Chapter 3.28 – Hard-Earned Hat

The forest of Forgotten Hollow, miles from the nearest town and therefore largely unaffected by light pollution, was the darkest place Jessica had ever been. Other than that time she’d hidden in a crate for half a day to infiltrate that mink farm, that is.

This situation definitely trumped that one; she could move her arms and legs, for one, and she didn’t have an unwashed fellow animal rights activist pressing her against the wall, for another. The tent that she had borrowed from her mother was somewhat comfortable, she had a lamp and she’d even managed to start a fire.

Carefully, of course, because she didn’t want to burn any wildlife.

Jessica had forgotten to bring a chair, but that was not a problem. The mossy clearing had its own natural cushioning and, if previous nights were anything to go by, she’d be fast asleep within an hour or two.

After a few attempts, Jessica had managed to ping the GliTS her co-ordinates – proof that she was completing her initiation task of spending a night in the supposedly haunted and beast-ridden forest – but she was unable to do anything on her phone with the poor signal she had here. Instead, she settled down to some old-fashioned entertainment: to watch the fire flicker and dance.

The swaying movement of the flames as they caught her breath was hypnotic and the irregular crackle of the logs was most soothing. Almost fluid, in a way.

Oh no. Fluid.

She thought back to that day she’d spent in the crate, how she’d had to fight the urge to pee for 12 hours and had managed, largely due to lack of a drink in that time, probably. But now, with the pressure from her budding infant – or was it the hormones? Jessica didn’t know – but whatever it was, she could barely make it twelve minutes without needing to go.

One swift visit to the bushes later and Jessica was back in position at the fire.

Five minutes later, her stomach rumbled and she already felt like she needed to pee again. She glanced at her watch; she’d only been in the clearing for forty-two minutes.

Somewhere in the distance, an owl hooted. Somewhere closer, the shrubbery rustled. Jessica wasn’t truly sure what she believed about these forests, about the reasons people vanished here – if they even did – but she wasn’t afraid of these silent woods.

Even the voices in her head seem calmed by this place; their usual chatter nothing but a hushed, occasional sigh.

It was going to be a long, lonely and boring night.

Wyatt had seemed especially keen to get to the Coven meet; he had even showered. Broof wasn’t sure if it was the promise of what Wartilda was wearing or that, despite his chilled exterior and protests that he wasn’t bothered by being held back, Wyatt Harper, at the grand age of 76, was excited to finally show off his hard-earned hat.

Broof was struggling to keep up. He’d barely slept last night thanks to the presence of a certain bloodsucking creature in his house. The same creature who had been running through his mind all night had taken her breakfast from him and left him a mere shadow of a man today. Her promise to ‘grab a few things’ and come back, for convenience’s sake, coupled with the fact that she was -almost- living proof that his knowledge of vampires was wrong, had planted something in the mind of the bearded witch. Something that felt a lot like rebellion.

He couldn’t wait for this meet to be over. Although that was nothing new.

“Where were you today?” Wyatt called back over his shoulder as he half-ran towards the candlelit clearing. “Chickening outta donating?”

“No. I had a guest.”

“You did, huh?” Wyatt replied, not believing. “A lady guest?”

“Yes—”

Wyatt stopped dead and spun on his heel. “Wait, really?”

“Yes” Broof confirmed, watching Wyatt’s face light up with smirk. “But it’s not what you’re thinking.”

“It’s not?”

“No. It was Lilith.”

Wyatt snorted. “Then it’s exactly what I’m thinking.”

Broof blinked his surprise. “What do you mean?”

“She’s your type, Hoggy.”

“What?” Broof asked, this explanation lost on him. He thought back swiftly over his previous relationships, but nothing really stood out to him as a link, other than they were all female. Maybe in Wyatt’s head, that was a type? “I don’t have a type. Do I have type?”

Wyatt guffawed. “You totally have a type: ‘needs help’.”

“You just made that up. That’s not…” he paused, thinking back over his former loves with a little more objectivity. “All right, I do see what you mean. But even so, you’re reading this wrong. There is nothing between Lilith and me.”

“She turned you down, didn’t she?” Wyatt laughed. “Dude.”

“I didn’t try,” Broof insisted.

“Sure you didn’t.”

“We’re just friends. Sort of.”

“Yep.”

“She threw up in my begonias, insulted me, my house and my daughter. I don’t think she likes me. Tolerates is probably more of an apt description.”

“Correct.”

Broof tried to stop talking but failed; his explanations turning to bald-faced lies at Wyatt’s raised eyebrow. “I’m not attracted to Lilith.”

“I believe you,” Wyatt grinned, turning back towards the clearing. “Come on! I’m dying to see the look on everyone’s faces when they see how totally cute I look in my hat.”

“I’m not attracted to Lilith,” Broof reiterated.

“Good, ‘cause her brother is already hitched to my daughter – it’s weird enough as it is without you being my… whatever the heck relation you’d be if you married Lilith.”

“Bit of a stretch to get from one night of pity to marriage.”

“Worked with Claudia.”

Ouch. “Who needs enemies with friends like you, Wy?”

Broof couldn’t see Wyatt’s face, but he knew that he was grinning. “These are the words of a true friend, Hoggy,” he insisted. “Just remember that if you piss this one off, she could literally eat you; Latrodectus-style. Nom nom nom.”

Broof swallowed a lump in his throat. Thankfully, before he could explore the many gruesome thoughts that stemmed from his buddy’s suggestion of arachnid sexual cannibalism, a sweet little voice sang out over the hum from the clearing.

“Wy!” Alyssa called. “You’re here! Wait – oh no! They gave you a hat!” She said the last word as one might announce that they’d stepped in dung; a sentiment shared by the other little witches who all made over-the-top noises of despair.

Beside Alyssa, her dramatic best friend, Trish made a face of utter disgust. “You’re all grown up now? But who will make stink bombs for us? Ugh! And I really need to bring Max down a peg or two! Darn poosticks!”

“Language, Trish,” Leo – nominated childminder – said calmly, winking at Wyatt. “I didn’t hear that about the potions. That Villareal kid could do with a few if you ask me.”

Wyatt, who was usually dumped in the kid’s circle at each meet due to continuously acting like one, seemed genuinely disheartened to be leaving them behind.

“Traitor,” Alyssa whispered as he walked away.

“Hey,” Broof smiled, giving Wyatt’s arm an affectionate thump. “It’s OK. They’ll all be getting their own hats in, ooh, a year or two.”

“Rub in it, Spidey,” Wyatt huffed, looking around the clearing. “Looks like HP’s not here yet. Who shall we mingle with?”

Broof shrugged. He was intending to chat to Moon at some point, but she was currently engaged in conversation with Sage.

The mini witches were now being told a dramatised story about potion misuse by Leo.

Wartilda was boring her sister and friend over by the pond.

And a small selection of witches were having a serious-looking talk near the shrubbery.

“Anyone but Claudia,” Broof whispered.

“You can’t avoid her forever.”

“I can try.”

He had whispered it but she had heard her name anyway, glancing in his direction. Broof swiftly turned away lest her gaze turn him to stone, but Wyatt wasn’t quick enough.

“Oh, shoot, I made eye contact,” he mumbled.

“You made eye contact,” Broof repeated. “Why’d you do that?”

Wyatt made a noise akin to a balloon deflating. “Damn, she’s coming over, Hoggy.”

“Wouldn’t happen to have any stink bombs on you?”

“No, I left the last one in Mum’s… um… no.”

“Oh, Wyatt!” Wartilda called. “Over here, baby! I saved you a seat!” she turned to her sister and hissed. “Move over, Toady.”

“Saved by the ‘missus’,” he muttered, making a motion towards Wartilda. “Looks like there’s only one seat though. Good luck, Hoggy.”

“You twat,” Broof hissed to Wyatt’s retreating back. “You did that on purpose! I’m going to— Oh, hey, Claudia,” he said, his voice changing instantly from an angry hiss to the kind of tone you might use on a temperamental dog. “Good to see you. How are you?”

“Broof,” Claudia addressed him with that slightly haughty and yet fundamentally immature voice he’d grown to hate so much. “It’s been a while. Thought you’d abandoned us altogether.”

“Wishful thinking.”

Claudia pouted, glancing over Broof’s shoulder. “I’m glad you’re here—“

“You are?” Broof asked with some trepidation. Her words had sounded remarkably sincere. And loaded. “Is… is everything OK?”

Claudia laughed, cocking her head and grinning. “It could not be better! I have the best news,” she goaded. “You ready for it?”

Broof wasn’t immediately sure what it was. Perhaps it was her inane smile or the casual way she’d slotted herself back into his space like she’d never left, without even asking how he was.

Or maybe it was what she’d said. I have the best news.

News.

“How could you?!” he spat, interrupting her self-obsessed flirting. She pouted in that irritating way she did, and rolled her eyes up to him in a way that he used to think was cute.

“Yes. News,” she repeated. “What am I missing?”

“The news!” Broof repeated, like a lunatic. “You spoke to the news about me!”

“Oh, that,” Claudia said in a bored way. “Yes. Anyway—”

“Yes that. You lied to them about me, Claudia!”

“Ugh.” Claudia rolled her eyes. “I didn’t. I shouldn’t have spoken to them. But y’know they offered me a little cash and I really thought I was helping you—“

Helping me? They thought I’d abducted April and you told them that I’m sex-crazed, Claudia? That I have a thing for blondes?”

Claudia chewed her lip, glancing repeatedly over Broof’s shoulder. “Calm down. I— they twisted my words.”

“They did,” Broof said, disbelieving. “So what did you say, huh? That I’m hex-crazed with a thing for wands?

“No. I’m not stupid,” she insisted at Broof’s snort. “You know the news channel; they’d flog their own grandmother for a story. Besides,” she added, quickly diverting. “It’s yesterday’s news, today’s news is—“

“It’s still today’s news to me,” Broof snarled. “My reputation is ruined.”

“You’ll get over it,” Claudia insisted. “Now, Broof, can you just listen for a moment please?”

Broof knew he was being a bit of, as April might say, a dickhead, but having this witch brush him off again was simply too much.

“Claudia. Get it through your thick skull. I might never work again.”

“Then I’ve done you a huge favour,” she sighed. “You’ve been living like a human. Waiting on humans. Ugh. So, as I was saying before you so rudely interrupted. I have BIG news.”

It was like talking to a wall. Broof conceded with one last jab, “Let me guess, you’re pregnant? Or are you simply getting fat?” It was beneath him, certainly, but something in Claudia always bought out his worst.

“Oh frick and beans,” Claudia whispered. “Is the bump obvious? Dave said this dress covered it.”

Broof blinked; the only response his body seemed to have in it.

“Y-you’re pregnant?”

“I am,” she confirmed. “I wanted to tell you before I told everyone else, but I guess I look like a fat cow already.”

“No, you don’t I… pregnant?” he repeated dumbly.

“Isn’t is wonderful?” she sighed wistfully. “I didn’t think I’d ever get another chance.” After screwing you over.

Claudia hadn’t spoken these last words, but she may as well have. The heat from the nearby bonfire surged through Broof; at that moment, he could have ignited every candle in the world.

“Is it his?” he asked unkindly, pointing behind him to where he knew Claudia’s husband would be watching.

Claudia shifted uncomfortably; her eyes fixed on her husbands’ face and her voice barely above a breath. “Now you’re just being horrible.”

Broof could tell from the gentle roll of Claudia’s eyes that someone was approaching them and he didn’t need to turn around to know who it was. Claudia’s husband and pasty, ginger man mountain, Dave, sidled up beside his wife and placed a possessive hand at her waist.

“Everything all right here?” he asked, not really a question and despite looking straight at him, it was not addressed to Broof.

“It’s fine,Dave,” Broof insisted. “Claudia was telling me her – your – wonderful news.”

Dave scanned Broof from head to toe, finding nothing he saw redeeming. “I wasn’t talking to you, Hogwash,” his voice softened to a purr as he turned his attention to Claudia. Broof watched her melt into him, heard her sigh softly. “You OK Pookie-Pie?” Dave asked in sickeningly sweet tone, placing a delicate hand on Claudia’s barely-there belly.

Claudia nodded. “There’s nothing like a reminder of your past to make you appreciate the present, is there?”

Damn it all. Tact was never Claudia’s strong suit, especially when she was pissed off. Dave rounded on Broof in an instant, standing tall and foaming at the mouth like a rabid Pit bull. Broof’s heart thumped hard. If Dave were to duel him now, Broof would be outed as powerless, in front of the whole coven. Claudia’s hand at his chest was likely the only thing stopping Dave from doing Broof some serious molecular damage.

“Haven’t you hurt her enough!?”

Broof could see other members of the coven glance their way, a few of them twitching in his direction as if poised to intervene. He gently shook his head, but salvation came from a surprising source.

“Shnookums,” Claudia purred, wriggling into Dave’s embrace and brushing the tip of her nose against his strange moustache, distracting him completely. “It’s fine.” She replaced his hand at her abdomen and smiled up at him. “We’re both fine.”

Anyone else standing before their ex-husband and amongst a group of people who relied on them to be pragmatic would have likely exchanged a swift, short kiss at this moment, if anything. A little reassurance to their suspicious significant other and then back to business. But Claudia wasn’t like ‘anyone else’.

Twice, Dave tried to pull away and twice, Claudia pulled him back, tilting her head just right so Broof could see her tongue dancing in the mouth of her new husband, watch the father of her new baby cradle her, witness the evidence of her new life.

He wanted to leave but he couldn’t.

Sense or realisation finally caught up with Dave and he forced his overly-eager wife away.

“I’ll be over there,” he mumbled breathlessly, clearly affected by his enthusiastic kiss. “I’m watching you, Hogwash.”

Broof wished he could think of something witty to say in retort, but only a slightly terrified noise escaped his lips. He kicked himself that he would probably think of the perfect cutting insult a few hours later when it meant nothing.

“Was that necessary?” he asked when once again alone with Claudia.

“No, but I hope it made the point – we’re never going to get back together.”

He snorted. “Good.”

She shook her head, but instead of her usual pout, she simply looked sad. “I’m happy with Dave and I’m thriving, meanwhile you are constantly nipping at me, digging up skeletons and for what? Does hating me help you move on, Broof?”

“Or does it give you a reason not to?”

Broof swallowed back the huge lump in his throat, stumped for the second time in as many minutes for something to say. It was rare that Claudia offered any great insight and this was no exception. Claudia, like the others, thought he was still hung up on the passing of their little girl and Claudia, like the others could not know the truth.

With a dozen sets of watching eyes and the threat of being sent skywards on the wave of Dave’s power, there really was only one thing to say.

“Congratulations, Claudia.”

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11 responses to “Chapter 3.28 – Hard-Earned Hat”

  1. Jessica in the forest! Oh my potato she actually went there. Good on you not to want to burn any wildlife, Jess, but as it is your fire is dangerously close to your very flammable tent. Aw, there she is, worried about her pregnancy and the silent forest boring her to death and all I can think of is Bob’s last name also being Spoon. Are these two related? Does Bob know that she has living relatives? Would she care? Does that make Jessica a person with magic abilities, seeing how Bob was High Priestess? Is that why she’s hearing things and seeing things? How many questions does that make – right, I’ll park that train of thought right there.

    Awww they get their hats when they’re deemed old enough to be proper spellcasters? Oof and it took Wyatt 76 years to get there. That must have been quite the eternity for someone with the mind of a teenager.
    Type: needs help. That sounds suspiciously similar to Melinda’s type, seeing how drawn she is to help everyone who is hurting. I wonder how many exes Broof has. Oooffff one night of pity led to marriage with Claudia? Ouch. Wyatt. Ow. Occasional zingers between friends is one thing but my gods, sometimes the stuff that comes out of his mouth is painful. Or maybe I just have thin skin.

    I love how every kid in your universe despises Max Villareal 😂 Joy had a bone to pick with him too, didn’t she? YAY! Moon is back! Yes, go talk to Moon later Broof 🤩 Anyone but Claudia is a bit harsh, isn’t it? It’s your ex-wife, not a demon. We’ve been hearing nothing but bad things about Claudia but so far it’s all come from Broof’s mouth and he’s not exactly an unbiased…


    Wow.

    Okay. What I just said? I take all of that back. Aaalllll of it. Oh, you insensitive, inappropriate, two-faced viper. And she just had to do that with her new toy right in front of Broof. Oh my gods I’m so angry. Never getting back together? You’re the one that barged in with how happy you were to see him, you white, wilted lettuce.
    Calm. I’m calm. Caaaaalm. 😆

    • Burning the tent might be the last of her worries. I mean… oh bugger it, you know what I mean. 😆 Lots of questions! I can answer one because it’s on the already shared family tree: yes, they are related, but distantly.

      Yes, they get hats when they are ‘grown-ups’. “That sounds suspiciously similar to Melinda’s type” does it now? 😏 Broof doesn’t have a lot of exes but you probably won’t hear much about any more of them. They all went a similar way to Claudia, though: he wanted to help and when they were strong enough to fly, they flew. Hey, y’know, sometimes truth is harsh.

      They all hate Max yes, it is one thing that unites children both magical and non-magical. Joy is no exception, no; remember that, might soon be important. 😁
      Oh, not a Claudia fan? Wilted lettuce 😭. Yeah, you sound calm. Totally calm.

  2. Huh. So Jess did go to the woods. Well, I sure hope it’s as safe there as it seems. I’m still a bit hazy on how far places are from one another and thus who could still show up… so i just have too root for Jess. That thing with her voices is definitely strange though. If she feels like she belongs there, maybe she IS part occult herself, somehow. Yimi is right pointing out the names, though Kathryn’s names still confuse me… which one was her *birth* name, who knows? Not me.

    As for the witches… oof. Wyatt seems to have a point, but he’s being kind of nasty. I wouldn’t have been mad if Broof threw that one comment about “his daughter” back in his face. I mean, since when does Wy admit to having a daughter, huh?

    Anyway, the more we see of Broof the more confused I am by the way Lilith treats him. Unless its the dark magic thing. Because other than that, I can’t tell what her problem is. If anything, Broof seems to be on the pushover side of things.

    *grins* Who’s Leo? That one seems cool! 😀

    Unlike Claudia. And hold on a minute, there. What is that with the firestarter thingy? So there’s witches who… don’t even know what they are? How does that work? Does magic crop up on its own just as easily as it can disappear in a witch family?
    Either way… Claudia is… how old IS she, in mortal terms? She’s acting like a teen still… at best. It doesn’t even feel to me like she was that nasty on purpose, more like she genuinely has no idea what she looks like form the outside. Like she can’t even relate – if I were to guess her traits, I’d start with Self-Absorbed for sure. Hah, and I feel sorry for Dave. Maybe he and Broof will be buddies one day, once Dave figures out Claudia is cheating on him. XD Speaking of… in the terms of a magical duel, would it be considered poor form for a guy to challenge a woman? He shouldn’t have an advantage there, right? (As in, if Dave wanted to duel Claudia for example. Would that be something that shouldn’t be done? That is, when she isn’t pregnant of course.)

    • Forgotten Hollow is a few miles from Glimmerbrook, which is a few more miles from Windenburg. I know this means nothing. I’ll draw a map one day. Today is not that day. But hey, with the powers of misting and transportalate, anyone could show up, in theory. Not that anyone will. Ahem. “feels like she belongs there” oooh maybe she does. Maybe she might be very welcome there.
      Kathryn Galloway is her married name, that she keeps for… reasons. She was born Spoon. She’ll get round to explaining it, I’m sure, when she’s back from wherever she’s vanished to. She’s slippery, that one.

      Oof yeah, Wyatt’s hardly father of the year, is he? Yeah, Lilith is being kind of a cow. Maybe it is the dark magic she can sense. Maybe his aftershave has notes of garlic. Maybe she just doesn’t like beards.

      Leo was donated by Mona. He’s supervisor of the mini witches. He is pretty cool, even if he does have a tendency to remove his shirt when I’m not looking, is somewhat calamitous and absolutely terrible at potions. 😆

      Aha, so you are the solitary visitor! And here I thought it was super obvious this time. Witchery can skip generations and it can wilt or bloom in families with no (known) history of magic, but it’s rare. Claudia is about Broof’s age, so mid-thirties in mortal equivalent. And yes, she’s self-absorbed along with childish, so generally not paying attention to people around her. Hee hee, she might not currently be cheating on Dave, but she has form. But who would cheat on Dave, right? Look at the man! Check out that moustache! And that CHIN. HOT. 😆😭 A man could certainly challenge a woman; power isn’t based on sex. Duelling a pregnant woman would be rather frowned upon though – those landings are hard.

      • Ah. Yeah, the occults do travel fast… when they want to. But then, who would go there on purpose, huh? It was more of a question of who may just wander into the scene… but now I’m even more suspicious than before. p:
        I see! Heheh, well, I’m sure she has more reasons than that, but Galloway definitely sounds better than Spoon at least. Also, Spoon seems to have a bit of a reputation, so leaving that behind might be an extra bonus. (Every time I see that name, though, I have to think of this one guy who used to play a super creepy character… ever heard of Mark Calloway?)

        Heh. I mean, I don’t really blame Wy… he’s sort of a teen father, isn’t he. Gotta be rough. Still, maybe thinking a bit before being cheeky to his best buddy wouldn’t hurt for starters. XD

        *laughs* Oh, that does sound like a bit dangerous combination. I hope he keeps well away from cauldrons at least. XD And that he especially keeps kids well away from cauldrons.

        …I mean, I wouldn’t cheat on Dave, I give you. Mostly because I wouldn’t touch that guy with a ten foot pole. But I digress. X´DD It’s more that I did notice Claudia didn’t exactly seem convincing when Broof asked her if the baby was even Dave’s. Then again I suppose she may have pulled a Sandy. Not much better, but somewhat, I guess. P:

        • “…I mean, I wouldn’t cheat on Dave, I give you. Mostly because I wouldn’t touch that guy with a ten foot pole.” This made me laugh so damn hard. Poor Dave! He was probably one random roll from being a real stunner as well 😆

          • *giggles* Glad it did! But you know what? He probably was pretty close to coming out surprisingly well. Shame the random gods decided to really mess with him at the last second. XD

  3. I had to reread it. I thought maybe I missed something but nop, Claudia’s last question to Broof is not sincere at all. And cruel. And manipulative. Maybe she was trying to get back at Broof for (justifiably) being a ‘dickhead’. But wow, if Broof thinks he did a low blow, Claudia more than one upped him.

    But you know, maybe the benefit of the doubt could be given here. Maybe she really was planning to have a civil conversation before Broof totally chewed her head off.

    Broof likes women who need help? . . . . . . Okay. I hope that’s not the main quality to find women attractive. Otherwise.. Broof you need therapy my poor guy. Or maybe im just thinking about the worst case scenario and its not that bad. Benefit of the doubt! Benefit of the doubt! 🤐

    • I don’t know if you missed anything. Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. I’m guessing you did, as did most people, oddly. I’m talking riddles. “Maybe she really was planning to have a civil conversation before Broof totally chewed her head off.” Maybe she was. We will never know. And yeah, they probably all need therapy, let’s be honest. Broof wants to be the knight in shining armour. Shame he’s shit at it.

  4. Did you just make me love Broof even more in a single chapter? Eff you, Dave! And you too, Claudia! I don’t know all of Broof’s secrets but I know he is precious and must be protected at all costs.

    (oh no, he’s a monster, isn’t he? I have a soft spot for monsters)

    I also love Wyatt. Now, hear me out. Perhaps he is an immature idiot who spends a lot of time in his room with…tissues and whining to his mom but he is…he’s…I…

    Wait, how was I defending him again? I don’t know. I was just proud that he finally got his hat.

    You really managed to make the witches in this story feel like a whole community with traditions and lore and a core set of beliefs. Usually, I feel like its the vampires that come more developed (Vampires is a way better pack than Realm of Magic), but I love the way you’ve flipped it.

    Blilith forever.

    • Ooh, I don’t know, did I? And yes, you certainly do seem to have a soft spot for monsters but I can neither confirm nor deny if that label applies to Mr. Hogwash.

      HE FINALLY GOT HIS HAT. Forty years later than everyone else, but way earlier than he’d expected thanks to a totally non sus u-turn from HP. Hurrah!

      RoM did not fit my idea of witches at all so I’m working on a combo of Sims 2 witches and my own beliefs and trying to make it fit. It’ll fit, damn it. 😆

      Blilith! Oh dear hell that combo name just gets worse.

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