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Spellcaster

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Winning the show means living forever. It is the golden ticket to fame, fortune, and a place among the vampire elite.

Being remade isn’t on my wish list. I like being me, and with nearly a million online followers, it’s working. My parents and big sister are the do-gooders in our family who want to make the world a fair and just place for all humans and paranormal creatures. I just want to finish high school and keep doing what I do best—sharing hair and beauty tips while discussing Spellcaster and how the show’s vampire judge Malachi Rayne is the hottest male on the planet.

Then, life as I know it ends. There are evil forces who will stop at nothing to maintain world dominance—indefinitely.

It’s hard to care when I’ve become dead inside and out.

After my family is violently attacked, the host of Spellcaster insists I audition for Season 13. For the first time in the show’s history, they want to represent every species of paranormals. That’s me now. Not human. Not vampire. Not the class of creature anyone EVER cheers for.

This season’s prize is power beyond anyone’s imagination. It is the kind of reward that contestants and their sponsors would kill to possess.

Let the other contestants and judges underestimate me. They can gossip all they want about the hotshot wizard and the intimidating werewolf behaving as though I’m another prize to be won. And if Coach Malachi can’t handle a bold influencer with abilities, then he can suck it. I preferred watching him from the other side of the screen. He’s about to discover that Haylee Hutchins is a force to be reckoned with. The whole world will.

Someone thought they could silence my family for good. Instead, they created a monster. I’m still here, and I am much harder to kill.

This is where I take my last stand, atop the acclaimed Spellcaster stage.

Purple lights rim the circular platform and outline the large pentagram filling the center. The glow spreads outward, illuminating the edges of wide stairs leading to the four purple velvet high-backed chairs. The auditorium is empty except for the vampires surrounding the stage and their master. He leans forward in one of the chairs, his tailored suit and Italian leather shoes as black as his soul. He’s selected a front-row view for my execution. To add insult to injury—with which I am riddled—his Evilness has hijacked Malachi Rayne’s chair. It’s going to need reupholstering. Scratch that. They’re going to have to burn it to ash and then replace it altogether.

Without the cheering audience, camera crew, stagehands, band, Colt Cohen, and coaches, the auditorium feels like a mausoleum at midnight. I suppose this is to be my final resting place.

Blood and bone matter spatter the glossy stage. Dim overhead lights gleam against the reflective surface where I stand in rhinestone-studded black ankle boots, crimson crushed-velvet high-rise pants, a black eyelet camisole, and a cropped moto jacket. At least I’ll go out in style. Sorta. One of my gold-tone dangle earrings has been shot off, along with my earlobe. The outfit I so carefully put together is in tatters. Some of the bullets clipped me while others tore straight through my body as though I were a piñata dripping guts. If I were still human, I’d already be dead. This is just a warm-up for the goons. The rehearsal before the big production. In addition to their guns, the master’s lackeys hold weapons that can end me for good: a semiautomatic assault rifle, chainsaw, flamethrower, katana, spiked baseball bat, and a good old-fashioned wood-splitting ax. Maybe I should feel flattered to have become such a stellar threat that they had to bring in a whole arsenal to take me down, along with the master himself to oversee it. He was a no-show for my family, but I’ve got his undivided attention now.

“Not feeling so superior now, are you?” His diabolical voice burns through me.

I’m sure he’s feeling smug in the knowledge that if the situation were reversed, he would be able to self-heal.

I touch the delicate gold disc pendant hanging at my neck, engraved with the letter H. It feels like a shiny penny I’m about to make a wish on before tossing it into a fountain of forgotten dreams. I’ve worn this necklace during the best and worst moments of my life. I can’t decide if it’s good luck or bad. I guess it’s all just life, which is beautiful, ugly, and endlessly unfair.

I don’t answer to this monster. He’s not my master. No one is. Somehow that makes me grin through the pain.

Manicured nails press into the velvet armrests, gripping the edges. Yep, Malachi is definitely going to need that chair burned to cinder. Not that he’ll know it needs replacing.

There is no one coming to rescue me. I have no wand to save myself. But I do have one last trick up my sleeve. The final performance of Haylee Hutchins.

No one will ever see it, but it’s better this way. I don’t want to be remembered for what I’m about to do.

It’s highly unlikely I’ll make it as far as the purple velvet chairs, but at least I will be numb to the carnage. Popular opinion has it all wrong. I’m not some rag doll who feels no pain. The gunshot wounds burn and throb like bullet-sized horseflies took chunks out of my flesh while a swarm of wasps stung me repeatedly with venom. Even my high tolerance for physical suffering isn’t enough to entirely shield me against this level of brutality. I’m still standing, but everything inside of me is on fire. I feel like I’m about to go up in smoke.

The stage might as well be an iceberg with killer whales closing in from the dark shadows of the ground-floor seating. My stomach knots at the sight of their crude weapons.

I didn’t sign up for this.

I like glamor and glitz, not anguish and gore.

I want to break free of this nightmare spell—some sick prank a caster is playing on me. To go back in time. I want to wake up on Christmas morning and join my family downstairs in our living room decorated with garlands, multicolored string lights, and a fragrant noble fir tree with pretty packages waiting to be opened. I want to gorge on empty calories: maple-glazed donuts, blueberry pancakes, cupcakes with buttercream frosting, chewy chocolate chip cookies, creamy peanut butter cups, key lime pie atop a gram cracker crust, waffle fries, and pizza—especially pizza.

Even if I had my wand, there is no going back.

I aim a haughty gaze at the master vampire in Malachi’s chair as I slip off my jacket. It plops to the stage, revealing my bloody arms. Above my inner elbow, my wild card tattoo is still intact.

Yep, I literally have a trick up my sleeve. I get one spell. One chance. That is all. I press two fingers into the tattoo with a mixture of confidence and horror. And then I open my mouth, daring to be the first spellcaster in the history of magic to launch this spell.

There is no going back.

Someone ought to chisel that onto my gravestone. Not that they’ll give me one. My kind aren’t welcome in cemeteries.

Well, this is it.

In five. Four. Three. Two…

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