1st Place – July 2023


by Brian Condike

Zoe read from a parchment scroll while she waved her wand in brisk movements like a maestro directing a symphony. Her potions instructor would be proud, as Zoe followed Miss Esmerelda’s mantra, “An effective spell is all in the wrist.” Zoe’s wand danced in time to the words as she chanted:

“Witches’ covens and witches’ daughters

brew this potion of poison waters.

Infuse the draught with carambola,

but make it taste like cherry cola.

To better match the mood of the moment, she paused and changed her playlist to a collection of baroque concertos and sonatas. The layered melodies lilted through her earbuds and added rhythm to her words.

Let he who quaffs it writhe in such pain,

as to drive the imbiber quite insane.

Let him feel the chains, and feel the whips,

then let him die screaming,

with blood on his lips.”

The teen-aged witch set her wand down and admired her creation. Her first spell! The fledgling sorceress had penned the incantation herself and imbued it with her strongest magic. The shimmering liquid held promise, with the aroma, color, and even carbonation of the sweet beverage. Zoe dared not sample it to test its flavor. The rum she would add later should obscure any shortcomings in taste. She stoppered the flask and hid it in the folds of her coarse gray robe.

Zoe had hedged her bets by including carambola in the mixture. The tropical delicacy known as star fruit could be lethal on its own, as it contained a neurotoxin that could kill when consumed in large quantities. Add that to the spell’s deadly magic, and she was sure her victim would suffer a horrible death.

And no one deserved it more than Goran. The wizened lech had preyed upon her since her arrival at the magic institute three months ago. From leering at her in various states of undress, to unwanted touching, to forcing her into sexual acts, he was relentless in his exploiting the young girl. But none of the other teachers would listen to her pleas for help. Even Miss Esmerelda doubted her.

“This is a serious accusation, young lady,” the instructor had said. “Professor Goran has been Headmaster for three hundred years, and there have been no complaints of this nature. I was his pupil myself only a hundred years ago. I’m sure you’re misinterpreting what is only the good-natured hazing of a first-year novice. You will just have to endure it.”

But it was much more than hazing, and Zoe could endure no more. Goran must have done this before, and somehow bewitched his victims to remain silent. Regardless, this night would be Goran’s last.

Students and faculty gathered in the atrium each week for Friday Evening Whispers. There everyone would relax and discuss the events of the week. Faculty were allowed alcohol, but students were limited to soft drinks. Novices customarily functioned as waitstaff at these events, and she would make sure to be the one to serve Goran his favorite drink.

Evening Whispers progressed according to Zoe’s plan. The rhythmic susurration of muted conversations echoed in the cavernous atrium like cattle lowing at end of day. Zoe served Goran his doctored rum and Cherry Coke and returned to the serving table. She sipped from her ginger beer while waiting for the potion to take effect.

Without warning a fiery pain sliced across Zoe’s shoulder, accompanied by a deafening crack. The young witch stumbled as invisible clanking shackles suddenly entangled her ankles. With every crack another oozing slash appeared across her shoulders until the back of her robe was soaked in blood. The teen collapsed to her knees.

A dark form loomed over her.

“Did you think you could harm me, child?” Goran whispered, his foul breath causing Zoe to choke. “You invoked the Coven and the Daughters,” he said louder. “Did you think you could use our power without us knowing your plan?”

Zoe writhed in pain.

“You fool!” he shouted. “Your magic is no match for mine! I reversed your pathetic spell with a flick of my wrist!” His voice lowered an octave. “It is your drink that has the poison. And now you will die.” He turned and marched away.

Blood dripped from Zoe’s lips as she screamed in agony.

But she would not concede defeat. Reaching into her robe she grasped her wand, and with her gasping breath she intoned,

“Victims of Goran, please heed my call,

Grant me the power before I fall,

To poison his drink before I pass,

And prevent his abuse of one more lass.”

Zoe flourished her wand one final time, knowing an effective spell is all in the wrist, and that Goran would suffer the death he deserved.

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