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Just Try It

Nina Kiriki Hoffman has sold more than 350 short stories and several novels. Her short fiction has a Nebula Award and her first novel won a Stoker Award.

She does production work for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

She teaches short story writing through Fairfield County Writers' Studio and Wordcrafters in Eugene. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with a mannequin and several cats.

For a comprehensive list of Nina's works, please see Susan O'Fearna's lovely tribute page.

"I don't want to," I told my younger sisters. I punched my frustrations out on the bread dough, then folded it into itself on the floured board, and kneaded.
"Come on, Lila. What would it hurt?" asked my sister Stray. She was sitting at the kitchen table, shelling peas into a big bowl.
Juniper, the youngest sister, put the kettle on to heat water for tea and stayed out of the argument.
They were in it together. The two of them had created a profile for me on a dating app and summoned a date. I bet Juniper came up with the idea. Stray should know better.
"Get dressed," said Stray. "He'll be here in ten minutes."
"The bread," I said. Which was feeble, but I'd already said no three different ways.
Stray cast a stasis spell on the dough, took it out from under my hands, and put it in the fridge.
I looked at my familiar, Gillyflower the calico cat. She was smirking, all her whiskers quivering with delight.
"You're no help," I said.
You haven't been on a date since you were twelve, she thought. You don't know how to have fun. Go.
I stuck my tongue out at my cat, which was such a mature thing for a twenty-five-year-old witch to do, and fled upstairs to my room.
I didn't know what I was dressing for, since the younger sisters had set the whole thing up, and I wasn't about to give them or the date the satisfaction of thinking I put any effort into this project. I threw on my dancing dress, which had long white sleeves, a green bodice, and a twirly skirt made of blue and green scarves. Well, okay, it was my best dress. Everything else in the closet was work clothes, which meant basically T-shirts and jeans. I cooked and baked for our household, and I cleaned and maintained the rooms we rented out to AirBnB clients. I would have liked to have a bakery, but everybody in Grantham knew my sisters and I were witches, and because of a few piddling experiments we'd conducted in our teens, nobody who knew us would eat anything we prepared.
I tied my red hair in a knot at my nape. My date prep was done.
Someone knocked at the front door, and someone let him in. "Hello," Juniper said.
"Good evening," he said in a voice like melted chocolate. "Are you Lila?"
"Lila's little sister," she said, almost squeaking.
I put on my black flats and headed toward the staircase. Then went back to my room and grabbed my traveling bag of witch supplies. Then ducked back into the bedroom once more to collect my wallet. I had vague memories from movies of women needing mad money if a date went wrong. Grantham was small enough I could walk home from anything in town, but if he took me somewhere else--
"This is Lila," said Stray as I came down the stairs.
"Lila," he said, and the word stroked me.
I frowned at Stray. What kind of dating site had she gone to? Was the man a wizard?
My sister shrugged.
"So nice to meet you! I'm Ken." He held out a manicured hand. Everything about him was fresh and elegant, from his silvery hair to his green cotton shirt, dark slacks, and shiny black shoes. He had a face that was boy-band pretty, plus time and a few scars.
"Hello, Ken," I said, having flashbacks to my friends' Barbie and Ken dolls when I was younger and allowed to visit normal houses--before my powers manifested. "I'm Lila." I took his hand and felt a staticky shock.
I glanced at Gillyflower. My calico familiar was hunched on top of the bookshelf, her fur puffed up so she almost doubled in size. Her eyes were slits.
Oh. Good to know.
I could change my mind right now and send him packing. I looked at Stray. She blinked slowly. Okay, she was all right if I cancelled, too.
Juniper bit her lip. She'd been asking me for six months if I ever did anything fun. I had brushed her off. Fun for me was spellcasting, but we were so hemmed in here. Everyone in Grantham knew to come to us for healing, help, and magic, but we had to watch our step. As long as we were good witches, we and our town got along.
One had so few opportunities to get up to mischief.
I slung my witching bag over my shoulder and smiled at my sisters. "Where are we going, Ken?" I asked.
"I thought we'd start with the Truffle House," he said, naming the only upscale restaurant in Grantham.
"Lovely." I glanced at my sisters and twinkled.
Stray frowned and went for the broom standing in the corner. The one with the long, knobby broomstick and a big bush of mixed twigs for the brush.
I stepped out onto the porch with Ken and shut the door behind me.
His car was large, sleek, and dark, and had a jaguar on its bonnet. He held the door of the passenger side for me. The leather seats were covered in plastic. When he shut the door behind me, I saw it had no handle on the inside.
While he walked around the car, I looked into my purse. I had several spells prepared for emergencies. I picked out three. I would refine my choice once I knew what Ken was.
He slid behind the wheel and turned on the sound system. Soft music. Not the kind I would ever listen to voluntarily. He started the engine and drove to the end of the block, where he turned left--away from town.
"Isn't the restaurant the other way?" I asked.
"It is," he said, "but I have something else in mind for us."
I gave him side eye, which he didn't notice. He was smiling.
"Ken, do you have any family?" I asked.
"What an interesting question. No, I don't. Not anymore."
"Nobody to notice if you're gone?"
"What?" He looked at me, which was good, since Stray and Juniper, on a single broom, wobbled into view, and then lifted up out of sight.
"People where I work would notice. I bring in a lot of money for the GOP," he said.
He pulled into a wooded area, far back into the trees. He turned off the engine and stared at me. "You interest me, Lila."
"I should hope so. What's the plan now?" I said.
"Terror is usually part of it. That's the part I savor. The killing and eating is an added bonus. I have a feeling you knew something would happen, though. Are you trying to trap me?"
"Why, yes," I said, and picked the chicken transformation spell. I added a gender flip. We didn't need a rooster in our flock.
He changed elegantly into a gray-blue, silky-feathered Isbar. They laid green eggs. My strength was cooking magic, and there were special things I could do with green eggs.
Stray pulled open the driver's side door. "Are you all right? Oh!" She looked at Ken, squawking in the driver's seat. Maybe we could call him Kendra.
"How do you like our new car?" I asked.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, September 24th, 2021

Author Comments

I wrote "Just Try It" for another of the Wordos short-short challenges.

- Nina Kiriki Hoffman
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