Another rush-hour crunch and boring forty-minute commute. Mouth breathing was the best way to avoid inhaling the stench of sweat, perfume, and cigarette smoke that lingered in the subway tunnel. I loosened my tie and unbuttoned the tiny top choker below the stiff collar of my dress shirt while waiting on the platform packed with other commuters. The dude behind me must have eaten an onion for lunch. His hot breath pelted my neck in short puffs, and the wanna-be rock star to my right elbowed me while he picked at a scab on his arm. I needed some excitement in my life. My computer engineering job and this twice-daily hell ride wasn’t it.
The train whooshed to a stop, and its doors slid open. Just wow! To say I’d set my sights on the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen was a lie, but she was the hottest for sure. The long-legged goddess in the subway car donned a skimpy armor outfit and wielded a sword—a combination which catapulted her to a perfect ten.
“Buddy, you gettin’ in or what?” Onion breath nudged me in the back.
I shot him a glance chocked full of sentiment and stepped in.
“Holy Flapjacks!” I blurted out loudly. My heart pounded while blood rushed from my head. The goddess used her sword to chop a guy’s head off right there in front of me. The head rolled under a seat, and the collapsing body just went poof into thin air. She put her sword into a scabbard on her hip.
Did anyone see that? Nobody screamed or flinched as they rushed for a seat. The train pulled away, and I almost toppled over, grabbing a pole in time to brace myself. The goddess motioned for me to come over. I looked over my shoulder. Yep, her finger motion was aimed at me. My heart hadn’t slowed, and if anything, it sped up while I staggered the ten steps next to her. I bumped several passengers along the way, including onion-breath dude.
I winced. “Do you want to talk to me or behead me?”
She bit her lip and studied me. “I want to ask you a favor. I only behead ghosts…and that’s to get the pesky apparitions away from me. He’ll be fine..well, as fine as a tortured spirit can be.”
I glanced around, but nobody seemed to notice the crazy lady in armor talking about beheading ghosts.
“O…kay. Do I know you?”
She pushed her bouncy hair behind her shoulder. “No.”
“Right.” I rubbed my temple and almost fell over when the train pulled to the next stop. She smirked, but I pretended not to notice. Commuters filed in and pushed me closer to her. She had pretty eyes and a girl-next-door look. She wasn’t wearing a stitch of make-up. Natural—that was cool. I snapped back to the conversation. “What favor did you want to ask me?”
“Would you go to a masquerade ball with me tonight?”
I half-chuckled and gripped the pole tighter. “Oh, that’s why you’re in the Wonder Woman outfit.”
She squinted and tapped her sword several times. “No, this is my battle armor. Ghosts can’t touch me because it’s metal.” She waved her hand, and her outfit changed to stonewashed jeans and a blue blouse.
I completely unknotted my tie and wiped my forehead with the bottom of it. Had everyone gone mad. The lady sitting in the first row glanced up from her book and flashed me a dirty look but didn’t bat an eye at the quick change three feet in front of her. I caught a few glares from onion-breath dude, too.
She shrugged. “I told myself I was too picky, so the next guy through the door was the one.”
That plan had a lot of holes. “What if the next guy to enter was like eighty and used a walker…or he was so wide he would take up three seats…or he had buck teeth and a wart on his chin. I actually saw that guy getting in the next car.” When I was nervous, I babbled.
She sighed. “I’d have made it work. Listen, are you going or what?”
The train screeched into the next station. As passengers entered and exited, onion breath dude maneuvered over by me. “Buddy, are you okay? Do you need help?” His breath could have toppled a sequoia.
“Me?” I looked at the goddess but pointed to myself.
“Yeah, you. You seemed distressed. Are you seizing?”
The goddess grinned. “He can’t see me, so you appear to be talking to yourself.” She smoothed back her hair.
I winced, mostly from his breath, but his body odor was a close second. “No, I’m fine.” I touched my hearing aid. “Bad reception on my Bluetooth.”
Onion breath looked at me sideways. “That’s a hearing aid.”
“Yep, but it gets killer reception.”
He frowned and walked away, squeezing past the crowd to the other side of the car.
I looked at the goddess. What didn’t make any sense a minute ago, suddenly made a bit more sense. I whispered, “Why didn’t you tell me you were invisible?”
“You didn’t ask me, and I thought it was obvious.”
“Why can I see you? Maybe you’re really not here.” I poked her in the arm. She was there.
Her sigh grew deeper with a tinge of aggravation. “Will you go to the ball with me or not?”
I wanted excitement, and what could be better than a date with a Wonder Woman ghost slasher? “Sure. What should I…”
What the heck happened? We were whisked out of the subway in the blink of an eye and stood in a dark alley. She smoothed her long, shimmery gown and pulled a silver mask around her eyes. Her hair was already swept up in a bun with sparkly sprigs in it. She looked hot. I gazed down at my torso. My shirt…dress…whatever it was had a black and red checkered pattern to match my red stockings. I alternated shaking my feet, which jingled the bells on the curved tips of my black elf-like shoes. I looked up at her. “What the heck am I supposed to be?”
“A court jester.” She smirked.
“Of course, I am.” I hung my head, only to create more jingling. I was afraid what my hat must have looked like. “It would help if I knew your name.” I offered my hand. “I’m Lance, by the way.”
She placed her slim hand in mine and smiled. “Chartreuse.” Her strong grip radiated warmth.
“Nice. I like your name.” She tried to pull her hand away, but I held on. “Why did you bring me here?”
Chartreuse’s bright red lips formed a devilish grin. “I needed a date.” She tugged until I let go. “It’ll be fun, Lancelot.”
Lancelot. Like the knight. Even wearing tights, things were looking up.
We exited the alley and strolled down the block in silence. A faint smell of rain lingered in the air. I didn’t recognize the street. The old brick buildings on both sides had a colonial architecture, and black iron lampposts flickered with fake candlelight. She placed her arm in mine, and I felt special—even if I was just the “next guy” on the train. Although I was dying to know more about her magic, the moment was too good to spoil it with small talk.
Around the first corner, we came to a three-story building with four tall pillars. A few couples dressed in fancy outfits and donning masks filed through an open doorway. Chartreuse and I followed them in. From out of nowhere, she produced two tickets and handed them to a waiting attendant standing inside the door. He obviously saw her, which meant I wouldn’t look like a crazy person talking to myself again.
She scanned the area before leading me toward the dance floor. I started to have a panic attack because I couldn’t dance. “Chartreuse, how about some punch first?”
“Relax, we’re not dancing.” She walked faster, which made my jingling louder. I sounded like a choir of bells.
I tried to walk on my tip-toes, but it made the jingling worse. “Exactly, what are we doing here?”
“We’re having a wonderful night out, enjoying each other’s company…oh, and poisoning a sorcerer.”
I stopped dead in my tracks, which caused her to jerk back. “A sorcerer? Which makes you a…?”
“Witch. It’s not a dirty word.” She twisted her mouth and gave me a disapproving look.
“Like Samantha of Bewitched or the Wicked Witch of the West?”
She tapped her finger on her chin. “Somewhere in between. Don’t worry, I won’t turn you into a frog.” She pulled me along. We stopped short of the dance floor. “Over there, the silver knight. That’s him. In case you were wondering, he’s an evil sorcerer, but the poison won’t kill him. It’s meant to keep him powerless long enough for my coven to deal with him.”
I jingled the bells on my hat. “Why would I wonder? I’m on a date with a witch and dressed like a clown.” I took a harder look at the knight. “He’s armed with a sword.” I gazed at her dress. “Did you happen to stow your sword under all those layers?”
“I’m not here to duel with him…but I’d win anyway.” Chartreuse produced two drinks from out of nowhere. “Stay close, but give me breathing room. Whatever you do, don’t interfere.”
“No heroic rescue?”
Chartreuse rolled her eyes. “Please. A computer geek in a clown suit. I’d have to rescue both of us.” She walked away, looking amazing. I felt about two inches tall.
C’mon, Lance. That’s just one girl’s opinion. Okay, maybe several, but you know better. I jingled my shoe and sighed. I stayed a good twenty feet behind her as I weaved through the masked crowd, trying not to bump people and knock the drinks from their hands. All the women glided and spun on the dance floor in fancy gowns. The men donned tuxes, armor, or something other than tights and jingle bells. It couldn’t have been any more humiliating, except if I trailed toilet paper off my shoe. I looked down to check. As much as I jingled, I would have thought everybody would stare at me, but I slipped through the crowd unnoticed. Maybe she’d put an invisibility spell on me.
A tuxedoed waiter holding a tray of long-stemmed glasses blocked my way. “A drink, sir.” Okay, I wasn’t invisible.
“Sure, thanks.” I helped myself and sipped the golden liquid. It took everything I had to not spit it on the guy standing next to me. Bitter, putrid—several other words came to mind. While I gagged on the drink, Chartreuse had reached the sorcerer and already placed one of her drinks in his hand. I picked up the pace and closed in on them, stopping behind a robust lady who would provide maximum hiding coverage.
Chartreuse looked more like an angel than a witch in the glimmering white dress with gold trim going around the plunging neckline. Too bad I was just the next guy on the train to her. The nerd. A clown. One step up from buck-toothed wart boy. I exhaled a deep breath and took a mouthful of the drink. Oh, gross—I hadn’t meant to do that. The liquid dribbled out the corners of my mouth. I went to wipe it away and spilled more of the drink on my shoe. My hiding lady turned around and gave me a piercing stare. I had splashed a few tiny drops of wine on her leg. I smiled and bobbed my head to make the bells jingle. She scowled and turned back around. So much for being stealthy.
I gazed over at Chartreuse. She stared at me. Her eyebrows rose above her mask, and they were knitted together. She turned her attention back to the knight and their small talk. A waiter offered them some puffy snacks off a tray. Chartreuse laughed and sipped a pinkish drink, but the sorcerer’s glass was still full. She gave him a sly smile and tilted her head toward the exit. She placed her hand on his arm, and they headed in that direction.
This sucked. She was my date. I turned to follow them, and my elf shoe slipped. The drink I spilled had turned the floor into ice. I landed on my butt, and the plastic glass bounced, splashing the rest of the wine on my hiding lady. She glared at me and stormed away.
The waiter reached out his hand. “Can I help you, Sir.”
I picked myself up off the floor. “No, thanks. I’m past help.” I kept my eyes lowered while I weaved through the crowd. That was more embarrassing than having toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Even worse, I’d let Chartreuse get too far away from me. Once I broke free of the main crowd, I practically sprinted to get to the antique-looking elevator, but the doors had closed. Of course, it was the only elevator, so I bolted for the stairwell. I’d never worn felt-like shoes, and I never hoped to again. The traction on the soles was nonexistent. I resembled a cartoon character with my legs spinning in circles. Somehow, I made it to the elevator on the second floor, but the car was headed to the third floor. I took a deep breath and ran to the stairwell.
Although I jogged a few miles a week on my treadmill, I reached the third floor seriously depleted of oxygen; however, my timing was stellar. The elevator bell dinged, and I had to hide. A plant, a chair—not many choices. I dashed behind the wall. The doors slid open, and laughing followed.
“You are very lovely, dear Chartreuse. Lovely and dangerous.” A crash and a grunt made me think her plan wasn’t working.
I peeked around the corner. The sorcerer had a grip on Chartreuse’s throat and had pushed her against the wall. He lifted her mask. “Did you really think I’d drink your poison?”
She swallowed hard. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t insult me. Take me to your coven,” he squeezed her throat tighter. “You know your power is no match to mine.”
Chartreuse didn’t seem to fight him. “And if I don’t?”
The sorcerer laughed. “You will.”
She told me not to interfere, but I had to. If they magically disappeared, I couldn’t follow them, and he insinuated that he was going to torture her. I acted on the first plan that popped into my brain and removed my tights.
With my shoes and tights in hand, I stumbled into the elevator foyer. “S’cuse me, folks.” I slurred my words. The sorcerer stared at me with evil eyes, but I stumbled forward and burped. “S’cuse me. Have any of the six of you seen the little boys room?” Sweat ran down my forehead. I was afraid of being turned into a toad and still wearing a jester suit. I dropped one shoe and pretended I would hurl in the other.
The sorcerer’s eyes narrowed, and he raised his hand. “I should squash that bug before he becomes more of a danger to himself.”
Chartreuse’s eyes grew huge. “That’s typical of you, isn’t it? You want to boss everyone around. He’s a poor, pitiful drunk, only guilty of having one too many drinks and being lost.”
The sorcerer wrinkled his nose. “And walking around in hideous underwear…not that the jester outfit was any better. All right, I’ll spare the fool.” He motioned at me with a dismissive hand. “Get out of here, loser.”
I stumbled a few more feet and pretended to trip, falling into him. While he tried to push me away with one hand, I wrapped my pantyhose around his throat. He released his hold on Chartreuse to tug at the stretchy undergarment, and that was the opening she needed. In an instant, she magically donned the armored suit and held the sword to his throat.
So that she didn’t need to save me, I moved out of the way. I didn’t want to be collateral damage in a magical fight.
The sorcerer lifted his arms like he was being held up. “Foiled by the jester…hardly.” A sword appeared in his hand. “Shall we, Chartreuse? If you win, I’ll go quietly to your coven. If I win…I run my sword through the jester.” He raised his eyebrows like he was clever.
What an idiot. What would he gain by spearing me? He wanted to kill some okay-looking schmuck off the subway as payback. It couldn’t be from jealousy. I wasn’t rich or magical, and at the moment, I wasn’t even wearing pants. Chartreuse wouldn’t shed a tear. Work might miss me after a few days. My mom, sure she’d be heartbroken.
“No magic,” Chartreuse ordered.
“What fun would that be?” the sorcerer smirked. She stepped back, and he readied his sword. “En garde.”
Their swords clashed immediately, and they pushed apart. She attacked, and he’d parry. They went round and round the foyer. Their graceful footwork was definitely from hours of practice. They’d advance and thrust their swords at each other and retreat backward like they were dancing. He was lucky he wore armor because Chartreuse would have sliced him up pretty good otherwise.
In a way, I helped out. After Chartreuse attacked, the sorcerer parried, tripping over the elf shoe I’d left in the middle of the foyer. His stumble was his downfall. Chartreuse touched the point of her sword to his throat. “You lose.”
“Did you really think I’d let you win?” His eyes grew wide, and he grabbed at his throat, collapsing to the ground.
She smiled. “No. I also knew you wouldn’t drink the wine, so I poisoned the cream puff. In about thirty seconds, you’ll be temporarily paralyzed and on your way to my coven.” She sheathed her sword. “Nice round. You could practice your footwork a bit, but you’ll have plenty of time where you’re going.”
Wow. Chartreuse was so cool, she was hot.
Just as she predicted, the sorcerer vanished. She waved her hand and was dressed in the gown again.
“I thought the armor was to protect you from ghosts.”
“And spells. It’s charmed.” She waved her hand toward me, and I felt my limbs tighten. I gazed at my torso. She put me in knight’s armor. I lifted my arm. The armor looked authentic, but it was lightweight and flexible.
I laughed. “I’m not a knight.”
She slid her mask on her forehead. “Yes, you are. You hold doors for women, buy meals for homeless people, and dodge cars to rescue a cat from the middle of the street. Knights are kind, brave, and selfless…and so are you. Besides, we couldn’t go back to the party with you in your underwear.” She picked up the tights off the floor. “These are completely stretched out.”
“I wasn’t just the next guy on the train. You’ve been spying on me?”
Chartreuse smiled. She had a playful twinkle in her eyes. “More like watching you from afar. You’ve passed by my store every day for the past year.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. “Your store?”
“The dinky Tarot card reader shop next to the tattoo parlor.” She laughed and tossed the pantyhose at me. “Tarot cards are a witch’s specialty.”
“I thought about going in there once or twice, believe it or not.” I rubbed my chin. “I have to know. Why did you call me a nerd and dress me like a court jester?”
She slid her mask in place and walked past me to the elevator. “Because a true knight is confident and will persevere no matter what, which you did.”
“That sounds great, but what’s the real reason?”
Chartreuse pushed the elevator button and glanced over her shoulder. She winked. “It’s all about the tights.”
By T.W. Kirchner
Although writing is her passion, her first loves are her husband, two children, and furry menagerie known as the Kirchner Zoo. She wishes she had more time to paint, draw and play tennis. If she could, she’d spend all her time outdoors. Anything wolf, pirate, or zombie-related will grab her attention.
Her latest published series is the YA supernatural horror Dagger & Brimstone along with two middle grade series through Short on Time Books. She also has several short stories published, including Mine Shaft to Hell in Astounding Outpost’s Ghosts, Ghouls, and Grave Robbers anthology.