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by Paul DesCombaz
“So that’s it?” Marcy asked. “That’s the only spell you ever pulled off?”
With laser focus, her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Deg scratched at his ear as though he might discover gold bullion buried behind the lobe.
“Yeah, more or less,” he said, grinning and shaking his tawny mop of hair. “Here.” He tipped the box of candy into Marcy’s palm and a single black brick tumbled out. “One bottomless box of licorice. The perfect spell.”
Squishing the hardish rectangle between her fingers, Marcy frowned. “You only made the black kind?”
Deg swiped the semi-flattened candy back from her and popped it into his mouth. “Hey, those happen to be my favorite,” he said.
Marcy noted that he chewed with his mouth wide open.
The two of them sat on the edge of Marcy's bed, listening to Deg's lips smack, staring at anything but each other for what seemed like six eternities.
The thin rain pattering against the bedroom window tapped like bored fingers on a snare drum.
Thankfully, before the awkward silence could pass into the dimension of the unbearable, Deg coughed into his fist and asked, “So how about you, big shot? What’s your conjuring masterpiece?”
Fidgeting with a chipped button on her sweater, Marcy forced herself to make eye-contact with Deg. Just as quickly, she broke it and said, “I transformed an animal into a person.”
Deg’s face brightened. “No way.”
Marcy didn’t blame him. Transformation spells were pretty impressive. “Yup,” she mumbled.
“Wow, that’s amazing. How many times have you managed that?” Deg tossed a piece of licorice into the air and caught it in his mouth, a variation on a trick Marcy had seen him do many times before.
“Um.” Jumping up, Marcy crossed the length of her bedroom in three quick strides, her heart pumping with nervous energy. “Just once.”
“Just once? Why just once? I mean, if I could do that...”
“It’s complicated.” Marcy said. The words shot out of her mouth like a car backfiring. She dropped down in her creaky desk chair and swatted at the tangle of curls hanging in her face.
She leaned forward, planting her elbows on her sunburned knees. “Anyway, the reason I asked you to come here today is because I have to tell you something. About us, and about that spell.”
“So what was it?”
“What kind of animal did you transform? A fish? A giraffe? A capybara? what?”
“A dog,” Marcy said. “A mutt. So, here's the deal—”
“A dog? That’s awesome.” Deg pulled at the front of his t-shirt. He wiped his forehead with his shirt. “What do you guys keep your temp at, like a million degrees? It’s boiling in here.” He slid off his shoes.
“The thing is,” Marcy said, “the spell was temporary.” Not unlike this relationship, she thought.
Deg let the box of licorice fall to the floor and ran his tongue along his teeth. It was not lost on Marcy that his incisors had become much pointier in the last minute or so.
“I feel really weird,” Deg said.
Marcy walked over to the bed, reached behind Deg, and cracked open the window. A breeze eased into the room, bringing with it the smell of fresh rain and the earthy, cocoa scent of roasting coffee beans from the cafe up the block.
“Deg, we have to break up. I mean, we need to break up, like right now,” Marcy said.
“What? What are you talking about? Why?” Deg pulled at the collar of his t-shirt. His neck pulsed and bubbled as it began to stretch. His flesh rippled like a deflating bouncy castle. Blue-green veins snaked below the surface of his skin as his biology rebooted. “I think I might need an ambulance,” he said.
“You don’t,” Marcy assured him.
Time was definitely becoming an issue. She rushed through her prepared speech. “We need to break up because, see, I found a stray dog at the park and I took him home.” She swallowed hard. “And I named him ‘Deg’.”
Deg flopped over on his side. He looked deflated. “Oh,” he said. Marcy couldn’t help thinking his shifting body resembled a collapsed accordion. “Oh,” he repeated.
Marcy picked up the box of licorice from the floor and stared into the empty box, but when she shook it into her hand, a piece of the nasty black licorice rolled onto her palm.
She sat down next to Deg and patted his knee. It was still sort of a knee, though much more angular and rigid and skinny. Like a chair leg, she thought. Did dogs even have knees?
“So I...we...this is weird.” Deg’s whole body convulsed. “I don’t want to break up.”
“Does it hurt?” Marcy asked.
The space around him crackled with electricity. A dual stench of ozone and sulfur filled the room. “No, not exactly,” Deg said. “I mean, it’s not entirely pleasant or anything. It tingles, like my whole body fell asleep.” He grabbed Marcy’s wrist. “Can’t you—?”
Marcy pulled her wrist away. “It was a one-time sort of a spell,” she said under her breath, anticipating his question.
Deg’s human ears sucked back into the side of his head. At the same time two floppy mud flaps emerged from the top of his skull and draped past his cheeks.
“Will I remember any of this?” he asked. “My time as a human? Learning how to do magic?” He fixed her with confused, changing eyes. “Hanging out with you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe,” Marcy said. No chance, she thought.
A long, whip-like tail shot out the back of Deg’s pants. He looked over his shoulder and sighed. Then he began to wag the tail back and forth. “You’re not going to drop me off at the pound or anything like that, are you?”
“God, no,” Marcy said, genuinely shocked at the notion. “You’re staying here with me. I'm not that cruel.”
“Oh, Okay. I guess that’s good,” Deg said, squinting at her. He began to pant. “I’m kind of scared.” He looked nothing like a teenage boy anymore.
“You’re almost done.” Marcy reached out to pet his head, then thought better of it. He still had a bit of human left in him. You didn’t pet humans.
“You know what?” Deg asked.
“I hope I don’t remember any of it.” he said, “Dogs don’t really need to know that kind of junk.” A fine coat of spotted tan fur covered most of his face. His nose and mouth conjoined and sprouted outward until his snout was as long as a bottle of soda.
“No, I guess they don’t.” Marcy said. Then, “Deg?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess I didn’t really think any of this through. The whole thing was an extremely bad idea.” But Deg couldn’t answer her, because he was a dog again.
Marcy held out her palm with the licorice.
Deg sniffed the candy, and chomped it down without so much as a single chew. He looked up at Marcy with wet, olive eyes. Ears perked, tongue lolling, he thumped his tail against the carpet, waiting for another piece.
Marcy scratched him behind the same ear he had been having trouble with earlier.
“You like licorice, huh boy?”
The dog cocked his head to the side.
She shook the magic box. “Plenty more where that came from.”
Paul DesCombaz lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with his wife and two active dogs. When he’s not watching 70’s British horror films or searching through used vinyl bins, he makes up stories.