Betwixt Hearts

The woman may have come into Wendy’s tent trying to look common, but she had wealth written all over her. Even dressed down in dark trousers and a blouse, Wendy could see that about her. Her clothes fit too well. Her hair was too clean.

“Do I have something you need?” Wendy asked as the woman sat at the opposite end of the rug cover the dirt inside the tent.

“I reckon you do.”

“And you are?”

“Elizabeth Wagner.”

Ah, Wendy had heard the name Wagner around the town, in the weeks she’d been doing her work on the outskirts and nearby farms. It seemed that Daddy Wagner owned about half the town, and wasn’t all too well loved. She hadn’t heard anything about a family, but rich men usually had a few daughters to barter.

“Well, Miss Wagner, what brings you to me under the cover of night?”

Elizabeth crinkled her nose and pursed her lips — she was obviously surveying both the situation and the tent in one slow sweep of her gaze. Sighing, she crossed her arms over her chest and looked over her shoulder to the flap of the tent that she had failed to secure. The wind picked up the heavy canvas. A cool breeze flickered the light in Wendy’s camp lantern.

That part may have been Wendy’s doing. A well-placed breeze always added a little dramatic flair when dealing with reluctant clients.

“You would be a helluva girl to play poker with. I bet I would win all your rich daddy’s money.”

Elizabeth cleared her throat and schooled her face into a neutral expression. “You’re not what I expected. When they told me a witch had camp outside of Atchison, I imagined an old lady. You can’t be that much older than me.”

“Older enough. You haven’t told me why you’re here. My time is expensive, Miss Wagner.”

“Yes, I’ve heard. I need a love spell, and I’ve heard that witches can make such things possible.”

Wendy leaned back slightly and looked the woman over more appraisingly. “Seems unnecessary. You’re young and pretty enough. You don’t need no more spell to catch a man than what the good Lord gave you between your legs.”

“It’s not that simple.” Elizabeth unhooked a small bag at her hip and dropped it on the table between them. It’s enticing jingle promised more money than Wendy had planned to make in her entire time in the territory. “Will this be enough to do the deed?”

Wendy picked up the bag, impressed with the heft of it. Looking inside, she found the coin to be gleaming and plentiful. For good measure, she bit one. She could tell with a tiny brush of magic if the coin was genuine, but it wasn’t part of the show. Half her clients came to gawk, and the other half came out of desperation. It seemed that Elizabeth Wagner was desperate.

“Not even close, girl. The money is good, but a love spell is messy work. I’ll need two parts blood — one part yours, one part from your unlucky beloved. We’ll need a silver bullet inscribed with the correct symbols. We’ll need to mix them in a hole in consecrated ground with the right herbs, soak the bullet in the blood, and wait until the earth has drunk it. And after all of that, the spell requires a sacrifice of the highest order. A human sacrifice. Most find that love isn’t worth the cost.”

Elizabeth held strong, her posture unchanged, her face a mask too perfect to have been genuine. “It is worth it in this situation. When do you need these items?”

Wendy raised an eyebrow. She had concocted more than one love spell in her years as a practicing witch; she had the supplies she needed. Usually the buyer that faltered. A man would kill a dozen lambs if it promised him fortune or a good crop. But fewer would go so far as to kill another human. “Very well. Bring me the blood to the local cemetery, tomorrow at dusk, and I’ll take care of the rest. Sacrifice included.”

“We’ll take care of it.” Elizabeth stood, smacking the dust from her pants and smoothing them with her hands. “I plan to see each step of this through.”

“Fine. Tomorrow at dusk.”

***

Wendy waited over a gravestone so old that half the wood had rotted away. Visitors didn’t often come back to the very old gravestones; they were less likely to be discovered in their dark work. She had already dug the small hole, expecting to fill it back up when the woman didn’t show. She inspected her silver bullet for any flaw, her magic for any missing piece. The engravings to ensure love were delicate. Too light, and the blood might not take to each crevice. Too deep, and it would affect the bullet’s trajectory when she shot the poor degenerate she had chosen for her sacrifice — a local drunk in the habit of hurting anyone he could reach, in big and small ways. Killing him handled two problems quite efficiently.

Elizabeth Wagner continued to surprise her. Dressed in the same clothes — her sneaking-out clothes, no doubt — Elizabeth arrived with a small satchel. “Shall we?” she asked, pulling a jar from the satchel. The blood stuck thick to the glass walls.

“Your beloved must be missing that. He ain’t going to be feeling all himself for a few days.”

“Tommy is a stupid drunkard and a gambler. He’ll think he got into another spat with one of those men he wastes time with.” Elizabeth sat by the hole and looked up at Wendy. “Is there a specific way to do this?”

“First the blood from the heart to be bewitched.” Wendy pulled a small muslin bag of herbs from her pocket. “Then the herbs, then your blood. Mix it, drop the bullet it, and wait.”

“Bewitched heart, then the heart of the person who wants to be loved?” Elizabeth shifted to set her leg in a triangle over the hole in the ground. She hiked her trouser up over her knee and pulled a small knife from the satchel. Before Wendy could think to stop her, Elizabeth had made a long cut in the side of her calf. With grit teeth, Elizabeth pressed her leg to encourage the blood to drip into the hole. “You go ahead and tell me when you’ve got enough.”

Wendy tilted her head as she judged the blood. It didn’t take long to make enough. “That’s good. Move, we need to do this quickly.” With deft hands, she murmured the words as she dropped in the herbs, then poured the blood from the offered jar of Tommy’s blood. It wasn’t quite cool yet; it flowed easily. After mixing it with her fingers, Wendy dropped the bullet in and sat back to catch her breath. She wiped her hands on the grass first, then on her pants.

Elizabeth had wrapped a cloth tight around her leg while Wendy had concocted the spell, and was tying it off by the time Wendy turned her attention that way. “Thank you,” Elizabeth said as she pulled her pant leg down. “Does the spell really call for a bullet? Witchcraft seems like it ought to be older than the revolver.”

“Any weapon will do. What the hell was that?”

Elizabeth sighed and looked over toward the horizon. “Daddy has arranged an advantageous match. One for the good for the family. But my wicked heart loves another. I have found a solution that causes the least amount of pain.”

It’s not that simple, girl, but Wendy withheld the statement. Elizabeth had proven not to be so simple either. “It would be easier to simply kill — What’s his name, Tommy?”

“Daddy has a lot of money tied up in Tommy’s family. This is… simpler. Even if Tommy were dead, and all his brothers too, Daddy would never approve of Jonah. He’s got nothin’ to offer me, and love ain’t enough. Or so my momma says.”

“Ah. Sometimes I think being an orphan is much simpler,” Wendy said. She peeked into the hole and found the blood to be draining as expected. The earth would have it all soon enough, and it would be time.

“You might be right, there. But we all gotta work with what the good Lord gave us, don’t we?” Elizabeth offered a cheeky smile before falling back onto her back and staring up at the sky. “Goodness, but I could use a drink. I feel like I’m on my deathbed.”

“A part of you is. Losing true love is like losing half of your heartbeat. You never feel quite whole without it.” Wendy didn’t tell Elizabeth that it was also its own sort of magic — and sometimes too strong to stop. A love spell would work fine and dandy if the bewitched heart hadn’t met its own match. But true love could undo it, and there was an awful lot of hurt that came with the undoing of a love spell. “Tell me about Jonah.”

Elizabeth smiled, the curve of it making her face even lovelier in the moonlight. “He’s a kind and gentle heart. He’s been lucky enough to get a job working at the saloon recently; he was doing odd jobs before that. He works hard, you know? He feels so strongly about earning his way through this world. Tommy ain’t earned a thing in his life.”

Wendy nodded. “I’ve known a few men like that myself. How did you meet Jonah?”

“One of his odd jobs was for my daddy, around the grounds. It must’ve been fate.”

Wendy looked down at the dirt hole, now empty of blood. The silver bullet glistened against the dark earth. She picked it up and wiped it clean. It wouldn’t do any good to shoot a dirty bullet. “Well, I’ll take care of this, and that’ll solve this problem for you right quick.”

“I want to be there.” Elizabeth sat up. “If a man’s gotta die because of my foolishness, then I should be there to take responsibility for it.”

Wendy smiled and leaned forward to touch the woman’s face. “No, Elizabeth.” She said it with strength, with magic in her words. “Elizabeth, you will go home, quiet as a mouse, and get into your pajamas. You’re not going to remember a thing, are you? The last two days will be such a blur because you have been so in love. Preparing to be a married woman has made you dizzy and forgetful, but you’ll be right as rain once the wedding is done. Isn’t that right?”

Elizabeth blinked. When she spoke, it was in a daze. “Yes, that’s right.”

“Good girl. On you go now.” Wendy patted Elizabeth’s shoulder and watched as the woman left the graveyard, her satchel left behind. It didn’t seem right, but it wouldn’t be better to make her suffer any more than life was already gonna make her.

Wendy filled the hole with its original dirt, saying a small prayer as she did so. One could never be too careful around the dead. She took the satchel with her as she went into town to find her sacrificial lamb.

It would be easy to rain hell on the town. To kill Tommy and to kill Daddy Wagner and let the chips fall. Elizabeth Wagner was a smart enough woman — she’d land on her feet, certainly. But it wasn’t what Elizabeth had paid her for. If she had wanted to kill her daddy, she would have asked.

In truth, there was only one way to give Elizabeth what she had asked for.

Wendy walked into the saloon. It was chock full of wretched souls who well deserved to die, but she let her magic lead her right the gentlest one. He was cleaning glasses behind the bar.

“Are you Jonah?” she asked, her hand falling to the loaded revolver on her hip. Her heart beat double-time, and she found that she was holding her breath, waiting for his answer.

“Indeed I am, ma’am. What can I do for you this evening?”

Wendy exhaled and pulled her gun. He never even saw it coming.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She’s pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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