Authors: Phaedra Weldon
BACK DOOR MAGIC
Copyright 2010 by Phaedra Weldon
originally appeared in the DAW Anthology
Wizards, Inc. 2007
BACK DOOR MAGIC
The fire spark blew her a raspberry before
vanishing in a black puff of sooty smoke.
Brenda blinked a few times
in the abrupt darkness before grabbing up at the flashlight perched
handle up on the table.
Since when did
elementals have a sense of humor?
The evening shadows, elongated at that
moment, stretching their hollow limbs into the crevices of the
store's tall shelves. A row of authentic skulls, nestled among a
neglected Halloween decoration of dried autumn leaves and miniature
pumpkins, all illuminated by the streetlight outside, peered down
at her from the top shelf near the cash register.
I never asked Granny to whom those
belonged—maybe those are the skulls of hapless idiots like myself
who thought they could make money at magic.
They starved to death.
Maybe this wasn't such a bad thing—sitting
here in the dark. At last she couldn’t see the deed of sale spread
out on the table in front of her. She didn't really need to see it
to know what it said. The deadline to pay the back taxes and over
due mortgage on the shop was Friday, less then four days away.
With renewed anger (masquerading as
determination), Brenda attempted again to conjure another fire
spark. Nothing answered her call. Empty space and the faint smell
Could it get any worse?
Granny Pollsocks had lit fire with a snap of
her fingers—sometimes with only a glare. One look from her violet
eyes, and all the fire sparks in the room jumped to do her bidding.
Of the six grandchildren, Granny had declared Brenda to the be the
one gifted to carry on the tradition of magic in the family. None
of the others had been interested—or really believed in it.
And before granny died, Brenda had shown
some aptitude for a few spells and potions. Flash powders were a
sore subject. She'd managed to blind a store full of patrons one
summer afternoon by accident. Granny had made sure Brenda practiced
upstairs after that.
But then she died, and left "Back Door
Magic" to Brenda. Books, supplies, scrolls, amulets, bills and debt
included. The steady customers, the ones who'd depended on Granny
for years came to Brenda at first, hoping she had even the
slightest peep of the talent Granny had had. But after six
months—the customers dwindled away.
The money dried up. And no matter how hard
Brenda tried—she couldn't turn lead into gold.
Just yesterday they'd turned off the power.
And now she shivered in the November evening, unable to light a
simple candle. She couldn't find the matches—but Granny had never
She heard the familiar backfire of her
mother's car outside the door, pulling up along the curve in the
street outside the shop. Detective Jackie Grafton always parked on
the street, in a no-parking zone. Married wealthy, widowed wealthy
once, never sick, never injured, always in a good mood. Of course,
the widowed wealthy had come after Brenda's father had died, with
husband number two.
Another noise came just as Brenda stood. She
stopped and pivoted slowly on her worn sneakers. Most of the shop
was dark and scary.
Just the way Granny liked it.
Well, I don't like it that way. And that
noise sounded like it came from the stairwell.
Four steps that led to a back door that
opened to a brick wall.
Brenda figured Mom could get in on her
own—she had a key. She switched on the flashlight and took several
cautious steps to the back of the room, closer to the stairs.
"Hello? Is there someone down there?" Her voice echoed in the empty
She aimed the beam down the stairwell—
and a pair of electric
blue eyes looked back up at her, eyes filled with pain.
It was a man!
The front door opened. "Brenda? You in here?
Oh, gawd—where are the lights, child? There are a enough candles in
here—hell—light up one of those seven-day candles."
Brenda turned at the sound of her mother
behind her, and then she turned back to the stairwell and shined
the light back down again.
The heels of her mother's boots clacked
noisily behind her as Jackie neared. "What're you doing? You see
something down there? Rats?"
Brenda blinked. She thought she'd seen a man
A man with beautiful blue eyes.
Her mother sighed. "Never could figure out
why that door was there. Never made sense." She turned. "Let's get
some light in here. I think there are matches behind the cash
Brenda barely noticed her mother's retreat,
the clacking of the heels, the faint odor of White Shoulders
perfume drifting about the air like an errant ghost. Her mind, her
flashlight's beam, and her gaze focused again on the empty
stairwell. Five steps down. To a door that went—no where.
She knew that. But Granny Pollsocks never
let her get too close to it—and even through these past six months
alone Brenda hadn't bothered to go down the stairs. Too dingy. Too
With a frown she turned and looked at the
register counter. Her mother had found the matches and had several
different candles lit—one of them warming candle of
red-and-orange-swirled wax. "Why did Granny keep that door?" Brenda
moved to the register, switched off the flashlight, and set it and
up on the table beside a frog-kissing stone, guaranteed to turn
black the moment a toad—disguised as a gorgeous man or
woman—delivered their pick-up line.
Brenda hated them. They always stayed black
Jackie lifted her gaze from the warming
candle and shrugged. Her red hair was streaked with white—mostly by
choice. She wore her usual boot-cut pants and tailored,
thigh-length coat jacket. And, as she'd been doing for several days
now, clutched at her left side. "For years I thought it was the
door to the basement. So I went down there and opened it."
"You saw the wall."
She nodded. "Brick wall. Granny laughed at
me." Jackie made a face as if she smelled something bad. "Come to
think of it, she called it her back door."
Brenda glanced to her left at the front
glass with the words Back Door Magic painted backward on the
inside. "You mean like her shop name?"
But her mother didn't know, and didn't care.
"Nonsense. All of this place. Now—you got those papers signed? You
know I have to give you marks for trying to keep this place afloat,
Brennie. But to think you could do magic like Granny?" She gave a
snort. "Disappointing. You just don't have it, girl. Neither did I.
I'm afraid the magic died with Granny."
With lowered shoulders, Brenda shook her
head. "She didn't want to believe the words her mother spoke—and
yet each letter, each syllable burned a mark into her skin and dug
deeper into her subconscious, weakening her own belief that
maybe—just maybe—she was a magical creature after all. "No—I have
till Friday, Mom. And I'd rather just hang on to things until
"You're just prolonging the inevitable,
Brenda." Jackie's hands rested on her hips, and the flickering
candles lined up along the counter beside the register cast shadows
that only enhanced the no-nonsense look on her face. "The shop's
going ot be sold. And then you can go back to college. You're not
too old to be taught some sort of trade or skill. We might even
make enough money to where you won't have to work—just find a rich
man and marry him."
That didn't feel right. It
never felt right when her mom mentioned selling the shop. But
Brenda wasn't sure if it was the selling part, or the money part.
She suspected if she jumped the broomstick now and sold before the
deadline that she's somehow be missing—
She glanced back at the door. Where had that
man gone? And had she really seen him?
"Well, I'm off, then. Got a date tonight—a
nice Irish man. Sexy accent. Dark hair and blue eyes." She moved
from behind the counter, and Brenda was sure if the register
actually had money in it, Jackie would have taken it. "You'll be
all right? Need groceries? Though," she looked her daughter up and
down. "You could stand to lose a few pounds."
Brenda stared at the floor.
"Well, that's good. Okay—I'm gone. You just
go ahead an sign those papers, Brenda, and we'll both be well in
the green.' She waved and clacked back to the front of the store
where she disappeared behind the door.
Brenda took in a deep breath, clutched at
the counter with both hands, and then exhaled.
"Yes, quite an exhausting woman, isn't she?
Thought she'd never leave."
Brenda gave a slight squeal and spun around,
shoving the edge of the counter into the small of her back—close to
The blue eyes were standing in front of her.
They belonged to a nice long face, with a perfectly shaped nose and
full lips. Pale skin.
His hair was dark and short, but suited his
face which sported a perfectly shaped nose and full lips. Pale
skin. Very wiry in dark pants, shirt and black suit jacket.
"Oh, sorry, I'm not in the habit of
startling my saviors," he said, and she heard the accent that time.
English—Surrey? Maybe a little bit of Liverpool? Soft and melodic.
"I'm sorry—it's just that I'm in the middle of a very—" He looked
down at his right side, where Brenda saw a red stain spreading over
his fibers of his dark shirt, making it stick to his skin. She
could see the blood even clearer on his fingers as he pressed his
long-fingered hand to his side. "Uhm…a very tetchy situation."
His eyes glazed over, and he nearly fell.
Brenda went out ot him and moved under his left shoulder, the side
that wasn't bleeding. "What happened?" She hated the flat, nasal
sounding voice she had in comparison to his. "Were you shot?"
"Yes, and no," he said and stumbled with her
as she guided him to the table she'd been sitting at earlier. With
a grunt, Brenda eased him into the chair and then pushed the papers
She frowned at the wound. He didn't look too
good. Very pale.
"What can I do?"
His eyes opened then, and though she saw
intelligence there, she also saw the pain she'd seen before at the
stairwell. "Do? Why, my dear Brenda, you can heal me."
Heal? Me? "Heal you?" she shook her head and
took a step back. "I'm worry mister—" Did he say his name? "Mister,
but I'm not a healer. I'm supposed to be a magician, but I'm really
not any good at that, either."
With a nod the stranger smiled. It was a
very nice smile, and would have lit up his whole face if it wasn't
for the shadow of pain she saw just beneath the surface. "Actually,
you're a lot better than you think." He winced. "And though
confidence is something you do lack the skills in, I'm afraid I
don't have the luxury of time right now to teach them to you, so,"
he bent over for a few seconds and his breathing became
"Oh, damn," Brenda ran her fingers through
her hair. "Look, what's your name? I can't call you 'hey you' all
"Edward," he managed to say in the middle of
another wince. "Edward Darlington. Yes, yes. That will do this
time. Now, speaking of time, we don't have much. The door is locked
and the outside looks vacant. So grab the wormwood, the St. John's
root, and some of the Dragon's Blood Rede from that shelf over the
She blinked at him. "Edward—I didn't
"Brenda," he smiled again. "Just let your
hands guide you. Please hurry—I'm not going to be conscious much
Let my hands guide me?
She turned and ran to the designated
shelf. Luckily, Granny had things labeled, and she was able to
gather the bottles of each of the items Edward asked for. She set
them on the table in front of him.
"Good, good," he said. He was sitting funny
in the chair. "Now—you need a small amount of mandrake oil—and I
mean small. Maybe a dab and that's it. Too much, and I'm dead
She found it on a different shelf and
grabbed it—then paused as her gaze rested on a large green marble
mortar and pestle, a small grater and a white-handled knife.
Letting her hands guide her, she put the smaller items inside the
mortar, dumped in two more ingredients, and carried the whole thing
to the table.
He watched her and smiled. "See? You know
what you're doing, Brenda. You just need confidence."
She set all the things out in the deed of
sale and then looked at him. "Now what?"
"Now what?" His eyelids
drooped and he leaned at an odd angle, nearly out of his chair. His
hand was still tightly gripped at his side, his fingers covered in
blood. She then noticed the widening puddle of blood on the floor
beneath the chair.
consciousness. Brenda…" He tried to catch himself with both hands,
but the blood on his right hand slipped on the table. "It's up to