Jane stared up at the three story apartment building, checking her phone’s map app to make sure she was at the right place. Unfortunately so, the app informed her.
“Okay, you can do this.” Jane whispered, reminding herself that change was good. She’d already calculated the odds of her potential new roommate being murderer or not, and the numbers were in her favor. The tall, rail thin woman from the heart of the Midwest was a new arrival to the sunny yet surprisingly soggy state of Florida. Jane found herself wondering if the humidity was a yearlong thing, or just seasonal. She was really hoping for the latter, having felt disconcertingly moist since crossing the Mason Dixon line.
The apartments she was looking at were not terrible, but they weren’t great either. They were older than she would have preferred to consider. That, and the complex had been built almost on top of a lake full of gators that was cozied up next to a swamp. For whatever reason, the apartment buildings had a letter system painting on the side of them, but with no apartment numbers to verify exact locations, meaning ordering pizza in a timely manner was going to be a bitch.
Rechecking the online ad’s information, Jane knew she was at the right building. She just had to find the right apartment now. The bottom unit appeared to be quite empty while the unit on the top floor seemed overly full. It had a lot of wild greenery growing out of it, ivy pouring out of every window while somehow still creating an earthen border for the door. Jane didn’t know if that was normal for Florida, but it did not look safe, much less inviting. The only option left to consider was the middle apartment. As far as first impressions went, there was a lot to take in.
The porch was spacious yet full with various flora in pots of all different shapes and sizes, the plants ruining the screens with their exuberant healthy growth. Herbs galore grew next to huge aloe plants while spider plants hung from the ceiling, getting tangled up in the mess below. There was even a weird little fountain featuring cute ceramic frogs over in the corner, bees and butterflies taking full advantage of it.
The front door was the most worrisome part, its surface covered in symbols that looked painted on in blood and oddly enough, black permanent marker. Instead of a welcoming mat, there was a thick line of salt that ran across the threshold of the door. Upon further inspection, Jane found more salt along the sills of the windows too.
Jane couldn’t believe that she was going to do this, but the price was right. Her potential roommate was only asking five hundred dollars for the room, and it included all the utilities, even wifi. While it wasn’t exactly in Orlando, the college had campuses near the apartment, and it was only about a thirty minute drive to Orlando, or to the beach. It was almost too perfect to be true.
“Come on in already. The door’s open.” Called out someone from inside, the door unlocking itself before swinging open all on its own. There was a woman with long curly dark red hair standing in the kitchen, stirring a simmering pot on the stove. She motioned Jane in, but didn’t bother to look up, or over at her.
“H-hello, are you Christine?” Jane stammered, steeling herself for anything as she crossed the threshold. Despite everything, Jane jumped when the door slammed itself shut. She tried not to wince when it locked itself behind her.
“This would be really awkward if I wasn’t.” said the woman who Jane really hoped and prayed was actually Christine, and not some crazy person. She had a lot of tattoos, the woman wearing ink from her tits to her toes, most of it celestial or foreign in nature as far as she could tell. Jane knew this because Christine was barely wearing any clothing, cooking whatever was on the stove in her bra and panties. “Make yourself comfortable. There is plenty of stuff to drink in the fridge. Just check the label before you try anything. Some of it is poisonous.”
“Um, no. I’m fine.” Jane lied badly.
“You don’t look fine. Your aura is all jagged with yellow and orange.” Christine said, finally looking over to study Jane. She did so in such a way that it felt like the strange woman had just looked right through her.
“I’m sorry?” Jane tried as she glanced around the apartment. It was lived in yet relatively clean, most of the heavy furniture in it built to last longer than fashion. The space smelled like sage, cigarettes, and oddly enough, freshly baked vanilla cookies.
“This your first time meeting a witch, dearie?” Christine asked, looking quite amused about something. Jane had a terrible feeling that the something was her.
“No. Well, yes. I mean, yes, I know about witches. I’ve read all about them in school.” Jane rambled, really wishing she could say something better. “You didn’t mention that in your ad...if you are one. Not that I am saying that you are or anything. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to assume.”
“Assume away. I am. Is it a problem?”
“No, well, I don’t know.” Jane said, “I’m sorry.”
“Why do you keep apologizing? You haven’t done anything wrong, and I’m not going to turn you into a frog if you say something offensive.” Christine told her, arched a brow in concern at the obviously nervous young woman.
“That’s a relief...” Jane began, telling herself to calm done before she did something really embarrassing.
“I usually turn people into toads. Frogs are so cliché.”
Jane was unsure of what to say next so she kept very still to stay on the safe side of life.
“Sweet maker, I’m just fucking with you. Relax already.” Christine said with a snort of amusement. “I’m making gumbo if you’re hungry.”
“Oh, is that what it is?” Jane asked hopefully.
“It’s not exactly a cauldron. What did you think it was? Boiled down eye of newt?” Christine teased, thoroughly amused by her new company.
“Um, I don’t...well, do you mind if I look at the room first?” Jane word vomited, “Yes, I think I would very much like to see the room that was advertised, the room I want to rent. That room.”
“Sure, go for it.” Christine shrugged, pointed her spoon in the direction of the room. Going down a small hallway, Jane opened a normal looking door.
For lack of a better word, the room was perfect. Jane stared at the space with a mix of awe and horror. It had lovely windows which were large enough to let in the right amount of afternoon light while not be too glaring. It also had a spacious walk-in closet, cool tile for flooring that would be easy to clean, and it had its own full bathroom.
“The complex has a pool with a Jacuzzi, tennis courts, and a full gym too.” Christine added, “There is a ton of restaurants nearby, two gas stations, and all within walking distance. A train station that runs into Orlando is just five minutes down the road too. It’s a park-and-ride so you have options.”
It could all be hers for just five hundred dollars.
“Is there anything else I should know about?” Jane asked, already getting the sinking feeling of reluctant acceptance.
“There is a mall about fifteen minutes away, but it’s kind of shitty.” Christine shrugged. “There is also a third bathroom when it chooses to exist.”
“No, I meant about you.” Jane clarified, bracing herself for the worst.
“I am a highly functioning alcoholic who also likes to smoke. I have three cats, and I may acquire more if someone threatens me with a kitten. I don’t get angry often, but when I do, run for cover, and that’s not just a metaphor. I work late nights so I’m up at odd hours. When I want to sleep, don’t wake me up unless the apartment is on fire, which it probably will be at some point. I’m still trying to work out the kinks in my contract with my elemental. Other than that, I’m pretty easy going. I like Jim Henson movies, I love to cook, and clothing is optional with me.” Christine said, lighting up a cigarette at the end of her speech. She did this with the tip of her finger, looking particularly smug about it. “Take it, or leave it, Midwest.”
And it could all be hers for just five hundred dollars so Jane dug deep, straightening her spine.
“First off, please don’t call me Midwest. My name is Jane. I don’t care if you’re a witch, but I’m probably going to end up saying a lot of ignorant things too because I don’t know anything about magic. I like to think that I am open minded so just correct me when I mess up, and we’ll get along fine in that area. I grew up on a farm, and I love animals so the cats aren’t an issue, but I am not a fan of smoking so I’ll have to ask that you do it on the porch, and not inside the apartment. I plan on going to school while working so more than likely, I’ll be keeping a lot of odd hours too, so ditto about letting me sleep when I need to.” Jane said as she collected her thoughts on it all. “I like Jim Henson movies as well, I can’t cook, and as long as you keep your nudity to yourself, I don’t care.”
“Your name is Jane?” the witch asked, giving her strange look.
“All my life.” Jane said, wondering to herself why that seemed to give Christine reason to pause. To her knowledge, there was nothing special about it. Her given name was practically synonymous for being basic and mundane. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“Look at you with the sudden attitude. I knew I liked something about you when you decided to walk in.” Christine grinned around her cigarette before taking it into the palm of her hand to incinerate it. “You’ll be taking the room then, I presume?”
“Yes, I really think I will. Change is good.” Jane nodded.
“Keep telling yourself that.” The witch winked, “You haven’t met our upstairs neighbor yet.”
Continued in 'Beware the Night'