Featured image: “#PunkinDidNothingWrong” by Roffles Lowell
Margherita stood by, biting her nails. Tears ran down her cheeks as she stared at all her boxes of ruined pizza. Her eyes flicked back between Jake and Magical Girl Punkin Spice.
“Please,” she pleaded. “Please, no more. Please don’t ruin any more food—”
In spite of the chilly night air, Jake felt sweat forming under his collar. He took another pull on his coffee, but then raised his hands and slowly backed away from Punkin. Her wand still pointed at his chest.
“Wait, hold on,” he said. “You don’t want me to get a taste for pumpkin spice—”
“Oh yes I do,” Punkin whispered. “I want everyone to know the joys of pumpkin spice!”
Jake chuckled nervously. “Look, I don’t know exactly how this kind of thing works, but I’m pretty sure pumpkin spice isn’t my thing. I mean, I’m a guy. I bet I’d have to have a lot more estrogen in my system before I could enjoy something like pumpkin spice—”
“I can take care of that,” Punkin hissed. Her wand trembled in her grasp.
A lump formed in his throat, and it took a fresh gulp of coffee to wash it down.
“C’mon, Punkin, surely your magical powers don’t include the ability to screw with other people’s hormones—”
“It’s easy,” she replied, her voice now holding a dangerous edge. “I’ll just force-feed you a lot of soy and tea tree oil and make you watch Will and Grace.”
Now he could feel the sweat dripping down his back.
He sensed that Sword Seamstress was no longer beside him. He glanced over Punkin’s shoulder to see her put a finger to her lips as she bent over the still-scowling Pretty Dynamo.
Jake got the message. He took a deep breath and said in as soothing a voice as he could muster, “Listen, Punkin, let’s be reasonable here. You seem like a nice psychopath. I admit we don’t know each other too well, but maybe if we spent some more time together—”
Punkin’s eyes narrowed.
“—I mean, um, that haunted house tour you mentioned sounds fun! Why don’t you just turn off your Sugar Bomb, and then the two of us—”
The wand in her hand wavered, just slightly.
“Are you trying to trick me, Barfing Boy?” she whispered. “Or did you finally realize that I’m one hot witch?”
Sword Seamstress waved a hand over Dynamo, and her sewing needles lifted out of the ground, freeing Dynamo’s tutu. Dynamo rose noiselessly to her feet. At the same time, her familiar Tesla jumped from her head and crawled to the magical bucket of explosive candy, which sat on the pavement nearby.
Dynamo picked up her spear and pointed it between Punkin’s shoulder blades.
Jake felt a single droplet trickling down his temple. Punkin’s eyes jumped to it. Then she clenched her teeth and, with a snarl, spun around.
Jake bent at the knees to brace himself and gave her a hard shove in the middle of her back. The blow stung his wrists when he struck her, as if he’d thrust his hands into a boulder, but he caught her off balance: she pitched straight into Dynamo’s spear point, which struck her in the neck. With an angry crackle, Punkin jerked spastically and then dropped to the ground.
Holy Princess, I killed her—!
Tesla waved Dynamo over with a foreclaw. She bounded to him, pushed him aside with one silver boot, and shoved her spear down into the basket of candy. There was another loud crackle, and the thick smell of burning sugar met Jake’s nose.
After a few seconds, Dynamo pulled her spear back out, its blade now coated in blackening caramel.
Sword Seamstress, standing nearby with her arms crossed, smiled smugly as she lifted a pinky to her mouth. “Good work, Dynamo! Oh ho ho ho!”
“Shut up,” Dynamo muttered. “I coulda done that already if you hadn’t hit me with your stupid needles.”
With a haughty giggle, Sword Seamstress murmured, “You seem to be weak against my attacks, little Dynamo. Perhaps we were meant for each other.”
Dynamo twirled her spear like a baton, spun on the balls of her feet, and brought the blade down in an arc. Sword Seamstress’s arms became a blur, and with a deafening clang of steel, she blocked the spear with an upraised rapier.
Tipping her head back, Sword Seamstress released another peal of laughter.
“One o’ these days,” Dynamo snarled, “you an’ me are gonna have it out!”
“But not today, Pretty Dynamo—not today!” A black pair of wings, like a raven’s, sprouted from Sword Seamstress’s shoulders. Still laughing, with her rapier gleaming in the moonlight, she rose into the air and disappeared.
“Hey!” Jake shouted as he knelt beside Punkin. “This is no time for that! Call a medic or something!”
Dynamo grunted. Her spear shrank back into a wand, and she stuck it on her belt.
“She’s fine,” she muttered.
Facedown on the ground, Punkin Spice coughed. Startled, Jake slopped his coffee.
Woozily, Punkin Spice sat up and adjusted her pointy hat. Pumpkin still dripped from her face. On her throat, she had only a tiny red mark where Dynamo’s spear had hit her.
Jake frowned and looked to Dynamo, who shrugged. “She’s a magical girl. I’d have to hit her harder than that to cut her.”
Punkin gasped, jumped up, and pointed her wand at Dynamo. She flicked it a few times, but nothing happened. Then, with a frown, she peered at the wand, slapped it against her hand, and shook it.
“You’re weak against electricity,” Dynamo said as she crossed her arms. “I can tell from the way you went down. Electromagnetism disrupts your holiday-based magic, probably because malfunction-prone electric string lights disrupt people’s ability to enjoy holidays.”
She inclined her head toward the smoking bucket of candy, out of which Tesla was now messily eating melted chocolate. “I deactivated your Sugar Bomb, too. It’s over, Magical Girl Punkin Spice. You’re not going to spice up this Halloween celebration.”
Jake gulped coffee, sighed happily, cleared his throat, and said, “Well, then, I hope you girls have learned an important lesson this Halloween. It’s good to have fun, but you can’t force people to have the same kind of fun you like to have, or to enjoy the same flavors you enjoy. We all have different tastes and different interests, and that’s okay. But even though we’re all different, what’s really important is what unites us, and that’s the power of friendship—”
He was just getting warmed up when something flew past his nose and he heard a loud, wet squelch.
He looked over to see Pretty Dynamo clenching and unclenching her fists as a gooey pie plate slowly slid down her armored chest. Coating her face was pumpkin filling and whipped cream.
Punkin pointed and burst into loud peals of laughter.
Jake spun around to see Sword Seamstress standing behind the counter of the pizza stall. With her smug grin dimpling her cheeks, she was pulling another pumpkin pie out of a pizza box.
“Oh, my, Pretty Dynamo,” she cooed. “You always were such a messy eater!”
Dynamo shook a fist. “Darn you, Sword Seamstr—”
Sword Seamstress hit her squarely in the face with another pie.
Roaring, Dynamo sprinted past Jake, leapt over the counter, and tackled Sword Seamstress, who shrieked. The two of them tumbled to the floor.
“Oh no!” Margherita cried. “Please, you two—”
“Dynamo!” screamed Sword Seamstress. “Eek! You’re getting pumpkin on my dress!”
Jake cautiously leaned over the counter to see the two of them rolling on the floor, a tangled jumble of skinny arms and legs. They punched and kicked and kneed each other, and occasionally bit or pulled hair. Slimy pie filling covered them.
Punkin Spice joined him at the counter and watched silently. Then Rifle Maiden joined him on the other side. Margherita merely hung her head.
“Whaddaya think, Jakey-pie?” Rifle Maiden asked.
“I think they need to cool off,” he replied.
“’Zacktly! Care t’ gimme a hand?”
The two of them marched over to the cauldron full of cider and dry ice. Jake took one handle, and Rifle Maiden took the other. They hauled it to the pizza stand, heaved it onto the counter, and tipped it.
In a moment, both Pretty Dynamo and Sword Seamstress burst out through the stand’s thin plywood walls. Margherita yelped.
Dripping with cider, the two magical girls sputtered as they staggered to their feet, clutching themselves and shivering. Dynamo’s tutu had lost its pouf and hung limply to her knees. Sword Seamstress’s dress, hopelessly misshapen, now sagged at the shoulders, but clung to her corset. Her soaked bangs dangled in front of her eyes.
“Jake, you jerk!” Dynamo shouted. She stamped a foot.
Sword Seamstress’s teeth chattered. “Ooh, that’s freezing!” she gasped as she rubbed her hands over her shoulders. “Pretty Dynamo, hold me—”
She grabbed Dynamo, who staggered back and slapped her hands away. Sword Seamstress slapped her back. Then, in a moment, they were rolling on the ground again, now with dirt and twigs sticking to their drenched clothing.
Jake sipped his coffee, watched for half a minute, and shrugged. Turning to Punkin Spice, he said, “So … you new?”
Her cheeks turned pink. She lowered her eyes and poked the toe of one shoe at a dirt clod. “Yeah … I’m in seventh grade, and Blacky just gave me my powers last week—”
“You went overboard.”
“Yeah.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “Sorry.”
Rifle Maiden leaned on Jake’s shoulder. “Ah, don’ sweat it, kid. It’s tough the first few weeks. I ’member when I first transformed, I wanted t’ shoot ever’thing in sight—”
“Glad I missed that,” Jake muttered.
“Well, but hey now,” said Rifle Maiden as she slapped Jake on the back, knocking the wind from his lungs, “since we’ve gone an’ wrecked this here place, mebbe the three of us should have a shindig of our own! We could go find one o’ them haunted house tours you mentioned—”
Punkin Spice’s face brightened. “Really?”
“And bob for apples?”
“Don’t see why not.”
Jake coughed into a fist. “Hey, you crazy kids go have fun. I think it’s best if I—”
The brim of Punkin’s hat drooped, and her lower lip quivered. Her big eyes glistened. “You won’t come, Barfing Boy? Why not?”
Jake stared up at the cloudless sky to avoid looking into her face. Too many magical girls had already manipulated him with puppy dog eyes. He’d learned that lesson.
He cleared his throat again. “Ah, it’s a school night, y’know, and I gotta … um … I gotta watch Pretty Dynamo. You know how it is.” He glanced toward Dynamo, whose fight with Sword Seamstress continued unabated.
He shrugged. “She gets cranky when she’s up past her bedtime.”
Rifle Maiden scratched her head and then pulled her Stetson down tight. “She must be up past her bedtime a lot. Welp, c’mon, Punkin. You an’ me an’ Voodoo Queen Natasha can go. If’n ya wanna get spooked, that little lady’s the one to have along. She’s like a haunted house all by herself.”
Punkin grinned wanly. “Well … I think my power’s starting to come back.” She flicked her dust broom, and the pumpkin goop disappeared from her clothes. Then she lifted her wand into the air. Its tipped glowed briefly.
“That’s a gift for you,” she said to Jake with an embarrassed smile. “Thank you.”
When she dropped her dust broom to the ground, its handle expanded until it was a full-sized broom again. It hovered at waist level. Punkin swung a leg over it, and Rifle Maiden jumped on behind her. Voodoo Queen Natasha, with a longsuffering sigh, walked over from the destroyed sandwich stall and joined them. The three rose into the air and kept rising until the nighttime darkness swallowed them.
Margherita, looking decidedly grumpy, walked to Jake’s side. Together, the two of them silently watched as Dynamo and Sword Seamstress, now completely coated in brown muck, continued their scuffle.
“What a night,” said Margherita.
“Yeah,” Jake answered.
“It can always be dicey, breaking in a new magical girl. I suppose Punkin Spice needed to get that out of her system.”
“I guess so.” He took another sip of his coffee, but then paused.
Something was wrong. He tasted cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, a combination that definitely didn’t go well with coffee. And under that intrusive taste was another still worse, a taste halfway like squash, halfway like melon—
He licked his lips and cautiously sniffed his cup.
No. She couldn’t have—
“Son of a witch,” he whispered.
Margherita sighed. “Oh well. I’m upset about the pizzas, of course, but we have to remember what’s really important. Thank the Moon Princess that no one was seriously hurt.”
“There is no Moon Princess,” Jake grumbled as he stared forlornly at his coffee, coffee that was now adulterated with the vile flavor of pumpkin spice.