City of Shades

The Extraordinary Adventures Of The Good Witch Anais Blue.


Anaïs Blue and the Rolling Stones

Mick gyrated his hips and spat into the microphone. He screamed at the audience to raise their hands. They obliged, clapping in unison with the singer. The stage lights panned over his body. They cut harsh shadows from his thin frame. He looked much younger than he was, the lighting shaving years off him.

The colossus above and around the stage dwarfed the band. The scenery, constructed of massive steel girders, looked like a gigantic Meccano set. From her position in the wings, Anaïs heard compressed air hiss from the hydraulics powering the theatrical scenery. Great metal elements swung above her head and slotted into place forming a new backdrop. A giant video screen centre-stage flickered and began beaming out images of war and suffering.

Charlie Watts struck up a steady rhythm. Keith arched his neck and leant back, his guitar swaying loosely around his hips. He spat out his cigarette, blew a cloud of smoke into the air and stamped out the butt. The cinders flew up around his boot. In one swift movement he pulled a fresh cigarette seemingly out of nowhere. He flipped it into his mouth and a roadie rushed from the wings to ignite it.

Anaïs had drugged a mountain of a security guard. He hovered by her side. Together they watched the band explode into their next song: Paint It Black. From her perch at the side of the stage Anaïs had a bird’s eye view of the audience below. A mass of colour, punctuated by bobbing heads, swept out beneath her and far into the distance. A spotlight, ensconced atop a tower in the middle of the throng, blinded her as it panned across the stage and caught her in its beam. She ducked behind the security guard for shelter.

The park was full to bursting. People sat on the shoulders of others to get a better view. They punched the air. Flags and banners stuck out of the mass. As the song began the multitude lurched forward in unison with the beat. The banners flapping in the wind gave the impression the crowd was an army charging into battle. As the crowd surged forward, people sandwiched in the front row were pressed up against the barriers. They fought for breath.

Anaïs watched as two security guards pulled a small girl out of the crowd and doused her in water. She could not have been much older than Anaïs’s own physical self—five years of age. The little girl fell limp in their arms. Her eyes glazed over and Anaïs knew the potion had kicked in. She had spiked the water and the girl would now be seeing purple. Anaïs smiled in satisfaction.

The surging chug of guitars and bass built to a crescendo. Anaïs shut her eyes. She listened to the music. It was good. It enveloped her. She reached out a hand and felt the towering speaker stack beside her. The vibrations ran up her arm and sent a buzz through her body. The rumbling bass made the stage under her shoes quiver. She floated on the ripples of sound and let the reverberations turn her body to jelly.

Nan would be jealous. Anaïs had lost her in the labyrinth of the makeshift village in the backstage area. Lost was not entirely correct. She had given her the slip. She knew that she should be looking for Nan, and it had not the right thing to do, but she wanted some time alone. She would send another guard out to find her later. Right now, she just wanted to bask in the moment. Once the caretaker found her there would be trouble. It was worth it, though.

She opened her eyes and looked down into the audience again. She smiled. Like the little girl who had been pulled from the crowd, the eyes of the audience in the front row had glazed over. The effect of the potion was fanning out from this central point. Even the security personnel at the foot of the stage were gaping in awe. Cool, it was working.

In the middle of the stage something caught her eye. Two stagehands sat on the rear edge of the drum riser. They were partially hidden from view behind a stack of guitar amplifiers. As the lights swept over them they changed appearance. It was momentary, but when the lights hit them, their dirty black garb changed. The clothing melted away and turned technicolour. Anaïs moved upstage in the wings to get a better look. The security guard followed her like a dutiful dog.

The lights hit them again. This time the beams stopped and held their position. Now Anaïs had a much clearer view. She saw that not only the clothing changed under the lights, but also their physical features. One of them had long, blonde hair, the other a jet-black, rag-doll coiffeur. The darker-haired one of the two had a manic grin on his face and was shaking his head wildly. He waved his arms in an odd fashion. Was he conducting an orchestra or mimicking beating a set of drums? The blonde’s gestures were easier to work out. He was playing air guitar.

The lights changed and so did the pair’s appearance. They reverted back to two grizzled roadies. Clothed again in black and looking exhausted from lack of sleep, they were clearly bored. One of them yawned.

Anais was confused. What was going on? Shades could only be seen in reflections. Finding two of them together was also unusual. She moved to get closer look. A hand clasped her shoulder and stopped her in her tracks. Irritated, she flicked her shoulder to shrug it off. It grabbed her once more. Had the potion worn off on the security guard?

She turned to check and was met with the scowling face of a woman. It was the caretaker. It was Nan. The jig was up. Anais disregarded the shades and tried to calculate how long she would be grounded. What a disappointing turn of events. She thought. It was all going so well.

‘What is that?’ said Nan.

She pointed over Anaïs’s shoulder and indicated the skyscraper. It loomed over the stage. The sleek form of its silver spike shooting towards the heavens.

‘Ahem, I believe it’s the Empire State Building.’

Nan swore under her breath. There would be hell to pay.

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