It wasn’t until after I’d gone outside that Miles spoke. I hoped it meant that he hadn’t been eavesdropping. “Miss Susan!”
“Miles?” I cast around, but didn’t see him anywhere. Moths flickered around the copper porch light, the ordinary brown kind, not the magical iridescent ones. “Where are you?”
For an answer, he leapt onto my shoulder. “Where are you off to?”
“I thought I’d go out and get drunk, maybe pick up some guys.”
“Aren’t you concerned about your mother? Have you already forgotten?”
“Can it, Miles. I’m just joking with you. I brought the address you underlined. I figured we could check it out. Let me guess, she’s one of Maggie’s mage friends.” I opened the car and let some of the warm air waft out before getting in. It was late May and already getting hot: not yet driving-with-oven-mitts weather, but close. The sun had set, and a flock of ASU students were walking down the street to one of the neighborhood keggers.
“Your friend doesn’t trust me. I fear you don’t either.”
I started the car, and cold air blew on my shoulder. Miles hunched closer to me, then ran along my collar to the other side. His voice came right into my ear, as though I were talking on a cell phone.
“Hey, I kept a hot guy from taking me on a date, how’s that for trust? We have the same goal. And who said you could snuggle up to my hair? It’s creeping me out.”
“My apologies, Miss Susan. I didn’t mean to get fresh with you. It’s just that the air conditioner makes me sluggish.” Miles didn’t move, but he sounded contrite. “And you’re correct about the woman I want you to visit. Her name is Dottie. She has a very unusual gift. All I ask is that you not mention me or make note of my presence. The fewer people know that I’m with you, the safer we both are.”
I was going to ask him about that, but I’m one of those people who has a hard time thinking and driving simultaneously, and I needed most of my brain to find the address.
Dottie lived close to downtown Hayden’s Ferry, and the hopping nightlife on Mill Avenue. Her house was a 1920’s bungalow only five minutes from the center of town, which made it not only a very desirable house but also one of the oldest buildings around.
I parked in front and climbed over the dirt berms surrounding the lawn. The older neighborhoods still get irrigation water, just as in the days when this was all farmland, which meant that the grass stays thick and lush, and the trees stand taller than the house. Irrigation was one of the ways in which the earliest residents pretended that they were living somewhere else. Now they just put in sod and automatic sprinklers, and dig out fake lakes so that people can enjoy the smell of duck guano and the view of dyed blue water. People go a long way to pretend that they aren’t living in the desert.
“Should I have called first?” I asked Miles, after I’d already knocked. I’d forgotten what time it was. Most people I know stay up late, especially in the summer, but what if Dottie was one of those people who folded at eight?
“Who is it, deah?” asked a voice from behind the eyehole. She had one of those back-east accents, the kind where they leave off the Rs.
“Maggie Stillwater’s daughter,” I replied, at Miles’ suggestion.
“Oh, deah. Oh, deah. Just a moment.” After the sound of several chains rattling, Dottie opened the door and waved us in.
Everything in Dottie’s house was pale blue, from the thick curtains to the shag carpeting. The worn armrests of her couch had been covered with pale doilies, and a piano in the front hall had an army of porcelain figurines. Dottie herself wore a sky blue housedress and slippers. She held herself as if it were cold, though it felt about eighty-five degrees in the house. She had wrinkled, arthritic hands, and hair so thin I could see the outline of her scalp.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call first, I hope it’s not too late.”
“No, deah, it’s nice to have visitors. Sit down, stay a while. I have another visitor too. I think he went to get the coffee. Oh, here he is.”
The other visitor appeared silently, holding a tray of empty coffee cups. He set them down gracefully and looked me over in a flattering way. “Don’t worry about not calling first. She’s getting on in years. She probably thinks she forgot you were coming over.”
He was cute, maybe in his early thirties, with dark hair. He had a thin but athletic build, like a guy who runs or plays racquetball but doesn’t lift weights, and wore khakis with a tight white tee shirt and a casual sport coat that fit like it was tailored for him. Must have been a native. No one but a born Arizonan would wear a sport coat when it was over a hundred out.
“His name is Jason. You’ve met him before,” Miles prompted. “He wants to learn magic, so he spends a lot of time talking to Maggie, Susie, and any other mage he can find. Maggie’s taught him a few spells, and he even got some to work, but he’s nowhere in your league, Susan.”
Cute guy, athletic, visits sweet old ladies. Definitely potential there. And if he were single, he was definitely in my league. “Sorry to interrupt your visit, Jason. I just meant to ask her some questions.”
“Don’t worry about it. She does enjoy the company. I hardly have enough time to come here once a month, so it’s nice to see she’s not alone all the time.”
“Now, deah, I have to say I forgot why you came over. Was it about the yahdwork?”
“No, I uh, my mom’s missing. Maggie Stillwater? I heard you were a friend of hers and wondered if you knew where she went.” Though come to think of it, if she told her friend and didn’t tell her own family, that would be pretty crappy.
“No, deah. I haven’t seen her this week. I saw her last week, before I went to my cardiologist about the medicine he put me on.” Dottie began a litany of her medical problems, and of the multiple trips to multiple doctors needed to find out what was wrong with her. Jason rested a saucer of coffee on his knees and focused on her, nodding to show he was listening. What kind of guy went to visit his grandma on a Friday night? A super nice one. No ring. Maybe he was single?
I crossed my legs and made sympathetic noises, trying not to look like I was checking Jason out. Jason winked at me.
“Ask her if she’s had any visions,” Miles suggested.
“Miles!” I said, under my voice. As if I were going to ask that in front of a cute guy. Susie’s memories said people believed in magic here, but mages were still geeky.
“She has visions sometimes. Maggie used to consult her about them. Ask her if she’s had any visions.”
“They’ll think I’m a weirdo!” I hissed.
“Do you want to find her or not?”
I sighed. “Dottie?” I had to say it loud to get her attention. “Dottie, did you have any visions about Maggie?” I cringed as I asked. Jason was going to think I was a kook.
“What deah? Oh no. I’m afraid I stopped having visions when they gave me the ahthritis medicine. All those side effects. They didn’t say it was bad for the gift, but it is, more’s the pity. God gave me the gift to use, but he gave me the ahthritis too, and I have to get around.”
Jason’s lip wrinkled in shock and surprise.
“Poor louse,” Miles interjected sarcastically. “Running out of real mages to sponge off of?”
I glared at Miles, but he didn’t clarify.
Jason turned to Dottie. “Remember the time you said your cousin Walt would come in to town to surprise you?”
“What deah? Oh, yes, at that Christmas party at Uncle Jim’s house. I remembah. That was back before Ellie was bahn.” Dottie went on a long string of names, adding one to another as though she were reciting the lineage of a king, or a purebred poodle maybe. Jason smiled at her, and took the cup from her hands when Dottie inexplicably fell asleep mid-sentence.
“Works every time.” Jason set the cup and saucer on the table without even a rattle of china. He moved like an athlete too. Wonder what sport he played? “It was nice seeing you here. I’m sorry about Maggie. Let me know if you need help finding her.”
“Sure you will,” Miles interjected sarcastically. “And where have you been the last two weeks?”
I couldn’t even glare at Miles, not and tip Jason off that he was there. The muttering had been bad enough.
“Jason, I uh, I’m not sure I have your number. Let me write it down just in case I can’t find it, okay?” I fished in my purse for a pen and paper, cursing as I found a half roll of mints, a crushed cookie in a napkin, some lint, quarters, a broken pen, and a small red stapler (why the heck was that in there?) and my pepper spray before finding even an envelope, much less something to write on it with. I ended up writing it with an eyeliner pencil, but Jason didn’t say anything.
The snores abruptly ceased, and Dottie’s querulous voice called out. “What deah? Ah you leaving already?”
“Thanks so much for the visit, Dottie, but I have to get home.”
“Jason, deah, walk her to her car. It’s so dangerous these days.”
“Do you play tennis?” I asked him, cursing myself for parking so close to the house. My eyes roamed down his legs. “You’re built like you’re into sports.”
“My condo has a court, but I don’t use it much.”
“Could have fooled me,” I flirted. “Thanks for walking me to my car.” I turned my back to him to unlock the door, and ‘accidentally’ dropped my keys.
“Miss Susan,” Miles said, in a tone of recrimination. “He’s appraising your backside.”
“Give me a call if you want to go play sometime.” I winked at him.
“Sure.” He smiled, then tilted his head down and frowned. “Susie, did Amber talk to you about Nightjack?”
Miles scampered down my collar into the back of my shirt. His claws tickled so much it was all I could do to keep from giggling out loud.
“She made a wish for me, but it hasn’t made things better. I need to talk to her, and to Nightjack. I need another wish.”
“I saw her yesterday. She wanted to know if I had talked to the MIB. Do you know anything about that?”
“They haven’t talked to me. Why should they? I didn’t do the summoning. That’s why I had Amber make my first wish. I can’t let people know I was involved in this, it would be bad for business. If the MIB talks to you, don’t mention my name. And if you see Amber, tell her I need to talk to her. She hasn’t been answering my calls.”
“So, I’m supposed to remember to tell Amber you’re looking for her, and forget that I saw you if the MIB calls?”
“I’ll make it up to you.” Jason reached out and touched my hair. He leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek, a lingering breathy kiss that promised more.
“Dinner,” I said. “Someplace nice.”
“Sounds good. I’ll call you.” He kissed me on the cheek again, and walked back into the house.
“Was that too forward?” I asked Miles as I pulled away from the curb. “I read somewhere that there’s all sorts of rules you’re supposed to follow to get guys, but it seems to me no one ever gave the guys the manual.”
“Susie never flirted with him before.”
“How do we know each other? I’ll need to be able to fake some details when he asks me out.”
“You know him because Jason is a weak dilettante who likes to hang out with genuine mages and convince them to do magic for him. Focus on the task at hand, Susie. I know you’re keen on meeting a man, but magic isn’t for flighty girls.”
“Don’t call me Susie.”
“Well, you’re rather acting like her,” he huffed.
I frowned at that, but couldn’t think of anything in my defense.
Miles said, “Susie’s a brave one. I’ll give her that. You have to be brave to perform thaumaturgy. Perhaps it’s just that she’s very trusting. Such a charming trait in a girl, but it got her into a lot of trouble.”
“Am I taking you home, or are we going to follow more leads?” I had followed the residential street to the end, and was now waiting at a stop sign with my blinker on. The guy behind me kept creeping forward like he wanted to go.
“Home, I suppose. I can help you with the scrying spell. I suppose you’ll only need a small mirror, since she’s likely to be close by. Unless of course she’s in an alternate reality too, but I doubt that. I rather suspect she’s holed up with a friend.”
“Could be anyone. She used to travel around the country a great deal. That’s how I came to meet her. I was still in Utah at the time. She was practicing mostly witchcraft them, and offering spells pro bono just for the practice. Susie did that often as well.”
“Is Maggie a thaumaturge or a witch?”
“Both. She knows some psionics too.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Witches cast spells, thaumaturges summon gnosti to help them, and psionics doesn’t use anything but the power of the mind. Susie could do all three as well, but she wasn’t very good at psionics. It’s easier to just say ‘mage’ and only get into details with another practitioner.”
“What are gnosti?”
“Otherworldly creatures. Most thaumaturges can only summon the fey. It’s a difficult skill. You need to practice before you can even see them, most of the time, though this djinn might be different.”
I was still driving towards my house, I thought, but it was dark on these streets and they seemed to split and turn in odd directions. “What do the fey look like?” I asked.
“Mostly they look like odd little animals.”
“Like iridescent moths? Or fiery hummingbird harpies?”
“Hexelmoths and flamesprays,” he said, nodding.
“Oh.” Well, that cleared that up. “Are they dangerous?”
“Not dangerous, but most of them aren’t useful either.” Miles made it sound like any creature that couldn’t be eaten or squeezed into fuel was a waste of air.
“Like pigeons,” I said. I pulled up at a light. Okay, now I saw a street I recognized.
“Exactly. That is, most of them are as harmless and useless as pigeons. There are others that are more dangerous and potential-”
“Holy Crap! There’s that guy again!” Just as the light turned green, the white-haired black guy rode by on a bicycle. I cut across two lanes of traffic, ignoring the honking, and followed him down a dark residential street.
The bicyclist turned back over his shoulder and began to pedal faster. He took one hand off the handlebars and made what looked like a sign language gesture. A moment later, something silently hit me. Not the car, just me. It felt like I’d just swallowed a bug.
“Susan, who are you following? My eyesight isn’t good enough to see.”
“This guy I saw.” Whatever he did last time to disappear, it didn’t work that night. He rode for several blocks, taking mostly back streets, which was good because he wasn’t going much more than fifteen miles per hour. My stomach turned. Damn shrimp quesadilla. I was gonna hurl, I just knew it. “Ugh, I think those leftovers were spoiled. I don’t feel so good.”
“Miss Susan, you went right past that stop sign.”
“Cut me some slack, I’m not feeling well.” But I was still on his trail. The cyclist’s hair glimmered gold in the streetlights, and half his trenchcoat (Who wears a trenchcoat when it’s this hot?) fluttered behind him. Whatever was wrong with my brain got worse, but I kept driving, following him for a couple of miles, and even found a parking space when he locked his bike to a rack outside the Black Bean, a shabby-chic coffee shop. Finally. It was going to be hard to make it home without hurling.
“Hey!” I called out to him. The cyclist turned. “I want to talk to—” I didn’t get the rest of the sentence out because as soon as I left the car, my comment turned into a scream. Something had crawled inside my ear and was tearing around in my brain. That’s what it felt like, anyway. It felt like my skin when I accidentally splashed toilet cleaner on it, except that my whole soul felt like that.
“Miles … ”
Miles ran down my arm and across my pant leg. Somehow I felt his tiny claw marks on top of the bracing acridity of whatever was happening to me.
“Miss Susan! Tell him it’s a psychic attack.”
“What?” My mouth felt parched and burned, just like the rest of me. “Psychic attack?”
“I know him, this cyclist you chased. His name is Darius. He’s one of Maggie’s acquaintances. Ask him to help you.”
“Darius?” My eyes were tearing up from all the caustic burning, but I saw the blurry form of the white-haired cyclist leaning over me. His dark skin blended in with his trench coat, making him seem like a man-shaped shadow with a pale nimbus backlit by the lights of the café. I gritted my teeth and made the words come out. “Help me … psychic attack.”
“Oh, Susie, it’s you. I’m sorry. Hang on, I’ll fix it.” Darius leaned down and helped me to my feet, then half-carried, half-dragged me into the café.
I’d been to the Black Bean once or twice before, though it had a different name in my reality. It used to be a bank perched on the edge of a strip mall. They’d hung stained glass in the window, installed a grand piano in one corner, scattered plenty of upholstered furniture, and turned the vault into a sitting room. The main part of the café was fairly empty for a Friday night. One table had seven people sitting around it, pierced and black-clad like Zoë’s friends. The other had a student, huddled behind a stack of textbooks and empty cups. Darius went straight to the vault and dumped me on a chaise, then moved a table so he could close the vault door.
“That should do it. These steel walls are good against all kinds of stuff.”
Sure enough, when the huge metal door clanged shut, the pain evaporated, and my eyes were able to focus on the face of my rescuer.
Darius had some of the oddest features I’d ever seen. The white hair against his brown skin looked kind of cool, in a comic book way, but my brain kept trying to tell me his hair made him retired-age, when clearly he wasn’t. He was tall, but no way was he old enough to drink legally. He wore a pac-man tee shirt with dark blue sleeves as were popular several years before he was born.
“They don’t like it when you shut the door, but it will help for a while. Maggie always had us meet here, cause the thick walls keep out all kinds of magic vibrations. Hey Susie, can Miles talk to you now? And are you okay?”
“Still hurts. What happened?”
“A psychic attack, Miss Susan, like I told you.”
“What?” I asked Miles. “Who would attack me?”
“Derek,” Miles stated. “He claims he’s not doing magic anymore, but he must have lied.”
I didn’t quite buy that, but I didn’t want to talk about it in front of Darius. “Well, it doesn’t matter now. Darius fixed it.”
Daruis sat on a chair backwards, resting his arms on the back.
“Ah, as I was saying earlier, Miss Susan …”
Someone pounded on the door. “Hey, you’re not allowed to close this.”
“Told you someone would get pissed. You feeling better?” Darius asked me.
“Yeah, a little.”
“I’ll get us some coffee, and maybe some salt too. That should do the trick.” Darius opened the vault door and slipped out, closing it behind him again. When Darius opened the door, it let in a waft of vitriol.
I grimaced at the pain. “Miles, isn’t there anything I can do about this?”
“Put your thumb between your first two fingers and make a fist.”
“Like this?” I asked, making a crude gesture.
“Yes. It’s an ancient ward against the evil eye. That’s not unlike what Derek has cast on you, an evil eye. He must have gotten some of your hair or skin, some talisman.”
“I don’t believe this.” I concentrated on the gesture, and maybe it helped, because I was starting to be able to think again. My skin still burned, or maybe it was my aura that burned. “What have I gotten myself into? All I wanted was to find Maggie and make her help me go home again.”
“Maggie must be in some kind of trouble. If she weren’t, she’d be here with you. I’m sorry you’re involved in this, Miss Susan.”
“Hey, if I’m not going to help her, who is? We’re family. And with Jess and Christopher gone, she’s the only family I have.” Here, anyway. My sister Julia was in Ohio, and Julia and I weren’t close.
The gesture helped some, and I thought it had taken care of it completely, but when Darius opened the door again a few minutes later, the same burning sensation poured in with him.
“I didn’t know what you like so if you don’t want a latte, you can have my mocha instead.” Darius set the drinks down, and then pulled a salt shaker out of his trenchcoat pocket. He shook the salt shaker over my head, muttering something under his breath as he walked a circle around me. The salt made my hair itch, but I didn’t complain because whatever he did made it feel better. “I hope that takes some of the sting away.”
After he put the saltshaker back in his pocket, he pulled out a stack of sugar packets and poured them into his mocha. Darius brushed his hair over his ears. His ears had tiny angles at the top, as though he’d tried to pierce the cartilage and it had healed wrong. “I haven’t seen you around much, Susie. How have you been?”
I blinked. That was it? I just got cursed and now it was all ho hum, just another day? How dangerous was this hobby anyway?
“Give him money for the coffee, Miss Susan. Darius is too proud to admit it, but he is rather poor.”
I fished out a ten dollar bill from my wallet and stuffed it in Darius’ trenchcoat pocket. He either pretended not to notice the bill, or he was distracted by the difficulty of making eight packets of sugar dissolve into cold mocha.
“I haven’t been myself lately.”
Miles laughed louder than that joke deserved, but it didn’t matter because Darius apparently couldn’t hear my lizard friend.
“Did you know Maggie was missing?” I asked.
“Yeah. I went over there the other day and she was gone, no aural residue, nothing. I thought maybe she just split for a couple a days, but she didn’t call me to cancel our practice session yesterday. Figured maybe you’d gone with her, what with how you were ranting about it on Tuesday. Glad you stuck around. You know where she is?”
I shook my head. It would have been nice to know what Susie and Darius talked about on Tuesday, but there was no way to easily ask.
“You tried scrying yet?”
“No, have you?” I asked him.
“That’s an excellent idea, Susan,” Miles agreed. “We’ll have to try that next.”
Darius took a sip of his drink and apparently decided that eight packets of sugar wasn’t enough, because he pulled two more out of a stash in his pocket. “Your demon say anything about Maggie?”
“I haven’t done any summoning recently.” And don’t intend to. Summoning sounded a lot more dangerous than I wanted to get into, even if Susie had done it all the time. “Darius, do you know who Nightjack is?”
“Not subtle, Susan. He’s going to catch on that you’re not who you say you are. Susie would have known about that.”
“Hush, Miles. I asked Darius.”
“Huh. That’s what Amber wanted to know.”
I frowned. Wouldn’t Amber already know? “And what did you tell her?”
“I told her I didn’t know nothing about it. I wasn’t there, anyway, I don’t got a license yet. She said it was good. I didn’t know, and to call her if the MIB talked to me. I’m not gonna snitch on you Susie, but what’s going on?”
“I don’t know exactly. I just thought it might have something to do with why Maggie left.”
“I already told you that Nightjack was the name of the djinn. We talked about this earlier, Miss Susan. Why are you asking him?” Miles sounded peeved.
I waved Miles’ comment off. Maybe Zoë wasn’t right about Miles having his own agenda, but it was still better to get a second opinion.
“Well, if she’s hanging with some other mages, you should talk to Celestine,” Darius said. “Maggie and Celestine were tight back in the day. That’s what Maggie says, anyway. I remember I was like eight or something, and they invited me to go to Burning Man with them. Celestine was gonna take me on as an apprentice, ‘cause I’m half-faerie, but she changed her mind later.”
A small creature climbed out of Darius’ pocket. It had monkey-like hands and great rolls of fat under pale velvety fur. It blinked at me with enormous eyes, then skittered around to the other side of Darius’ coat. Judging by the way his pocket wiggled, there were more of them in there.
“Half-faerie, right,” I said, like I’d just remembered, but I was staring at the wriggling pockets. What were those things?
“Darius is quite talkative, but he doesn’t invent things. Have a care not to tell him anything personal, though. He isn’t good at keeping secrets.”
“Oh,” I said to Miles, then raised an eyebrow at Darius. “And what do you mean you’re half-faerie?”
Darius gave me an odd look. “Susie, you know about me.”
“Humor me, please. I’ve got memory loss.”
“My mom’s an immigrant from the Elsewhere, except she doesn’t call it that, she calls it Ayala Shon and she only talks about it when she’s drunk. That’s why I got the ears, and the white hair. My dad’s human. I mean, I got his skin and all, but mom said that the silvery hair was the sign of her house, and that it means I have immortal blood. Dad thinks she’s full of it. Me, I don’t know what to think about it all, but I’m pretty good at mage stuff. Not like you and Maggie, but I can do a couple of things.”
Miles must have seen my raised eyebrow, because he immediately added, “I’m afraid it’s quite true, Miss Susan. You’ll just have to take his word for it.”
“What’s he sayin’?” Darius asked.
“He wants to know if you’ve seen Maggie recently, or if she told you anything before she left.” I took a polite sip of the latte Darius had bought, but it was too sweet for a woman who lived on diet soda.
“Nah, nothing I can think of. That’s why I think she’s crashing somewhere. Of course, Amber and Jason think she just got fed up with life and shit, and left to smoke pot out in the desert, but if that’s so, why did she give Miles to you?”
“I’m not property!” Miles protested, bobbing up and down.
“I know you’re not, Miles.” I patted his head and addressed Darius again. Hmm. He’d look cute with a tiny collar. “If I wanted to talk to Celestine, where would I find her?”
“I dunno. Celestine has some sort of compound up in Sansouci.”
“North of Phoenix. It’s a wealthy bedroom community with lots of artists.”
“Oh.” I think I knew of it. It had another name in my reality. “Sorry Darius, I’m listening.”
“Yeah, so she’s got this cult and all, where her students have to wear these white robes and take vows of silence and all that. It’s freaky, you know? Plus, they only study pure psionics: telepathy, telekenisis, a little prophecy. Makes sense that Celestine and Maggie wouldn’t get along, cause Maggie’s into the demon-worshipping.”
“Get angry at him, Susan. Susie would take offense at that comment,” Miles warned me. “He’s testing you.”
“That’s kind of rude, calling our goddess a demon.” I scowled at him, and was rewarded by a nose-wrinking grin.
“Just joshing you.” Darius looked much younger when he did that. “It has to really piss them off that Maggie is so good at magic and stuff. She can do some psionics too, did I tell you? We telepathed each other.”
“You did? When? Could you talk to her now?”
“You think I haven’t been trying all week?” Darius’ grin slipped, and his voice sounded harried, close to cracking. So, he wasn’t as cheerful and unconcerned as he pretended to be. He continued again, softer, shaking his head. “No, I think Celestine’s warded her.”
“Fine. We go to the police, tell them that—“ I scowled as they both snorted simultaneously. “What’s wrong with that idea?”
Miles thrashed his tail. “If Maggie doesn’t want to be found, the police won’t be able to find her. Your mother is a very capable mage. She can easily obfuscate an investigation.”
“What’d he say?” Darius asked, and when I repeated it, Darius made his own comment. “Yeah, that’s for sure. Maggie told me a story once about back when they had their coven. She and Celestine and this other guy, I can’t remember his name, were living in this house down in South Phoenix, you know, where they used to have that commune and shit? Well, one day, some homeless guy strung out on something or other came traipsing through their yard, and when they told him to leave, he threw bottles at them. So Maggie said that Celestine got really pissed off and summoned a demon, right then and there. I’m not talking about no tiny little bird spirit or thornwight either, I mean this was like a Christian demon, with fangs and claws and fire and shit.”
“There’s no such thing as a Christian demon. It was surely a djinn or a half-formed fey given fearsome form.”
“Miles says there’s no such thing as demons.”
“Oh yeah? What about, ‘That which is believed in, exists’? That’s like the basic idea of thaumaturgy. You saying all those people who believe in demons don’t have the same power to make stuff that we do?”
Miles huffed, “Very well, I concede his point, on a purely philosophical level, but tell him that in that case, demons have no more power than any other gnosti.”
Instead of translating, I watched my left arm. “Hey, Miles, something weird is happening.”
“My arm’s moving, and I’m not moving it.” My left hand had formed a claw, and was scuttling about the table, as though it were a spider seeking prey. My arm was possessed. This was not good. “Miles? How do I make it stop?”
Darius got up from the chair and ran out of the room. Opening the vault door let in a faint draft of curse residue, but not enough to distract me from the horrifying sight of my arm disobeying me. When Darius returned, he had a ballpoint pen and a sheet of lined paper with frayed edges, torn from someone’s notebook. He slipped the pen into my left hand and slid the paper under it. My hand began to write.
WELL COME, SUSAN TO THIS WORLD. ..TASK FOR YOU. DUST FROM THE GRAVE OF A CHILD. MADRE DE DIOS CEMETERY IN GUADALUPE. HOUR OF THE RAT.
The handwriting wasn’t great, but the message was legible, and not in my own writing.
Darius picked up the paper and read it, then set it back on the table. “Well, that’s pretty clear. Guess that’s what happens when you don’t summon your goddess for a while, huh? She got tired of waiting for your call.” He frowned. “Get some dirt between eleven pm and one am. Sounds pretty scary.”
I dropped the pen and clenched my left hand with my right. My hand wrote that, but I didn’t. It was like when I laid on my arm wrong and it fell asleep, and when I touched it, it felt dead, except that when my arm lost circulation it never decided to wander off and write things.
“Miles,” I squeaked in a tight whisper, “What just happened? What do I have to do?”
“The drawback of worshipping a goddess, Miss Susan. When you ask for miracles, you have to repay the favor.”
“I didn’t ask for anything!”
“Wait, there’s more.”
BEWARE. YOU ASK THE WRONG QUESTIONS. After the note, my left hand dropped the pencil, then lay dormant.
“Is that a threat?” I clenched my left fist, still creeped out that my own body part had inexplicably decided to play for another team.
“Too freaky for me,” Darius said. He slurped the dregs from the bottom of his cup, shook the ice around, and tossed it into the garbage. “See you around, Sue. Bye Miles. Let me know what happens.”
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