A while back, I was given a book of writing prompts and decided I’d try to use a new one each week. Sadly, I didn’t get too many written, but it was a great challenge.

The prompts included a story title and a list of words to use. I shared this story here back in 2020, but I thought it might be fun to revise it and post it again. It’s silly and kind of fun, and I hope you enjoy it!

Title: A Strange Request in a Piano Bar

Words: carnival, sprained, mask, oxidation, awkward, apple, juvenile, controversy, twirl, sassafras

Sitting in the corner, trying to hide in the shadows, I watched him. He was handsome, a little awkward as he sipped a cola and tapped his fingers in time to the music. But he’d do nicely.

This hotel piano bar was one of the best places to find what I needed. People were always coming in and out of town, rarely staying more than a couple of days. And on any given Sunday night, this watering hole was full of the lonely, desperate souls looking for any form of attention and anyone resembling a friend.

He glanced around, looking at every face, perhaps trying to determine who he might approach for a little anonymous fun. Poor dear. Smooth skin, fidgety, he couldn’t have been more than 21, if he was even that old. Recklessness emanated from him in waves, giving off the stench of a juvenile delinquent. I tapped a finger against my chin. Was it worth the trouble he would undoubtedly give me?

I leaned forward just enough for the light to hit my eyes and his head whipped around in my direction, his aura glowing as he offered me a shy smile. Oh yes, he would be worth every ounce of headache that came with him.

Melting into the dark, I waited. He’d come to me – they always did. These children who had no idea what they were getting themselves into, thinking their stones were bigger than any who had come before them. I loved being the one to teach them a lesson. And if I made a little money along the way, so be it.

“Ahem.” The voice startled me out of my thoughts, and I was surprised to see the bartender standing in front of me, brandishing a tall glass full of dark liquid. “This is from the…gentleman…at the bar.”

I peered around him and the young man lifted his own glass in salute with a waggle of his eyebrows. Ugh. Disgusting. But I accepted the drink and raised it, winking as I took a sip.

“Jesus, what the hell is this?” I spluttered.

The bartender snorted. “That, dear lady, is a bona fide sassafras root beer.” He glanced over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes at me, wagging a finger. “Don’t be too rough with him. He’s young and stupid and naïve. Actually, you should just let this one go.”

“Fat chance,” I murmured. Glaring at the bartender, I waved him away, watching the young man approach. He rubbed his hands on his slacks, steps unsure as he drew closer. “Hello.” My voice was smooth as glass and full of promise. “I’m Delphine – won’t you join me?”

The smile that lit up his face was darling and I had a moment’s pause about what I was about to do. My life had seen its fair share of controversy, and many would call me a witch or a whore or just a criminal. Growing up, my entire family lived this way. Luring in unsuspecting men and women with a coy look and the whisper of potential – for love, or sex, at the very least – just to enchant them into giving up anything we wanted. Sometimes it was cash or a vehicle, other times it was information and their deepest, darkest secrets. It was power, and it was how we survived. But we never devastated anyone, left him or her destitute or in danger. We weren’t monsters.

“I’m Jim.” He took my hand eagerly and pressed his lips to it. “I saw you over here and I swear on all that’s holy that I’ve never seen anything as wondrous. Do you believe in fate, Delphine?”

I raised an eyebrow. Very interesting. He was already enamored of me without a drop of magic being used. Perhaps this would be easier than I anticipated. As I fully took in his features – the blond curls, plush, soft lips, caramel colored eyes – I realized I would enjoy this much more than usual.

“I do indeed believe in fate, Jim.” I patted the seat next to me and twisted just enough to accentuate my curves. “I see no other reason we would have both turned up at this dingy piano bar on this very night, unless the stars were aligned in my favor. Thank you so much for the drink. It was quite unusual but very refreshing. Sassafras, is it?”

He scooted closer to me and picked up the glass, holding it to the light. “Oh, yes. Truly a magnificent plant, you know, and delicious to boot! Now, I know what you’re thinking.” He held up his hands. “Wasn’t this stuff banned way back in 1979? It was, but don’t you worry a bit; you see, the safrole is the only thing that was potentially dangerous and this root beer contains a specific oxidation of the bark that is absolutely safrole-free. We are safe to consume as much of the stuff as we want!”

“Aren’t we the lucky ones.” I tried really hard not to roll my eyes. He handed the glass back to me and raised his own, clinking them against one another. Taking an enormous glug of his drink, he seemed surprised when I only sipped at mine.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Don’t you like it? I should have asked before sending it over.” Jim raked his hands through his hair and frowned. “I’m so stupid, always doing things like this. Not everyone likes this kind of drink. You’re so beautiful and sophisticated I should have ordered you something much classier, like a martini or a glass of champagne. I’m really, really sorry.”

He looked so distraught I was afraid I’d lose him before I’d even had a chance to begin. Laying a hand on his knee, I tried to reassure him. “Oh that’s not it at all, I adore sassafras! See?” I choked down a big swig of the garbage but he still looked unsure. Steeling my resolve, I downed the rest of it in one swallow. It gurgled in my stomach and threatened to come right back up. But that brilliant light was back in his doe eyes, so perhaps it would be worth it.

“Oh, Delphine, I’m so glad you like it!” Looking at my hand on his knee, his cheeks blazed pink. But he didn’t try to remove my hand. Instead, he wriggled his chair even closer and threw his arm across the back of my seat, leaning in close. “Did you know that the sassafras plant has been used for centuries by many diverse cultures?”

His breath was warm on my cheek and although the topic of plant usage through time sounded boring enough to almost make me abandon this mark, I found myself being drawn toward him. “You don’t say? That sounds fascinating. I’d love to hear more about it.” What the hell? Did I actually say that?

Tilting his head and narrowing his eyes, his smile grew broader. “You know, I think I’ll wait a little bit longer to share that information.” Glancing around he lowered his voice and trailed his fingertips along the bare skin of my arm. “How’d you like to get out of here?”

Now he was speaking my language. “What did you have in mind, Jim?”

He sat back and slapped his hands together. “Hoo, boy, have I got just the thing! Across the street, there’s a little traveling carnival that comes through here every few years.”

“A – a carnival?”

“Oh, yeah! I’ve never been to one, my parents wouldn’t allow it when I was growing up. But I’ve always wanted to go. The rides, the food, the games – it seems like so much fun! And I would like nothing more than to win you a prize, Miss Delphine.”

I frowned. What the hell was this nonsense? Throughout my long life there had been many men that asked me to do many odd and degrading things. But a carnival? My initial assessment of this mark had been that he was adorable and young and taking him to bed to get what I wanted would be a distinct pleasure. Had I been wrong about him? I shook my head; I was never wrong.

“That sounds wonderful! Are there any games you think you’ll be particularly good at that you’d like to start with? Perhaps the milkcan toss or climbing the rope ladder? I was always a fan of the ones where you shoot water at a target to win a horse race.”

Jim threw his head back and guffawed loud enough to make all the other patrons shoot annoyed looks our way. “Gosh, no, Delphine! When I called it a carnival, that wasn’t really the right word. It’s more of a medieval fair than what you’d strictly consider a carnival. Oh no, these games are a bit different – and require a bit more skill than luck. There is one that I’m most excited to try out, if you’re up for it.”

A medieval fair? Well, shit. When I said I’d been doing this for a number of years, the number is much higher than one might expect. I look to be in my late twenties – early thirties at the very most. But the truth is that I remember the first medieval fairs of the world, the ones that involved true knights and deadly feats of strength and prowess. Those were also the days when many of my loved ones were lost to the fear and ignorance regarding witches. While there were those who had sold their souls and their bodies to satan, Delphine and her kind were more closely related to Wiccans. The difference was that they used their affinity for nature to punish the evil and stupid men and women who deserved a little retribution.

“Oh honey, I’m up for just about anything,” I told him. “You only need ask.”

Now his cheeks started to burn a darker pink, and he cleared his throat. “Okay, but it’s going to sound like a strange request…” He took a deep breath. “You’ve heard of William Tell, right? There’s a booth that lets you shoot an apple off your partner’s head with a bow and arrow, and I’ve been dying to try it! I know I’d be good at it if I just had the chance! But so far, I haven’t been able to convince anyone to come with me. How about it, Delphine? Will you be my mark?”

Before I even truly registered what he’d said, I was nodding my head and laying my hand on his cheek. Wait – did he say mark? There was a pinprick of concern at the back of my mind, but it was quickly overshadowed by something else, something lighter and joyful and accepting of anything he said.

“Oh Jim, I’d be delighted!” I threw my arms around his neck and pressed my cheek against his. Wow, he smelled good. My fingers found their way into his curls, and having him in my arms lit a fire in my belly that I hadn’t felt in…well, in centuries.

He stood, bringing my hand to his lips yet again as we made our way to the door. I was enthralled with the shift of his shoulders and the way the light played across his smooth skin and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I had a vague understanding that we were going to do something dangerous but somehow I knew in my bones it would be okay if I was with Jim.

The lights of the carnival flashed and glowed as we approached hand in hand and I honestly felt giddy. Giddy. He wasn’t lying about this being a medieval setting. There were wenches and knights, jesters, lords and ladies. A small group was gathered around a booth where they were throwing axes at a target. Badly, but they were having fun. There were stands selling everything from chainmail to swords to trinkets, and the people milling about were eating it up.

“Oh, there!” I pulled Jim’s hand and tried to drag him to the line of archers I spotted on the edge of a lighted field. The workers were dressed as Robin Hood’s merry men, but the patrons wore shorts and sundresses. Smiling, they rubbed the skin on the inside of their arms, as ugly purple bruises appeared where the string landed in the wrong place.

His warm arm wrapped around my shoulders, I felt him chuckle as he steered me away. “No, no, sweet Delphine, that’s not for us. That attraction is for the weak and the childish. People like you and me are destined for excitement and deserve so much more.” Jim stepped back and raised his arm, leading me in a little twirl and I honest to God giggled.

Good lord, a giggle? I was nearly 400 years old and a powerful being; I was not supposed to giggle. Coming out of the spin, I stumbled in a hole and my ankle twisted with a painful pop. “Ow!”

“Delphine!” Jim immediately stopped and scooped me into his arms. “Are you all right?”

His face wavered and wobbled in my vision and I frowned.  That’s odd. There were wards and protections on me to keep me from getting injured – or inebriated. But there I was, my ankle throbbing and swelling even as my head swam. “Do you think it’s broken?”

Jim pressed a kiss to my cheek. “No, I doubt it. It may be sprained, but I think you’ll be just fine.”

“How am I supposed to help with your game if I can’t stand on it?” Were my words slurring?

Laughter rumbled up in his chest as we approached a tent filled with flickering candlelight. “I wouldn’t worry about that, darling Delphine. You have been a delightful mark already tonight.”

Once the tent flap closed behind us, all other sounds ceased. It was almost like we were in a different plane of existence, separated from the real world by that relatively thin stretch of canvas. My head lolled back against Jim’s shoulder as he carried me deeper into the tent.

“Remember I was going to tell you more about the sassafras and how it was used throughout the centuries? I think now is a good time for that.” When he set me down and I gasped, he clucked his tongue. “I nearly forgot.” Then he wrapped his large palm around my wounded ankle. With a quick squeeze, I felt a sharp pain, then it was gone. I rolled the joint around, testing it, and found that the swelling had disappeared, as well. He leaned close, his warm breath tickling my ear. “Better?”

The daze had already begun to fade but, it appeared, just a bit too late. As my faculties returned, I realized that my wrists and ankles were tied tight and secured to the wall behind me. Even my fingers were wrapped in gauze and completely immobilized. Well that was inconvenient, as I couldn’t cast my spells without moving them.

Jim’s voice changed as he checked and double-checked my bonds, losing the tone of innocence. “Sassafras was used widely to build ships and furniture, the twigs for oral hygiene, and the leaves in cuisine around the world. Did you know that you can cure meat and treat wounds with the leaves, too? And burning the bark has been known to protect and ward off evil. My family has used it this way for many, many years.”

I watched him back away, one side of his enticing mouth curled up. With surprise I noted that he no longer looked young and naïve, inexperienced and awkward. Those golden brown eyes had a wisdom deep in them that hadn’t been there earlier.

“Okay, that’s enough now, Jim. I agreed to come play your game with you, but this seems a step too far. What kind of game is this, anyway?” I batted my lashes in an attempt to turn the tables back to my favor. “I know some other games involving bondage that we could play…privately.”

That made him pause, and I could see the idea taking root and starting to grow. I had no idea what he had planned, but I’d survived more dangerous and much kinkier encounters than this one. Before I could say anything else, he shook his head and smirked, wagging a finger at me.

“Ah, you are very good, Delphine. I was warned about you but I had no idea just how enticing you could be.” He turned to me, tossing and catching an apple with one hand, a swath of fabric in the other. “My family used sassafras for generations, but most frequently it’s been used on and by the people of the villages we lived in. You see, it is a very potent ingredient in love charms and potions. While we were persecuted for being…magical…the same people who feared us also wanted to use us to their own ends. Our love potion recipe was handed down through centuries and perfected by way of trial and error. You, my sweet witch Delphine, drank down a small dose earlier tonight, just enough to let your guard down so I could get you here. Alone.”

He stopped in front of me, his eyes searching my face before capturing my lips in a searing kiss. To my mortification, it left me breathless with my toes curling inside my very expensive shoes. When the kiss ended, I gasped when I saw his face. No longer was I looking at the awkward young man with blond curls I had tried to pick up in the piano bar. Instead, I was staring into the violet eyes of an aged warlock, the aura I had spied much earlier blazing wildly around him.

“Oh my, has my mask fallen away?” His eyebrows lifted as he checked my binds. “I was never very adept at maintaining such a façade when my ire – or passion – has been riled up. And you, Delphine, have definitely tested my limits.”

My lips were on fire with a very unpleasant tingling. That bastard! He’d had a potion on his lips when he kissed me; I knew it well. It rendered the recipient immobile and unable to speak, and it worked very, very quickly. Unable to spit my vitriole, I glared with all the hatred I could muster.

“We’ll have none of that, dear,” he grumbled. “This has been long coming, you must know that.”

He perched the apple on my head, and I willed my muscles to shake it off, but I had zero control over any part of my body. Jim – or whatever his real name was – retreated, no longer afraid to take his eyes off me. With a grin he turned his gaze on me, nocked an arrow in the bow, and took aim.

“Let the games begin.”