“Sod it, we’ll have to call a press conference.”
“When the political establishment is crumbling?”
“We missed our chance back before the referendum; we didn’t say anything then out of fear we’d be in more headlines than immigrants. There won’t ever be a better time, so we may as well do it now.”
“Fine. Let’s write the draft statement after a cuppa.”
“Do you have any rich teas?”
“Yeah, in the tin.”
“These are all soft.”
“There’s a pack of bourbons in the cupboard.”
Water dripped down the statue’s nose, changing the noble marble visage into something more like Clarisse after her latest ‘forever love’ dumped her – snotty and misshapen. The thought made Fiona smirk, her face hidden from Clarisse by the umbrella.
“How much longer will we have to wait?” Their cameraman, Jake, grumbled. He stamped his feet and looked longingly over at the covered break area, currently overpopulated with damp smokers.
“Any minute now,” Clarisse said serenely, the weather not seeming to touch her. Fiona smoothed her expression before raising her umbrella to a polite height to talk.
“The announcement, whatever it is, was set for half an hour ago,” she said. “Either they’re not going to go through with it or something’s held them up.”
“We could be ready to go in thirty seconds,” Jake suggested hopefully. “I could be back here in five if –”
“No!” Both women shot back. They looked at each other before turning back to the podium, as empty as it had been for the better part of an hour.
Jake’s next attempt at escape was thwarted as the podium was suddenly occupied by two middle-aged women, as stereotypical of the aged spinster as it was possible to be. Fiona idly wondered why they hadn’t even bothered to announce themselves, when it abruptly occurred to her that she’d been staring sightlessly at the podium and hadn’t noted any movement whatsoever; they had literally appeared where they stood.
“Some kind of cloaking technology?” She wondered under her breath. That didn’t make any sense, though; this was supposed to be a cultural interest piece, not scientific. Not that the nerds over in Technology wouldn’t salivate all over the video if that’s what it turned out to be.
The scrolling feed made Fiona dizzy to watch, so she turned away from the screen and headed for the kitchen. She’d drunk so much tea in the last few hours she ought to be sloshing, but there didn’t seem to be anything remotely alcoholic in the office. The stunned silence following the announcement that witches were real and living among us had faded into awkward rustling and expectant waiting.
Everyone had fully believed there was going to be some kind of banner falling, saying ‘just kidding!’, but nothing had materialised. As the waiting stretched out, one of the women at the podium – not the one who had made the statement – had adjusted her glasses nervously and asked if there were any questions.
That had prompted a flood, all sceptical, and –
Fiona had to gulp down the rest of her cold mug to keep from remembering. There was simply no way it wasn’t either an elaborate hoax or a terrible nightmare, and she was late for work. That must be it.
“Hey, Fiona,” came a hesitant voice from the door. “I heard you weren’t taking the news too well.”
“There’s no vodka in the office,” she said by way of reply. “I’d be taking it better if there were.”
The newcomer, Steve, watched her warily, as though she was a wild animal ready to pounce. Fiona didn’t see what he was so worried about – she wasn’t raging, or drunk. She wasn’t even staring at nothing.
“Would you mind putting the spoon down?” He asked, and Fiona blinked at the odd request before her gaze fell to where she was holding out a teaspoon handle-first, as though she meant to run him through with it. Whoops.
The enormous pile of barely-bound paper was waiting to be read, looking innocuous despite its mass. Fiona tried not to see it; tried to avoid remembering what was written on all that paper, but over the last few weeks she had been forced to think about it, all too often.
“It’ll all be over soon,” Clarisse said in an attempt to soothe. “It’s not like they’re reading out the whole thing.” Jake nodded encouragement, though he eyed her doubtfully. He hadn’t spoken two words to her he didn’t have to since the announcement.
Steve smiled across the pack, his height allowing him to spot her despite the crowd. She felt numb, wondering if an axe was about to fall on her neck. The two women from the very first press conference – that rain-soaked day everyone had started calling Hexday – were casting their gazes across the waiting journalists, eyes landing on Fiona every second sweep.
The tiny white-gold pentagram beneath her jacket felt uncomfortably warm, her nervous sweat having slicked it ‘til it moved with every breath she took. Feeling sick, she turned to try and avoid the press of people, making it three strides into clear ground, when a pair of booted feet blocked her path.
Steve tilted her chin up until she met his eyes.
“This doesn’t mean the sky will fall down on you,” he said kindly. He’d relaxed around her after the Spoon Incident, though she couldn’t work out why.
“They know me,” she got out in a stutter.
“They had a reason for doing this,” he retorted. “They know lots of people like you. And even more like me.”