Published by: Hyperion, 1992

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Copyright © Marilyn Singer 1992

California Demon

(excerpt from Chapter One)

Exactly one week before Christmas, at 1:45 on an afternoon as cold and snowy as only a December afternoon in Vermont can be, Rosie Rivera sat tied to a chair in the basement of her mother’s magic shop, listening to the sounds of bumping and crashing on the floor above.

If only, she thought miserably.  Are there any crummier words in the English language?  If only.  If only I were beautiful.  If only Johnny Haines liked me.  if only I hadn’t tried to make a love potion to get Johnny Haines to like me.  And, especially, if only I hadn’t opened the wrong bottle by mistake and let out that nasty little imp who’s upstairs wreaking heaven knows what havoc.

Rosie signed, then frowned.  it’s Lydia’s fault, really.  if only she’d taught me how to make a proper love potion in the first place, everything would have been fine.  But Lydia won’t teach me a thing.  She doesn’t want me to learn magic.  Heck, she doesn’t even want to practice magic herself.  Real magic, that is–not those silly games and party tricks she demonstrates and sell upstairs.  I mean, honestly, what good is having a witch for a mother if she doesn’t want to be one?

The ceiling rattled above her head.  Lydia’s going to kill me when she gets back.  Rosie sighed again, more mournfully than before.  Then the sigh turned to a shudder.  If that creature doesn’t kill me first, she thought, and she opened her mouth to scream for help, but all that came out was a goose’s honk–and a feeble one at that.  For her second attempt she mooed like a cow.  No wonder the imp hadn’t bothered to gag her.  It obviously found the idea of Rosie sounding like a barnyard far more amusing.

Rosie pursed her lips.  Okay, Rivera, she told herself, one thing Lydia did teach you is to look at the bright side of things.  Maybe the imp will get bored and go back in its bottle.  A bone-jarring thump and the shatter of glass told her this hadn’t happened yet.  She winced, but bravely persisted.  And when it gets bored and goes back in its bottle, a customer will come and find me before Lydia does.  Then I’ll straighten up the mess and she’ll never know what happened.

Bang! Smash! Rosie winced again and had to admit it was hopeless.  Face it, girl.  That bottle was dated 1928.  If you’d been stuck in a bottle over sixty eyars, would you want to go back inside?  Furthermore, there hasn’t been a customer all day–which, as if things aren’t bad enough, will really drive Lydia crazy, it being nearly Christmas and she’s been threatening to close the store if business doesn’t pick up–and I can’t imagine anyone will come in now, with what’s going on up there.  Thud! Splat!

Oh no, Rosie moaned, and she strained hard against the thin cords the imp had wrapped around her until, exhausted, she fell back in her seat.

Suddenly, all the hideous noise ceased.  A moment later, cutting through the silence, came the clear, sweet ring of the door chimes.  A customer, Rosie exalted.  At last.