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Oct 02

Alternate Susan — Chapter Twelve

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Chapter Twelve

 

 

 

I went to the climbing gym for three hours every night that week. Firstly, because the attack had put me under terrible stress, and secondly because waiting by the phone for a guy to call is the mark of a pathetic woman. It’s especially pathetic if the guy is Bo. I don’t know why he didn’t call me, but he didn’t, and he didn’t answer his phone either. It pissed me off, not only because Bo was the bottleneck to figuring out what to do about Nightjack, but also because I was still angry that he had manipulated me into giving him my phone number.

It was a good workout, at least. Not that Susie’s fat-girl pants fit any better, but at least her sweat glands got used. More than that, climbing the walls at the rock gym made me feel more in control of life. Susan. Not Susie. By the time the place closed, my arms felt pleasantly rubbery, and my stomach was asking for something greasy.

“Hey Zoë, how ‘bout going in on a pizza with me?” I blurted as I entered the kitchen after climbing that night.

“Derek’s here,” Zoë said.

“Derek?” I asked, fetching a Diet Coke from the fridge.

“And someone else I don’t know.  I made them wait on the back patio. The ward won’t let them in the house.”

“Oh. You think I should tone it down even more?”

“No.”

The back yard felt ten degrees cooler than the front because of all the trees and grass, though it was still in the upper eighties at ten pm. Zoë had hooked up the hose to the misters, and the water droplets plumed under the spotlight. A cockroach sat under the dripping mister line, and I would have squished it except that Derek’s guest redirected my hatred.

“Bible Ed,” I spat, and then punched him in the face.

Susie must never have done anything like that, because Derek stared open mouthed at me. Ed leaned over, cradling his nose while drops of blood fell onto the bricks. He wore a blue cowboy shirt and a thick leather belt with a cross on the buckle. His flail hung coiled from a strip of leather off his belt. He had heeled cowboy boots on which raised him over six feet. The heels were inlaid with a turquoise circle. Turquoise for protection. Hypocrite.

“Susie! What’s gotten into you?” Derek asked.

“No, I understand why she’s angry.” Bible Ed stood, raising his nose in the air. “I came to apologize.”

“That’s a start.”

“What did you do?” Derek asked him.

I pulled up my sleeve to show him the partially healed welt.

“Ed, you swore you wouldn’t do that again!” Derek pulled his fist back, but clenched it tighter and put it to his side instead of hitting Bible Ed. “I think you deserved that bloody nose. What were you thinking, whipping Susie like that?”

“Susan,” I corrected.

Ed steepled his fingers. He looked at me: calm, humble; an expression Mr. Rodgers might have worn. “Susie, I’m not myself sometimes. When I have a bad period, I get delusional.”

“He thought someone else was in control of your body,” Derek said, looking right at me. “So maybe even delusional, Ed knows things the rest of us don’t.”

“Susan,” Bible Ed touched my shoulder, clasping it in a paternal gesture that felt curiously familiar and reassuring. “God knows what really happened, and he rewards those who put their faith in Him.”

“And how does God reward men who whip people? Did God tell you to find me in particular, or just any woman out minding her own business?”

“If you tell the police what I did, I will accept what punishment the law allows.” Ed had another beatific smile. Again with the Mr. Rodgers. “I’ll ask Charlotte not to hold a grudge against you. You know that I don’t dislike you. I don’t know why I do the things I do under my delusions. Sometimes God uses me as his instrument, but I can’t imagine what good could come of harming such a sweet girl like you.”

Maybe he was bluffing, knowing I didn’t want to meddle with the law. Maybe he was really into the martyr stuff. At the mention of Charlotte, I knew I wouldn’t press charges. The feminist side of me railed. How dare I not stand up for myself? Something about Charlotte though. Didn’t want to alienate Charlotte. Hmm. She must be a friend. Maybe I should talk to her and see if she would help me. Yeah, it would help if I knew her last name. Ed’s was Anderson. Maybe they were related?

“Fine. I forgive you. Now, why are you two here?”

“Ed knows about Nightjack.”

At my indignant glare, Derek continued, with his palms raised in a placating gesture. “I didn’t tell him. He just learned on his own.”

“The MIB?” I asked. “Did they send you after me? Are you their bullyboy?”

“Susan!” Zoë stuck her head out of the door. She was wearing sweat pants and holding a hammer in one hand. “You’ve got a phone call.”

“Excuse me.” I followed Zoë into the house. “Who’s it from?”

She shut the door as soon as I was inside. “No phone call, I just wanted to tell you to get rid of them. That tall guy with the cowboy duds gives me the creeps. I’ve got your shotgun loaded, in case you need to give them a little encouragement.” Zoë moved the closet door so I could see the gun propped up in the corner. Such irony. One attack and she went from a pacifist to an NRA supporter.

“No, thanks, I’ll just tell them I have to work early tomorrow.”

Zoë hid the gun again and folded her arms, still gripping the hammer. “Susan, how close are you to finding out how to end all this djinn trouble? I can’t live like this. I can’t be constantly worried about when someone is going to attack again.”

“Soon.” Don’t ask me to move. Please, Zoë, don’t ask me to move. “I promise.”

“And you’ll make sure Nightjack is banished to hell, or whatever you do to them?”

“Yeah.” Was that even possible? “I’m sorry about this, Zoë. I’m doing the best I can.” I gave her an apologetic smile as I went back outside.

Bible Ed sat on a plastic lawn chair and wiped dried blood off his upper lip. He was speaking to Derek. “ …and that depends upon if she was the thaumaturge who summoned the djinn we’re looking for.”

“She’s not,” Derek asserted. “Susie wouldn’t do something like that.”

“Susan,” I corrected again. “I’ve got a memory problem. I don’t remember what happened before last Thursday.” Derek deserved to know the truth, but Ed didn’t. I’d have to confess to Derek later on and hope he’d forgive me for lying.

Ed shook his head. “Please don’t lie, Susan.” Again with the Mr. Rodgers.

“What are you hiding, Susie?” Derek craned his head around to look at my face, but I didn’t meet his eye. He was a nice guy. He gave me a back rub, he rescued me from the irrigation well, and even now he was trying to help me out, albeit in a weird way. If he knew the truth about Susie and me, he’d stop helping. It was bad enough that I blurted everything out to Amber.

“Look guys, as much as I’d love to stand here and take accusations from you, it’s getting pretty late. Let’s do this some other time.” I walked out the gate leading to the front yard.

Derek caught up with me on the carport. He spun me with a hand on my shoulder. “Susie, why are you acting like this? What’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing. I’m tired and it’s late and I have to work tomorrow. It’s been nice having you stop by.”

“Susie …” Derek gripped my shoulder harder. “We need to do this. I need to know. What’s really going on with you?”

Jason’s Lexus screeched up to the curb, sparing me the necessity of answering.

“What have you done with Darius?” Jason demanded. He strode towards me, only to be halted by the ward at the edge of the carport. (And why hadn’t it stopped Ed? Surely Ed meant me more harm than anyone.) Jason jerked back, put his hands up to test the ward, then stuffed them in his pockets as if he had meant to stop on the sidewalk all along.

“I don’t know anyone named Darius,” Bible Ed said, tightening his bolo tie. “Is he a thaumaturge too?”

“Not you, her!” Jason pointed at me. “What have you done to Darius?”

“I didn’t do anything to him, and how about an apology for screwing me over?”

“Susie, what’s he talking about?” Derek asked. “Who is this guy?”

“That’s not Susie,” Jason told him. “I don’t know who or what she is, but she’s not Susie.”

Derek stepped away from me, dropping his arms to his sides. He glanced at Jason, then at me. “What’s your pet name for me?”

“What?”

“I’ve had my suspicions for a while that something wasn’t right. What’s your pet name for me?”

“I don’t know. And you’re right. I’m not Susie.”

“If you’re not Susie, then who are you?” Derek asked. He had stepped farther away now, as though we were strangers. Even though we were, it hurt my feelings to see him pull away.

“If you all step on the other side of that ward, I’ll tell you who I am.” I folded my arms and waited. Bible Ed didn’t look like he would go, but he shrugged, tipped his cowboy hat, and stepped onto the sidewalk.

“Okay, we’re outside of your ward. Now tell us who you are.” Derek sounded sad, tired, and betrayed.

“I’m Susan Stillwater.” I jerked the bulla out from under my neck and threw it to the ground, letting the energy flow into the ward. Sparks burst out from it. The men took a step back.

“Liar. You did something to Susie, and now you’ve done something to Darius as well,” Jason said.

“First of all, I didn’t do jack to Susie. It’s Susie’s fault that I’m here instead of home. I’m her counterpart from an alternate reality. She wished herself there, because in my reality Jess and Christopher are still alive. Happy?  Secondly, I don’t know where Darius is, and I’m pretty pissed off that you think I’ve kidnapped him or something. How about a nice phone call just asking if I knew where he was, instead of this drama? I mean, come on, people! Jesus!”

“Don’t blaspheme,” Ed scolded.

“Whatever.” And with that, I walked into the house and locked the door.

Why is it people will believe nearly any lie you tell them, but when you tell them the truth they don’t want to hear it? And where was Darius?

***

I had trouble sleeping that night. After two hours of tossing and turning, I decided to get up and do something. Miles was sleeping, clinging to the lampshade, so I kept the lights off. Moonlight poured in through the window. I missed my family. If Chris were alive, I could call him and he’d stay here all night, waking up any time he heard a noise. Jess would have cast curses at all of them, making them break out in a rash every time they thought bad things about me. Well, Susie’s Jess would have anyway.

I always complained about how Jess relied on me too much, how Chris and Maggie needed me. Truth was, I needed them too. I’d fought for my own independence, pulling away from them a little more each year. Now I just wanted them back again. During the day, I could talk about fixing the mess Susie made, but not when it was dark in a ruined bedroom with the constant whirr and click of a damaged AC. I wanted to go home so badly that I’d risk summoning her demon to do it.

I pulled a pillow off the bed and sat on the floor. By moonlight, I read Susie’s spellbook about summoning wards. I forged will and earth-power into a silvery sphere of protection. I had to wrap my arms around my knees to remain completely within the sphere, but it felt solid.

“By the light of breaking morn

Goddess fair of shape and form

Bring your daughter grace and might

Grant a shape to bless my sight.”

That was the poem which Susie used to summon her goddess. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t morning, she should have appeared for me.

“Ruby? Ruby Gardner?” I whispered. “I need your help. Will you come talk to me?”

No response.

“By the light of breaking morn

Goddess fair of shape and form

Bring your daughter grace and might

Grant a shape to bless my sight.”

Still no response. The moonlight drifted slowly across the floor.

“Please?” I begged.

I chanted the poem over and over again, interspacing it with more personal pleadings, but like performing CPR on a corpse, my efforts produced no response except fatigue and despair. In the morning my back ached from sleeping on the floor.  The ward stayed in place through the night, bisecting me with shimmering silver. I dispelled it, and felt a headache unlike any I’d ever felt.

The lizard scampered over my un-warded toes. “What sort or magic were you performing, Miss Susan, that required a solid ward all night?”

“None of your business, Miles.”

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