then maybe it was possible to avoid both. She fished out her phone to dial Adelaide on a video chat, who answered as Henley was pushing into the bathroom. “Help me,” Henley pleaded before she set her phone down onto the sink and scowled at the mirror.
“Well, stop making that face,” Adelaide said, “You look like you’re sucking a lemon.”
“You didn’t see her,” Henley said as she looked down at where Adelaide’s face was leaned close to her phone. It looked like she was in the middle of trimming her bangs, for half of them were shorter than the rest, and it gave her face a lopsided look, though it probably didn’t help that Adelaide was tipping her head to the side, as well.
“Is your hair down? I can’t tell, the lighting is stupid.”
“Yes. Should it not be?” Henley asked, already starting to gather her braids in her hands.
“What does she look like? Help me out, Hen.”
As Henley described the guitarist to Adelaide, she twisted her braids up into a bun, creeping it higher when Adelaide made a wild motion with her hands. It ended up at the crown of her head, big and spilling out braids all around, which Henley desperately wished Adelaide was there to tweak. When she was done, Adelaide told her to step back so she could see what she was wearing, and Henley frowned at herself in the mirror.
Growing up, Henley had always been the smart one, her sister the pretty one. Her sister, older by a few years, knew the exact shade of lipstick to wear, the best combination of clothes, and how to get her way with just a sweet smile. Henley was always stick-thin, no matter how much she ate, all dark elbows and knees, her hair a constant mess until the first time her mother took her to get her braids done, and dirt clinging to the undersides of her nails. She’d done a lot to step away from that ungainly girl, even if it hadn’t been by choice, even if it meant running from dead parents and a psycho sister, but as Henley looked at herself now, she could see that girl peeking out.
Henley jerked, looking down at her phone. Adelaide was frowning deeply at her.
“You are beautiful, so stop.”
“So is she,” Henley pointed out.
“Don’t forget what your own name is,” Adelaide said before she air-kissed and hung up.
She very nearly did just that. Henley left the bathroom, ducking her head back toward the bar to see that the change between sets was still happening and the guitarist was laughing with her drummer. Henley took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and wove through the bar toward the small stage. The worst she could do was laugh at Henley, but Henley wouldn’t know unless she tried, and there was zero chance of her going back to the table with her roommates either way.
As Henley came even with the stage, the woman peeled away from her drummer to nudge the case to her guitar shut, nearly snapping some kid’s fingers that were reaching toward it, and Henley grinned. “Stick those in your pants next time you think about stealing from someone,” the guitarist snapped. The kid slunk away, rightfully chastised.
“That was out of this world,” Henley said, trying not to show physically that she was bracing all over.
The guitarist tipped her head up a little, smiling when she saw it was Henley and not the kid. She hopped off the stage, grabbed her case, and held out a hand. “Luciana,” she said, the name rolling through her accented voice, and Henley’s nerves started to drift away pieces at a time. She shook her hand, and felt magic slip between her fingers at the warm grip of Luciana’s hand. Panicked, Henley snatched them back with a quick inhale, and Luciana gave her an odd look. “You got a name?” she asked.
“Henley,” it came out in a rush, and she could practically hear Adelaide smacking her forehead with a groan. “I don’t mean to be forward, but—”
“You wanna get out of here?” Luciana interrupted, still smiling, “Grab a drink somewhere less—all this?”
“Hell yeah,” Henley said, and her world started to change, just like that.
She waved in the general direction of her roommates, and was gratified to hear them hooting and hollering as she left through the back door with Luciana. They paused to drop Luciana’s case with her drummer, who rolled her eyes knowingly and told her to be safe, and then they were heading out onto the street. “I’m not much of a drinker,” Luciana admitted as they paused outside the bar, “But—”
“How do you feel about coffee?” Henley asked.
“I can be persuaded,” Luciana said, her smile widening. “Lead the way.”
Henley pivoted left, and Luciana followed. She moved like she played, like a snake who shed its skin only to show that there was more beneath. Luciana had a commanding walk, shoulders rolled back and head tipped high, the stride of her little black shoes like how Henley walked in boots made for stomping.
They chatted as they walked, weaving around people. Salem was getting busy again with the nice weather starting to unfold. Henley was comfortable in nothing more than her lightweight leather jacket, and Luciana had pulled on a thin black sweatshirt. The air was warm, and the words drifted between them in an easy, loose kind of way. Talking to Luciana was like talking to Adelaide, in one respect—it wasn’t hard to think of what to say, there was no pointed steering of the conversation, and Henley didn’t worry that she sounded like an idiot. But there was something much, much different, too—Luciana’s voice rolled in sunshine currents, curling through words unexpectedly in a way that shot fire through Henley, her smile always quick to unravel, and her dark eyes flicking all around, not settling on one thing, not unless they caught Henley’s, and then she didn’t look away until Henley did.
It was simple conversation, too, which made the weight of Luciana’s stare all the more prominent. Henley was studying psychology, but always thinking about an art minor that she’d probably never actually get. Luciana was figuring out life outside of the norm after wasting two years trying to pursue med school and hating every second of it. She played gigs as often as possible, but she worked days at a law office. Henley was born in the deep south, though she’d done a lot to erase her accent over the years, and Luciana surprised her by not asking to hear what she’d so carefully cut away. She told Luciana about her parents, but not about her sister, and for the first time in Henley’s life, it didn’t feel like omission, just felt like she was talking about herself now, in the present. Her sister was part of her past, and though, technically, so were her parents, Henley didn’t feel like she was lying when she didn’t mention that she had a sister somewhere out there in the world.
Luciana, though, had more sisters than she could count, but all of them were several years younger than her, and she admitted that she didn’t know them as well as she wanted to. “I’d already moved out by the time the first of them was born,” she said as they waited for the light at a crosswalk, “But that’s some deep level stuff, and what I’m really curious about is what your favorite song was tonight.”
She gave Henley a stern look, and Henley laughed. “The first one,” she said, “I didn’t want to be out tonight, and I was ignoring the world editing my friend’s paper, and you just—swept me away. It was like being sucker punched.”
“Damn,” Luciana said as the light finally clicked over to the walk sign. Henley didn’t move, too entranced looking at Luciana’s shifting expression. When it settled, it was brightly backlit by joy. “My drummer saw you coming,” she said as she stared at Henley, “and she told me you looked like trouble.”
“Was she right?”
Luciana took a single step in, and Henley felt fire lick down her spine. “I guess we’ll find out,” was all she said before she took one of Henley’s hands, twining their fingers together, and tugging her out onto the crosswalk where the sign had just switched to the flashing orange hand. They dashed across, laughing, and Luciana didn’t let go of her hand when they arrived on the other side. Her skin was warm like her voice, warm like oozing honey, warm like sun on the first day after winter started to fizzle away. Henley wanted to hold onto her and never let go, and it was a little startling, such a big thought at such a small beginning, but everything about Luciana made sense. There was no first conversation awkwardness, no wondering what came next. It was just them, now, and an entire future of possibilities unfolding.
There was a rainbow crosswalk a block down from the coffee shop, and Luciana stopped in amazement when she caught sight of it. “I love this city,” she said as she released Henley’s hand, ran out into the center, and threw her arms up into the air. She looked like something out of a movie—open hands reaching for the sky, head tossed back in delight, all of the world at her feet. “I’m here, and I’m queer!” Luciana screamed, and nothing could have stopped Henley from unfolding her fingers and releasing a bit of magic.
She dropped whispered words with it, infusing the power running through her with intention, “Let this be real. Please.”
A car’s headlights flashed across Luciana, and Henley ran across the rainbow crosswalk to grab her around the waist and drag her the rest of the way. Luciana was laughing wildly when they staggered to a stop, but she still flung her arms around Henley’s shoulders, slotting them together. It felt corny to admit, but they fit like jagged pieces of a puzzle that only belonged in one specific place. “Is this night even real?” Luciana asked as her hands came up to thread through the back of Henley’s hair, and the different iteration of the phrase struck a chord somewhere deep inside Henley’s bones.
“Please let it be,” Henley said as her mother’s words rang through her—the worst they can do is say no. But Luciana had already said yes, had laughed for entirely different reasons, and was smiling when Henley leaned in. It was like drowning, kissing Luciana, and Henley never wanted to come up for air.
Maybe Thursday’s weren’t so bad after all.