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Like a Ghost I'm Gonna Haunt You

Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, Curtis C. Chen now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo will be published by Thomas Dunne Books in 2016. Curtis is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers' workshops. Visit him online at: curtiscchen.com.

I really shouldn't have taken any of it personally.
"Is this accurate?" the insurance adjuster asked. "Thirteen different protection and concealment spells for a single building?"
"It's a battered women's shelter," I said. "They've already contracted a new sorcerer to renew the enchantments."
The man in the gray flannel robes didn't respect Hazel's memory. He made that clear with every dismissive motion while sorting through the mystical artifacts in her office, and every sneer of his lip while examining her spell ledger. He was only here to do a job, and my purpose as the late sorcerer's former apprentice was to assist him.
He peered over the round spectacles perched on his nose. "Perhaps I should come back after you've had a chance to update this ledger."
"Let's just finish reviewing it together." I wanted to get this over with. "It'll be faster this way. You don't want to make another trip all the way out here."
"Certainly not," he muttered. It had taken the insurance company nearly a month to send someone to our little town in the wilds of western Massachusetts. "What's this entry? Ruby?"
My heart skipped a beat.
The other reason I had avoided looking through the ledger myself was because I didn't really want to know whether Hazel had registered that particular spell. How much of a secret did she think it was? What would she have written about it there, in the official, legal record of every permanent magic she'd performed in her lifetime?
Why didn't she just tell me?
"Is this an artifact reference?" the man asked. "I don't recall cataloging a red gemstone."
"It's not an object," I said. "It's a name."
The man squinted at the ledger. "I don't see a usage notation here. Just--" He looked up at me. "This is your name, isn't it? Asha Morgan?"
"Yes. I can explain that." I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Ruby was my lover."
The man frowned. "Wait. Don't tell me your employer cast a love spell for you--"
"Of course not. Love spells are illegal." I hesitated before continuing. But we hadn't broken any laws or guild regulations, and why would an insurance guy care anyway? "Hazel cast a glamour on herself. She became Ruby to be with me, once or twice every week. We were together for--"
"Miss Morgan!" The man stood up. "A sorcerer fraternizing with her apprentice is hardly more ethical than a love spell."
"I wasn't working for her then," I said. "And I had a relationship with Ruby, not Hazel. She was a different person."
"She disguised herself!"
"She didn't coerce or influence me."
"How would you know?"
"I've been a licensed sorcerer for twenty years. If I didn't catch it, the guild would have." My required quarterly aura inspections were always painfully thorough.
"Speaking of the guild," the man said, "I trust you've notified the ethics board?"
"Listen to me," I stood to bring myself to his eye level. "She wasn't trying to fool me. It wasn't a trick. She just couldn't be herself and be with me."
I didn't blame him for being skeptical. When I found out, it had taken me several days to get right with it myself. But I thought I understood now. How could I explain it to him?
"You didn't know about the ledger entry." He tapped the book. "That means you didn't know about the glamour until Hazel died. True?"
"Yes. She left a note with her will--"
"So she concealed her identity in order to seduce you."
I shook my head. "No. I tried to seduce her. When I was still her apprentice, years ago. Nothing happened," I added quickly. "She fired me the same day. Then, a few days later, I met Ruby: an age-appropriate, non-work-related acquaintance."
"She still took advantage of you," the man said. "I can't believe you're okay with this."
"It wasn't a fling," I said. "Do you get that? It lasted for over a year. This was a real relationship."
"With a fake person."
"Do you know how old Hazel was?"
The man shrugged. "Centuries, I imagine. Like most sorcerers."
"Four hundred and four when she passed," I said. "That's probably five mortal lifetimes. She couldn't interact with the world like a normal person. She was always Hazel the sorcerer, and her title always overshadowed the person she was.
"She couldn't be sure whether I loved her or just the idea of her. So she had to become Ruby. To find out if what we had together was real. And to give me a relationship that wasn't fraught with other issues."
"This is highly irregular." The man sat and folded his arms. "And aren't you angry that she lied to you for all those years?"
I smiled. "You never lied to anybody you love?"
"I tell my loved ones the truth."
"Facts aren't always the truth. And truth doesn't always make people happy."
"Look," he said, "I work for the insurance company. This is a magical matter. I have to follow the rules. I have to file a report--"
"Will you forget about the rules for one second and talk to me like a person?" I stared at him. I didn't want this to be Hazel's legacy. Or mine. "There's no complaint here. The spell was broken due to the casting sorcerer's death, and the terminal consequence has been resolved. I know about it. I'm okay with it. This isn't a rules situation." I sat down. "You just have to... follow your heart."
"Fine," the man grumbled. "What about these other names?"
I blinked. "What other names?"
He turned the ledger around so I could see. There were maybe a dozen more gems listed below Ruby, notated with names I didn't recognize: Sapphire, Erica Bennett. Amethyst, Marcus Loginov. Peridot, Shelby Rada.
"Son of a witch!" I said.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Author Comments

This story was inspired by an episode of the short-lived NBC series Constantine. Identifying the episode is left as an exercise for the reader.

- Curtis C. Chen
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