Oct 16

Alternate Susan — Chapter Fourteen

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Chapter Fourteen




The next day, the mirror finally arrived. I wanted to start the spell right away, but unfortunately, my knowledge of magic wasn’t focused enough. True, more and more of Susie’s memories came back every day, but once you started using a mirror as a scrying object, you couldn’t use it for any other scrying attempt. That meant one shot to do it right. One shot, on a mirror that cost more than a month’s rent. Either I had to get Maggie out of Celestine’s compound to help me, or I needed a lot of practice. I’d try practice first.

Darius, although amazing at making frozen pizzas disappear, didn’t know any magic more sophisticated than a curse or a glamour.

“If I knew how to do all that complex stuff like you and Maggie, I wouldn’t waste time scrubbing this cheese out by hand.” Darius’s voice sounded muffled, coming from inside the oven.

“It’s a self-cleaning oven. You don’t have to do that. And if Susie and Maggie were so good at magic, why didn’t they ever teach you how?”

“Nuh-uh. Their spells don’t work for me. Only one who can teach me stuff that might work is my mom,” he said, while flaking drips of baked cheese off of the inside of the oven door. “Like, if you were twins or something, and your twin had a bunch of spells, you could do pretty much everything she could do without changing it. Susie used to swap spells with Jess and Christopher all the time. Not all of them work. Mother-daughter is the strongest. Father-son is next best.”

“Susie’s mom taught her every thing she knows then?”

“Yeah, kind of, but she learned shit from Ruby too.”

“I don’t get it. Who is Ruby? She’s Susie’s goddess, right? Like Athena or Aphrodite?”

“Nuh uh.” Darius pulled himself up onto the counter. “See, it breaks down like this. Think of God as like, the president of everything. Technically, he can do whatever he wants, but he’s like busy n’ shit, so if you manage to get through to him, he’ll just tell his dudes to take care of the problem. The gods and goddesses are like Senators and Representatives. They’re part of the same government, but they don’t got so much power.”

I raised my eyebrow. “So Ruby’s like a branch manager of heaven?”

“Yeah, kinda, except she doesn’t have all that much magical budget n’shit. So someone prays to God, wanting, I dunno, like wanting money to come their way, and Ruby’s all, “Yeah, I’ll take this one,” and she decides to answer the prayer. How’s she gonna do that?”

“She’s a goddess. She just does it.”

“Nah, don’t work like that.” Darius had finished the oven and moved to scrub the sink. It was weird, seeing a teenage boy clean so fiercely. It was like watching a dog meow.  “She’s a small goddess, she don’t have that many people, and she only gets focus from her worshippers, so she can’t do much. She knows stuff though, cause she’s part of God and all, so she talks to one of her followers and says, ‘hey, can you like uh subcontract this for me?’ And Susie’s all, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ So Susie gets to learn something new, like how to make someone rich, and Ruby gets credit for answering a prayer. That’s what makes you a thaumaturge instead of just a witch. You get spells from your goddess.”

“I had no idea. I thought thaumaturgy meant summoning gnosti.”

Darius put his sponge down. “Didn’t she say nothing about it?”

“Ruby? I haven’t talked to her. I tried to summon her the other night, and she didn’t show up.”

The phone rang. It took two rings to find it, and I was about to answer when Miles shouted from the other room.

“No! Don’t!” He scampered into the kitchen, and ran circles around my feet.

“What?” It’s so hard not to answer a ringing phone. “Why not?”

“It’s Agent Thule. Don’t answer it. You don’t want to talk to her, Miss Susan. She wishes you nothing but ill.” Miles ran up my pant leg and rested there, blue throat pulsing in and out.

“Yeah, but …”

“What’d he say?”

“It’s the MIB calling.”

Darius picked up the phone. “Hola.” He paused. “Si. Si. No. No entiendo. No hay alguna. No. De nada.” He hung up. “That will buy you some time while they check the number. Miles is right. You don’t want to mess with them. They’re nothing but bad news.”

“I agree, Miss Susan. Getting rid of that djinn should be your top priority now. The MIB will keep after you until that’s taken care of.” Miles scampered up Darius’ pant leg. Darius was actually wearing my clothes, that is to say, Susie’s clothes that she got too chubby for. Darius didn’t dare go home to get his stuff until his dad cooled down, and he wouldn’t hear of Zoë buying him anything new, said he’d go to the thrift store when he got his paycheck.

“I thought the MIB was like the FBI for mages or something. Aren’t they supposed to help us?”

“Supposed to, yeah, but they don’t. They don’t give a shit about nothing but making themselves look good. I heard they’re paid through, like, the department of weights and measurements or some shit like that, so nobody checks on what they’re doing. They just hate thaumaturges.”

“But they know how do exorcise demons, don’t they?”

The sound of water filling the sink drowned out his laughter. “Man, Susie would shit bricks if she heard you. ‘Exorcise demons?’”

“A djinn isn’t a demon in the Christian sense, Miss Susan. I thought I explained it to you.”

“Well how do you get rid of them, these djinns? There must be a way.”

“Not that I know of. Nothing quick, anyway. Best way is to not call them in the first place, and second best way is to not talk to them.” He was washing dishes. Cleaning the oven was one thing, since it was his fault that it got dirty, but he was actually washing dishes. Maybe Zoë was right to let him live here.

“Ignore them and they’ll go away? The passive-aggressive’s guide to exorcism? You think that’s going to work? Dream on.”

“You’re right, Miss Susan. We need a stronger way to rid ourselves of this Nightjack.”

“Is he talking to you again?” Darius asked. “His throat’s moving.”

“Yes.” I told him what Miles said, and grabbed a dishtowel to help. I couldn’t sit by and watch a houseguest do my chores. The guilt would kill me. “It’s hard for me to believe that an organization that’s designed to find and punish bad mages wouldn’t be able to help me with Nightjack.”

“They may say they’re gonna, but I remember what happened to my sister.”

“You had a sister?”

“Yeah. She ran away.” He hunched over, concentrating on the dishes, and his voice got softer. “Some neighbor called the CPS on my mom cause they caught us playing at the school playground without an adult watching us. My mom was strung out on something and my dad was out of town. Next thing I know, they put me with my drunk grandma. My sister went with a family that already had five foster kids. When she complained that her older ‘brother’ was messin her up n’shit, they put her with another family, where the dad molested her. They never believed her about the dad.”

“I’m sorry.”

“She ran away. I think she’s in Hollywood now. Gonna make it big someday.” Darius shrugged, as though it didn’t mean anything, but he scrubbed the pan like he was trying to start a fire with it. “Doesn’t matter. Just, I don’t trust no one who says they’re gonna help me. Help is what people say they’re doing right before they fuck you in the ass.”

“But your mom was on drugs, wasn’t she? So they had a reason to—“

The pan clanged as Darius threw it in the sink. “Don’t give me that shit. Yeah, mom was strung out all the time, but we were working it out. CPS is just like the MIB; they’d stop dogs from fighting by shooting them both. Neither one ever saw a problem they couldn’t make worse. So help? Will they help us? You know what they’ll do, they’ll find the people who summoned Nightjack and blam! Bullet in the head, grave in the desert.”

“They wouldn’t do that, they’re a government agency.”

Darius mocked me, using a singsongy voice. “They won’t hurt me, they’re from the government, yeah, right.” He pointed with a sudsy hand. “Gimme those pans from the stove, I’ll wash them too.”

“You have proof about the MIB?”

Miles pulsed his throat. “Through Maggie, I’ve met quite a few mages, Miss Susan, but I’ve never met anyone who had something good to say about the MIB. They’re bullies, plain and simple. They hate thaumaturges almost as much as they hate the djinns. They know only one way to unsummon one—kill the mage who first drew its attention, and intimidate any other problems into silence.”

“You’ve seen this happen?”

“Many times,” Miles assured me. “I can’t say I agree with his assessment of Child Protective Services, but the MIB are as corrupt as an organization can be.”

“So what should I do?”

“About what?”

“I need Maggie to help me get home again, and I have to banish Nightjack before Maggie will leave Celestine’s resort. So how do I banish Nightjack without killing anyone?”

“I don’t know.” Miles shook his head.

Darius shrugged. “Like I said, I don’t know nothing about thaumaturgy. But I’ll tell you what. Let’s go talk to my mom. If she don’t know anything, talk to Amber. Someone’s gotta know something.”


We went to see his mom the next day. She wasn’t in the hospital proper, but in some sort of outpatient clinic where everyone had to sign in and Darius had to do some kind of spell to make the nurse allow me to accompany him. The floors were polished glassy smooth, and the place echoed with rubber-soled shoes and an odor that made me feel queasy. The walls had a greenish paint. Combined with the flickering fluorescent bulb, it made me feel as though I were in a poorly cleaned fish tank. Maybe that’s what the odor reminded me of.

We heard her shouting from down the hall. It sounded like she was having an argument with someone, someone she hated, whose every action brought nothing but scorn and contempt. I felt sorry for whomever was on the receiving end of such abuse, and when Darius pushed the door open, her enemy turned out to be a soap opera, playing on mute.

Darius’ mother beamed when she saw him, and I understood why his dad had been willing to remain married to such an obviously messed up woman for so long.

She was magnificently beautiful.

It wasn’t just that her features were perfectly even, that her skin had no blemishes, or that her curling hair fell down across breasts that defied gravity. She was as translucent and fragile as a porcelain teacup, and the fact that her pale features seemed more African than European only made her more exotic. Even her sunken eyes and slender trembling features seemed too perfect to be uncalculated, like a zen garden with a single stone out of place.

“Son, have you brought me Benadryl?”

“No, Mom.”

“I think I have a cold,” she declared, sweetly. She didn’t look at me, or regard me at all, as though I were merely her son’s servant, or a piece of furniture. “I need something for my sniffles.”

“You know I can’t do that.” Darius hunched over further, his hands questing deeper into his pockets.

“How about that one, did she bring me some?” she asked him, without looking at me.

“No, Mom, this is my friend Susan. She wanted to ask you some questions about magic.” Darius looked at the hospital bed sheets rather than up at his mother. He hadn’t yet introduced me to her, and I got the feeling he wasn’t going to, that knowing her name wasn’t really worth the asking of it.

Her sweet smile vanished when she took her eyes off Darius. A face that cold could only house a cruel and selfish mind. “You’re a witchgirl?”

“Thaumaturge,” I corrected her. It sounded better than ‘witchgirl’, especially with the intonation she gave it. Bitchy, and aristocratic too. She made me want to curtsey, or at least doff my cap. Was she doing some kind of an enchantment? Was that why Darius wouldn’t look at her, or was it purely family dynamics in his case? I cleared my throat, remembered my bravery in dealing with Bo, and stared her in the eye. “I heard somewhere that you could get rid of a djinn by feeding fey. I want more information.”

“You got any medicine?” Now she sounded less like the winter queen, and more like a junkie. A beautiful, enchanted junkie.

“I might be able to get some.” I would have doped her up with whatever poison she asked for if it meant finding the information I needed, despite Darius’ serious glare and head shake.

“Get me some cold medicine and we’ll talk.”

“No, Mom.” Darius glanced up briefly, then down again. “You need to get off that.”

“I have a better idea. How about you tell me everything you know about how I might get rid of a djinn, and in return I’ll take care of your son, since you’re not doing it and your husband kicked him out.”

The porcelain face flinched. “Is that true, darling?” she asked him.

Darius set his jaw, then nodded, briefly. He folded his arms and walked to the one window in the room, pulling back the polyester curtains to look at the parking lot outside.

She lifted her chin and leaned back. “You can catch the fey with wild honey and a silver plated trap.”

“What do you mean by wild honey?”

“Honey that’s never touched metal or plastic.” She scoffed, as though I were wasting her valuable time. “Gather it from a hive whose bees have no human master.”

“What kind of fey should I catch with this honey?”

She shrugged. “Hexelmoths are most common. They eat magic. In my homeland, we used them to dissolve curses.”

“In your homeland?”

“The Ayala Shon,” Darius supplied.

“Your people call it the ‘Elsewhere’,” she snapped, glaring as though she blamed me personally for inventing that pejorative term. “Most fey can go back and forth, as much as they like. The lesser ones can, that is. My people find the transition harder. The djinn as well. They need a summoning from a thaumaturge stupid enough to bring them to this realm. They can’t stay here forever; all it takes is a large enough burst of power and they’ll slip back to where they came from.”

“What kind of burst of power?”

She shrugged. “Blood sacrifice. One adult or two babies.”

Eww. Okay, so much for that plan. “Tell me more about how to get the fey to eat a djinn.”

“I have no idea. No one’s ever done it.”

“But a reliable source told me it was possible.”

“You were lied to.” Which was no more than you deserved, her tone implied. She leaned back in her hospital bed. “Darius, take her from my sight. And make sure she serves you well.”

She paused, staring at the television as though she had been like that for hours. She just clicked off, as completely as if she had said “this conversation is over.”

I opened my mouth to say something about her attitude, but Darius grabbed my arm and pushed me out the door with him before I could think of anything scalding enough.

“What a bitch!” I spluttered, hoping she heard me. “‘Take her from my sight’. What’s up with that? Has she watched too many bad historicals? She makes Scarlett O’Hara seem like a den mother.”

“She throws curses when she gets angry,” Darius said. He sounded pretty angry as well, and it had better not have been me he was angry at, cause it wasn’t my fault his mom was a bitch queen. Darius kept pulling my arm, speed-walking me out to the parking lot.

“Ow, you’re hurting my arm. Let me go, I have to get my keys out.” I wrenched my arm free and dug in my pocket. “And why is she mad? I didn’t do anything to make her hate me like that.”

“It’s not you personally, she just hates humans.”

“She married one, didn’t she?” I chirped open the doors for him. At least the remote entry in this lemon still worked.

“Okay, not all humans. She hates white people. ‘Specially white women.”

“White women? What about her? She’s as pale as a termite.”

“Let’s just go, okay?” Darius shifted his weight and didn’t look at me directly.

“Okay, fine.”

It would have been great if we had just driven home, but the Daewoo wouldn’t start, so we sat there for an awkward ten minutes of silence, punctuated only by my car’s wheezings and gargles when I turned the key.

I cleared my throat. “I wasn’t going to kick you out, you know, even if she didn’t tell me anything.”

“I know.”

“It’s just that I didn’t want to give her any drugs, not that I had any, and I figured-”

“Just drop it, okay? There’s a lot of stuff going on between me and my mom, and I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Fine.” The engine started. “And thanks. What she told me might save my life.”

Darius looked out the window. He grumbled what sounded like “You’re welcome.”


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