From the author: In the near future, dragons have taken over the governance of the United States. Their regime is ruthless: unauthorized magic is outlawed & witches are subject to brutal execution. But under the guise of an influencer-friendly brunch and bookclub, a network of covens works to undermine the dragons at every turn. This story was previously published in Crossed Genres' Resist Fascism anthology.
It is 10 a.m. on a Saturday in June, and the Brunch Babes Book Club has convened at my favorite casual restaurant in New York, Cinder & Salt. We're three-quarters of the way into our current novel, Going Down, our mimosas are bottomless, and we're secretly gearing up to commit some felonies against our own government.
I am aware of how dramatic that sounds and believe me, I'd much rather simply enjoy my carbs and coffee and nerd out about literature. But unfortunately that option was taken off the menu when dragons seized control of the government and declared witchcraft punishable by death. Someone has to do something.
Troi stands up on her chair and poises her phone above our meal.
"Tina, the book isn't in the shot, can you move it closer to your mimosa?"
I dutifully nudge my dog-eared copy closer to my glass. Then I take my own phone out and place it carefully askew between the book and our shared plate of beignets, as if I'd tossed it down in a fit of exhaustion from having responded to one too many direct messages.
"That's perfect!" Troi takes probably twenty pictures of our spread and hops back down. She flashes an apologetic smile to our waiter, Patrick, who is just now approaching us bearing a fresh pot of coffee like the saint he is.
"Ladies, I know you're internet famous and all, but if you break one of these chairs the manager is not going to be happy and I really don't want to lose my favorite customers! So can you please maybe take less dramatic shots?"
"Not without ruining the composition!" Troi protests, but she mouths an apology as he refills our cups and he laughs it off.
The Brunch Babes are four women: Mae, Helen, Troi, and myself, Tina. We have tens of thousands of followers online who read along with us week after week and most of those followers are, like the four of us, secretly witches. We've spent the past year slowly, painstakingly building up an iron-clad network of resistance. Our mission: to reclaim our country from dragonkind, one book at a time.
Mae leans over Troi's shoulder to watch her deftly select the best picture, apply filters, and run through a series of carefully chosen adjustments to create an ethereal, glamorous version of our table. Some magic has no need for spells.
"Okay. Caption." Troi, Mae, and Helen all look at me expectantly.
"The Brunch Babes are just past the halfway mark, and for once we have a united opinion on the action unfolding," I dictate. Troi types rapidly as I speak. "Check out the second paragraph on page one thirty-one and see if you agree with our assessment that things are about to BLOW! Hashtag Brunch Babes Book Club."
"Hashtag Heating Up," Helen adds.
"You're sure it was page one hundred thirty-one?" Mae frowns. "I thought we had page one hundred twenty five highlighted."
"One twenty-five was a completely different scenario. Remember?" I raise my eyebrows and wait for Mae to walk through the code again.
Three mimosas in the shot means three days from now. "Second paragraph" references our post from this day exactly two months ago, and page one thirty-one means girl, go find your little black book of resistance witchcraft and look up spell number one thirty-one. The phone means wait for our next post for final details. The beignets are just delicious.
Our post from two months ago is a breezy reference to how we're all drowning in student loan debt with no way out, but at least we're living that #debtlife together! Spell number one-thirty-one performs data erasure on a massive scale. Put the two together and we're looking to bring a little light to the world by way of erasing every single student loan, no matter how big or how small, with no way for the banks or government to reverse it.
The dragons have multiple chains around us and no easy way out of any of them, but they're mortally terrified of the damage witches can do to their stranglehold. Hoarding is a virtue to dragonkind. Witchcraft, by its nature, is the polar opposite: the distribution of power to any who choose to pick it up. This spell could strengthen the Resistance enough to give us that edge we need to take back the nation once and for all.
"Ah, right, right. Well!" Mae picks up her mimosa and raises it in a toast. "Here's to another week positively impacting readers' lives!"
"To the Brunch Babes Book Club!" we toast in unison.
We spend the rest of our meal loudly discussing the book and as I catch a sleek group of women at a nearby table rolling their eyes at us, I give myself an internal high-five.
In the movies, the rag tag crew of good-hearted rebels out to save the day are always snappy and sexy, with an air of mystery around them and irresistible charisma in spades. In reality, that would get us noticed by the authorities and arrested almost immediately. Our year of quietly undermining a hostile regime has been made possible by sweatpants and ponytails, huge stacks of breakfast foods, and public declarations of love for cheesy romance, happy endings, and women talking about their feelings. Our book club is like a comfy, syrup-scented, anti-fascist invisibility cloak: not only do people not take us seriously, they're almost embarrassed to be near us, lest they catch our unhip cooties.
By the time we have the bill split and our leftovers boxed, Troi's post to the Brunch Babes account has about 38,000 likes. I can't attribute numbers like that to our exquisite taste in restaurants or Troi's photography skills, or even my nigh-Shakespearean talent at writing social media captions.
Times are dark and getting darker and no one has any room inside them to yell about it anymore. It's been less than a year since the so-called election and the subsequent revelations that – oopsie! – we'd somehow let a motherfucking dragon become the leader of the free world and his brood has already lined their roost with the tattered shreds of our Constitution. No wonder all anyone wants to look at are pictures of comfort food and baby goats.
"Have a good one, Patrick!" I say as we make our way out of the restaurant and Patrick waves cheerfully.
"Ave Dracones, ladies!"
I'm proud of myself for not wincing visibly. Ahead of me, Mae catches herself in a stumble.
"Ave Dracones!" I call back. I'll wash my mouth out with a pint of vodka when I get home.
Outside the restaurant, Helen lights up a cigarette and takes a long drag, then passes it to Mae. So far as I know, Mae only ever smokes when Helen hands her a cigarette, and I suspect it's because she's too intimidated by Helen to decline. We walk together down the street to the nearest subway station, weaving through an onslaught of bumper sticker slogans, crude t-shirts, and cheerfully ominous shop window signs. DRAGONS BELIEVE IN YOU! PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY IS PUBLIC VICTORY! And the old campaign slogan, still hobbling along on every other car: DREAM BIG.
I read a public service announcement on the side of a bus: "Stay vigilant! $30,000 reward! Witches are pack animals! If you suspect one, suspect her friends. Report online or by phone…" I spit on the sidewalk as the bus passes by and Mae shoots me an alarmed look. No sign of dissent goes unnoticed amongst a watchful and terrified public.
Everyone thought things would get better, after the last president resigned amidst the scandal of an illegitimate election. Surely we wouldn't be quite so easy to fool in the next election, right? The damn dragons played everyone. It's still right there in the posters we walk past: WHO KNOWS HOW TO TEND THE PLANET BETTER? THE HUMANS WHO RUINED IT, OR THE DRAGONS WHO HAVE BEEN HERE FOR MILLENIA? DRACONES: TRUST OUR WISDOM. IT JUST MAKES SENSE.
At the station, Troi splits off from the rest of us to head to her shift across town. She stops at the top of the stairs and gives the rest of us a salute with her copy of Going Down.
"See you in three days, Brunch Babes. Behave yourselves."
The rest of us disperse – Helen vanishes into a rideshare, Mae walks home to her apartment, and I head to the Magellan Owen Public Library. Who knows how much longer before the dragons realize libraries are a thing, but for now the MO is my sanctuary. My true hearth.
Nobody acknowledges me when I push through the heavy wooden doors and step into the crisp whispers of flipping pages. It's a small, precious wedge of freedom from the watchful eyes of neighbors. I cross the ancient marble and make my way to the 5th floor: periodicals, romance, and a wall of private study rooms.
I place my fingertips on the doorknob to Study Room Nine and mouth an unlocking incantation under my breath, pushing the spell out with only a pencil scratch of sound. The door swings inward into the dark smell of coffee, books, and rosemary hand balm. I allow myself a moment to pause and breathe in that incense of sanctuary as I shut the door behind me, then I take a seat and flip open my laptop.
I pull up a spreadsheet labeled 9 AVOCADO TOAST RECIPES and get to work. Embedded behind the ingredients and instructions is my actual spell, comprised of dozens of cells intricately interlinked with arcane equations. With painstaking thoroughness, I tweak numbers here and there, strengthening the enchantment and increasing its power. I arrange a series of formulas that would be incomprehensible gibberish to most, including my spreadsheet program, until the geometry of magic has clicked into place and I feel the spell thrum at my fingertips. Now I'm primed and ready for the big day. Horizontal lines flicker up my screen for a moment, the magic pressing against my math. I've spent weeks on this spell.
I hit save and close the file just as someone knocks on the door. What the fuck? My hands are frozen over my keyboard as I strain to listen for hints of who it could be. No one calls out or tries to break down the door, so I assume it's not the police. I pull out a couple of emergency decoy books and flip on the harsh overhead lights before answering the door just wide enough to peer through.
"Tina, it's me – Mae.”
Relaxing into irritation at the unnecessary stress, I step aside and wave her in. "Yes, I can see it's you, Mae. What are you doing here? I thought you had to work."
Mae has only been in the book club a few months. Troi met her at her night job at the call center and thought Mae would be perfect as our fourthMae is forty-three years old and crazy smart; she's a great witch with a real talent for sustained spellwork. But it's like she's looking everywhere for signs of approval to even exist.
"Sorry." And she needlessly apologizes for everything.
"For what?" I ask, opening the door wider and stepping aside to let her in.
"You were probably in the middle of something…"
I finish packing up my things and give her my best reassuring smile. I've been trying to prod her along the path to greater self-confidence, but that path seems to wind along a damn steep hill.
"Nah, I'm done now. And I've always got time for a fellow Book Babe. What's up, Mae?"
"It's just – okay. What if, what if we get, y'know, caught this time?"
Razor-winged butterflies launch up from my belly to my throat and rest heavily on my tongue. It takes me a moment to dissociate from the reality of our situation enough to find my voice.
"There's only ever been one answer to that question, and I know you already know what it is," I say at last, as gently as I can.
The question is heavy with the weight of all the lives that have been lost in the answering. Lawyers don't exist anymore, and neither do prisons. You commit a crime, if you speak out against the regime, hell – if you default on so much as one loan payment, you get put in the dragon chow daily lotto and there's no getting off that list. Unless you're a witch like us, of course, in which case you get burned alive on television for the edutainment of the masses. Rest in peace, Aunt Elena.
"I'm sorry, I just – what if I mess it up?" Mae whispers.
She shakes so much I start to worry she's going to fall to pieces right here in the study room. I put my hands on her shoulders and clammy sweat seeps through her shirt beneath my palms.
"Hey, what's really going on? This is the third spell you've worked with us and our plan is solid. The message has been acknowledged by thousands online. We'll be working this magic with an army of witches. We have more than enough redundancy in the network to make up for one lost working. You weren't half this nervous the first time you worked a spell with the Book Babes. What aren't you telling me right now, Mae?"
She swallows a couple of times and I can see by the way her face goes rigid that she's trying to keep herself together. Something's spooked her good.
"It's Helen," she begins, in a strange, strangled tone like she's forcibly pulling the words out. "She followed me home today after brunch."
Okay and now I'm completely lost. We both saw Helen get into a ride share.
"You're saying she had her driver follow you?"
"It sounds crazy, I know! But I'm certain it was her."
"Alright, what happened after you noticed her?"
Mae speaks in halting, stuttering half-sentences. "I, well I didn't want her knowing where I live, you see. And, and wow. That sounds stupid saying it out loud. I'm the new girl and you three are taking a risk on me and now I'm. I'm tattling on one of you to the other and, and – wait, are you in on it with her? Did you know she followed me?"
Mae's voice rises in pitch by the syllable. If she keeps talking this way, she's going to bring the whole damn library to the fifth floor to find out what's going on.
"Of course we didn't have her tail you," I say. "It's a little late in the game to do extra background checks on you, don't you think? What happened next?"
"I saw someone coming out of the apartment building down the street from mine, so I ducked inside, pretended that's where I lived. I hid out of sight until I was sure she was gone."
"Did she try to follow you inside the building?" Mae shook her head.
This doesn't make any sense. Helen is not only a trustworthy and reliable member of the book club-slash-secret rebel coven, she is also the busiest and most adult-like of the four of us. She has three kids, a real mortgage on an actual house, and a pet sitter in her address book and everything. Yes, she maintains an address book.
"It probably wasn't even her," I say. "You saw some other driver with the same car, I'm sure."
"Even if it was her, maybe she just wanted to be sure you got home safe! You know Helen's got that mama bear impulse."
I can see in her eyes that Mae's unconvinced, but she doesn't have it in her to argue the point with me. She nods and turns towards the door.
"I'm probably just being paranoid. See you in three days, Tina. Sorry for the interruption."
Mae might indeed be paranoid, but maybe I could stand to be a little more cautious. After Mae leaves, I pull out my phone and take off the plastic cloud-shaped case. I use a fine-point red Sharpie to carefully inscribe an emergency spell on the inside. Then I take a winding route home with a few stops along the way before I settle in with the cheap plastic bottle of vodka mouthwash I had promised myself.
In the three days since our beignet-filled call to action, my mentions have flooded with Going Down discussions from primarily three types of strangers: fellow witches, fellow bookworms, and the malignantly clueless. As much as I genuinely love the book, I'm really looking forward to changing the subject to something a hair more immediately relevant. Like, for instance, secretly discussing the next step in taking down our lizard-brained Game of Thrones-flunky overlords.
Troi walks beside me on our way to brunch, adorned in spiky purple hair and red suspender shorts over a faded yellow thrift shop t-shirt that she's hand-lettered the words "ASK ME ABOUT MY BOOK CLUB" on in gritty black ink. I admire the way she manages to wear whatever the hell she wants without getting shit for it by every stranger we pass. I was raised elsewhere on the premise that one's clothes should always be as tasteful and blandly inoffensive as a peanut butter granola bar.
I attempt to imagine exchanging my skinny jeans and oversized sweatshirt for Troi's outfit for five minutes without having a nervous breakdown trying to interpret the casual glances of everyone walking by, and fail miserably.
"Nervous about today's discussion?" Troi asks. I shake my head.
"Not really. This is our seventh, right?"
"Yeah, but it's the biggest… book we've attempted to read."
"Are you? Nervous, I mean?"
Troi shrugs noncommittally and pulls out her phone, evidently done with this line of conversation. She's the youngest in our crew and, even though she's loathe to admit it aloud, I know she sees the dragons eating away at her future even as they devour our present.
"Tina." Troi grips my arm and we stop so suddenly that the people walking behind us mutter obscenities as they dodge a collision. We move to the side and Troi holds her phone's screen up to my face where her Book Babes account profile has been replaced with the words we've been dreading for nearly a year now: THIS ACCOUNT HAS BEEN SUSPENDED.
"Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuuuuuccccccc–"
"Shit! We have to–"
"Yeah, I'm on it."
While Troi tries to reach Mae and Helen, I check my own accounts and breathe a little easier. Mine, at least, have not been suspended. Most of the witches following Book Babes also follow me. We should be able to coordinate the spell through my account instead.
"Okay, they're already at the restaurant," Troi reports, visibly relieved.
"Let's get there fast and hope Patrick's had his coffee today. Did you get a reason for the suspension?"
Troi scrolls through her emails while we walk.
"None. It's just – Oh fuck."
This time Troi doesn't stop walking, but picks up her pace instead while she holds her phone screen up where I can see it. Her email account no longer exists. Someone has sold Troi out.
"Did that just happen?" I try to keep the panic from rising in my voice and glance around at the strangers on the sidewalk. Any one of them could be a plainclothes agent of the state, and yes I realize how paranoid that sounds.
"Yep," Troi clips. She taps through several screens on her phone furiously, then powers it off and throws down the next storm drain we pass. "There goes my life, I guess."
"You can't come to brunch now," I say the thought aloud as it occurs to me. Troi shoves her now-empty hands in her front shorts pockets.
"No, I guess not. It's the first place they'll look for me."
There was still a chance the remaining three of us could pull this off.
"Go to the library. You know how to unlock my wards. I've got a bag of emergency supplies stashed there. Wait for us and we'll meet up as soon as the post goes online. We'll get you out of this." I try to sound like a confident witch in control of her shit. "All of us are getting out of this."
Troi nods but doesn't speak. She's not a hugger and hates to be touched, but damn I wish I could pull her into a bear hug right now. It kills me a little that I can't offer her more. At the next intersection we wave goodbye without a word, then I'm on my own. I check my phone obsessively as I cover the last three city blocks to the restaurant, but my accounts remain thankfully active.
At Cinder & Salt, Mae and Helen are seated at the table with the best light for food photography. Bless you, Patrick, you beautiful bro. I slide into a seat and set my book on the table, cover side down – our silent code that something is amiss. Patrick materializes at my side, pouring my usual coffee into a fresh mug.
"Look who's late for book club," he sing-songs playfully. "Good morning, sweetie, anything else to drink for you?"
I shake my head and give him a rueful smile.
"Not today. Back to work after this, unfortunately," I explain. Patrick laughs, hands me a menu, and pats me on the shoulder.
"I'll be back in a mo' to take your orders, ladies."
In spite of knowing exactly what I need to order for the shot, I open the menu and pretend to browse. Mae and Helen scoot closer.
"Ah, Tina, just wondering – where's Troi?" Mae asks casually. "I thought she said she would be here today."
"Yes, it's not like her to miss… Tuesday brunch," Helen says.
"Something's wrong with her phone, so she went to go get it fixed," I say. "But don't worry, she said she's confident we can handle one book club meeting without her. This will have to be a quick one, though. We really all need to get back to work. Soon."
Patrick returns and we go around the table with maddening nonchalance. Banana French toast for Helen, oatmeal power bowl for Mae, and now to me for the all-important code meal for our photograph.
"Avocado toast, please, with a side of bacon."
The signal to action, a call to arms. Green means go.
"Ohhh I'm so sorry, Tina!" Patrick pouts apologetically. "We are completely out of avocados today!"
"What? Like out, out?"
"Uh huh, totally out of avocados."
I smile to muffle all of the internal screaming I'm doing.
"You want maybe the crab scramble, or a smoothie bowl?"
I shrug my shoulders, make subtle eye contact with my fellow witches, and incline my head towards the exit. Fuck it, we need to find a new restaurant now.
Helen looks extremely skeptical. You want to just drop in somewhere at nine a.m. in the middle of New York without a reservation and pray they serve us sometime before lunch rush?
Mae mouths: Are you out of your mind?
I nod and grab my book off the table. Yeah, right now I kind of am.
"…we have a super yummy maple bacon Belgian waffle on special today, which I cannot recommend enough–"
"Sorry, Patrick! We've got to run but we'll definitely be back. Today's just," I flail around for an excuse and come up short. "It's really an avocado day for me."
I throw a ten dollar bill on the table as payment for my untouched coffee and an apology for his lost time and the three of us rush out of the restaurant, into the crush of weekday New Yorkers. We do not stop at the other side of the door, but instead hurry down the sidewalk three abreast.
Mae dutifully scours a tiny map of the neighborhood on her phone looking for a place that's both open for brunch and likely can seat us quickly and offers avocado toast. When we picked the dish as our code for "fire up them fucking wands, witches!" it seemed so ubiquitous and easy to obtain, not to mention irresistibly photogenic. Now I wish we'd chosen something more mundane, like pancakes. Or a single triangle of dry toast on an otherwise empty table.
"How could they be out of avocados?" I finally blurt out. "Of all the days!"
Helen stares at me appraisingly.
"More importantly, perhaps, what happened to Troi?"
Mae looks up from her phone. "Yeah, what happened to her? She texted me this morning and everything seemed fine."
I steer them into a small park, just off the street.
"Go check out the Brunch Babes page," I say, watching as they dutifully navigate their phones. Mae's face shifts from confused to horrified, but curiously, Helen flashes a tight, grim smile.
"Something funny, Hel?" I ask. Emergency sirens are blaring somewhere nearby, and I have to raise my voice to be heard.
Helen looks up from her phone and I see it immediately: a greedy gleam in her whiskey-brown eyes, the triumphant tilt of her chin, and something else – a small pistol in the hand not holding her phone, digging in to Mae's side. Mae whimpers, frightened and confused.
"What the fuck, Helen?" I demand. She laughs.
"Honey, you have no idea the sort of benefits package they give a witch who willingly becomes thrall to a dragon. My house is paid off! My kids are set for life! Their kids too, for that matter."
"I fucking tried to tell you, Tina!" Mae hisses.
Helen shrugs and clicks her tongue. "Maybe, but I'll still sleep soundly tonight. More than I can say for the rest of my book club besties. Now both of you, let's sit down on this bench over here until the authorities arrive, shall we?"
Mae opens her mouth to object, and Helen gives her a nudge with the gun.
"Sit down, Tina, or I'll have to make a mess of Mae."
I have no doubts as to what needs to be done, but I'm still not prepared for how bad I feel. How angry I am at having to choose between a friend's life right here in front of me and the fate of millions in abstract.
"There's no point in doing this, Helen." I give reasoning with her one last shot. "Troi's account may be down, but she's still out there and she'll see the mission through."
"Oh you mean in your pathetic 'secret room' at the library?" Helen laughs. "The place was raided before you two even left for brunch."
Shitfuckdamnitfuck. I had sent Troi right into a trap. With any luck, the wards held and the authorities walked past room nine none the wiser. But I'm not holding out much hope on that; our luck's been utter trash today.
"Well, if that's the situation," I say, abruptly snatching a large cup of coffee out of the hands of a man obliviously walking past us. I pop off the plastic lid and before Helen has time to react, I throw twenty ounces of what smells like pumpkin spice doom straight at her face.
Before the empty cup even hits the ground, I'm sprinting away as fast as I can manage and behind me I hear both Helen and Mae scream. I force myself not to look back. I hope Mae gets herself together in time to get out of there safely, but I can't worry about her right now. I've got to figure out a way to get the signal out and set our spell off.
Alarmed pedestrians scatter in all directions as I tear out of the park. I bolt into an alleyway, looking up from my phone from time to time to navigate grungy back streets until I emerge across the street from my beloved library. Which is surrounded by police. Shitfuckdamnitfuck. I hear Helen's laugh behind me and spin around.
"Did you think I was bluffing, dear?" she says. "You should know by now, I never bluff."
"True," I say, "there was that one month when our book was Pride & Prejudice, and you flat out stated that you would never read Jane Austen, even once, because you knew in your gut she was overrated. You could have just lied and saved a bunch of drama."
"I stand by my word: Austen is overrated."
"Why do I never see the red flags people fly until it's too late?"
"Enough. Mae is in handcuffs and Troi is most certainly on her way to the fire pits by now. It's just down to you, Christina."
"Why, Helen?" It's stupid of me to ask, I know, but I need to stall her for just a minute while I finish playing with my phone. "After everything we've worked so hard for, why throw it all away?"
"Because ideals are cute, for grad students and children, but some of us have bills to pay, Tina." Helen never misses a beat. "The four of us? No matter how highly you may judge your skills at witchcraft, are not enough. They will never be enough to defeat what we are up against. And you can rally all the internet dorks you want, but they'll never be enough either."
"You don't know that!"
"Oh, but I do." Helen flashes a self-satisfied smirk. "I know because the Brunch Babes account is locked, you didn't get the photo anyway, and your friends are at the mercy of federal officers. And I hold your life in my hands."
I stop typing on my phone and pause for a fraction of a second as if to consider this. Helen senses my mind at work and continues.
"I don't want your blood on my hands, Tina. Just turn yourself in now and throw yourself at the mercy of our rulers. Maybe they'll be as generous with you as they were with me – in exchange for vital information. Don't you want to be able to buy a home sometime before retirement? Don't you want to be able to afford to retire? Pay off your student loans?"
"No one would have any student loans to pay off at all if you'd just let us work the fucking spell!"
"I have a family to think of, Tina. I can't risk their safety. You should think about your own life sometime, instead of focusing on everyone else's."
In that moment, I realize two things. One: Helen is pointing her gun at me. Two: My photo of a particularly stunning avocado toast from about a year ago has just uploaded to my account with hashtag BreakfastBomb. My spreadsheet spell is set to go off by scheduled macro any second now. We were supposed to be finishing up our celebratory mimosas while it did so, but still: mission accomplished.
"You're right," I say. I hold up my phone as if I'm going to surrender it. I brush my thumb in a particular way across the back and activate the emergency spell I embedded in the case.
Helen slaps the phone out of my hand, too late. I feel the icy-sweet tendrils of magic climbing out from the glyph, spreading around us. Even in my current predicament, I spare a moment of fascination for the magic at work. The spell's a nasty one that I've, fortunately, never had reason to use before. I hope it doesn't hurt too much.
"Whatever you just set off, it's not going to make a damn bit of difference for you," Helen says, though she's clearly sweating about the difference the spell will make for her.
"Maybe not, but at least I'll have–"
Bitch doesn't even let me finish my final quip! Helen's gun goes off point blank into my abdomen and oh, fuck. That hurts. My legs give way, and my own blood pools around my knees, hot rivulets soaking into my jeans, trickling around my phone. Helen's face looms over me.
"Are you happy?" she whispers.
The world spins and then narrows down to my lips; I can taste the herbal-copper sizzle of magic in the air. Our spell worked. Everyone's student debt is gone and with it, one more chain is broken. I hope it's enough to encourage the others to keep going, keep fighting. I hope more witches start more book clubs. I don't have the strength to answer Helen aloud, but yeah. I'm dying happy.
My vision starts to fade. I don't think I'm breathing at all anymore. I watch Helen pick up my phone where it fell and as I feel my emergency spell uncoil and latch on to me, I smile. She's too late. I’m snatched away, along with the enchanted phone and some bits of alley debris, to another safehouse library halfway across the country. I'm conscious just long enough to see the worried faces of friends rushing towards me, and then everything goes gray.
This story originally appeared in Crossed Genres.