There was a room, a dark room, with a clock—a big grandfather clock with roman numerals in silver and black. I was floating over—or perhaps underneath—the room. The place had a terrible chill to it, the kind that makes your skin burn when you try and warm it up. My eyes moved through this room and I seemed to be able to see from everywhere and everything. Sometimes I was the clock, my chest ticking away the years and the time; other times I was the dark chandelier hanging over the room, my crystals making a chiming sound over the still room as softly as if in reverence.
But my body was also there, in the room. I sat at a long table next to the curtains, a shadowy figure stood in the center of the room. I wanted to draw nearer, to see who the shadow was, but some part of my mind held me back. A knot in my stomach clogged my throat and took my breath away.
The silhouette never shifted from place, but stood so still I might have thought it was a statue; in fact, if it wasn’t for the humming sound coming from the silhouette—a whispering—I would’ve been convinced it was.
Dark curtains draped tall windows. I was trying to take in the room, to remember it vividly: book shelves stacked with gilded spines, tables, chairs, the head of a lion mounted over the room like a bodiless guardian silently roaring.
A fly buzzed by and landed on the figure, then there was a flash. Unable to control myself, I plunged forward. I saw glyphs on the floor. Some were shaped like animals: a snake, a bear, and one animal with a thousand little legs like a spider. Others were in the unintelligible squiggly lines and arrows I was used to seeing in spell books Fran and other witches kept in their homes. This was the home of a witch—it just had to be.
There was a crackling in the air—a roaring from behind the symbols so loud that it made them vibrate. The darkened figure loomed perpetually just outside of my periphery, so even when I tried to stand face to face with it, I couldn’t see it. It was like it was blurred, but I could hear it. The shadow hummed over the air; I could hear it breathing, feel its shoulders rising and falling.
This was the room where the wraith had been called forth. I was in the very room where it had been awakened from its slumber.
The figure raised its arms and I saw fog shoot out from the glyphs as a thousand little flies slithered through the cracks like gas through a fractured chamber, swirling up in the yellow light.
“Come,” said the voice. “Destroy the witches!”
I felt like I landed on something soft. My mind was beginning to retrace my body, my breathing evened, but my heart’s beat was still loudly drumming in my ribcage as I slipped back into consciousness.
I opened my eyes, my blurry vision slowly clearing. This much I knew: I was back at Tomas’ pad, lying down in the living room. No one had noticed I was awake.
“I saw him floating there. The wraith was different, too, but I could still tell it was the wraith—it was the same kind of energy. It was like Simon did something to it,” said Alice’s voice, whispering from somewhere behind the couch.
“I’ll tell you this much—I don’t know about no floating Simon, but he can count himself lucky to have even survived an attack like that,” said Phil.
“Why do you think the wraith was so docile?” said Tomas.
“I don’t know, but I saw Simon, I was on the ground,” said Alice.” I was trying to get up and he was just so… unlike himself…almost like he knew the monster,”
“You think he conjured the wraith?” asked Tomas.
“Don’t be a goddamn idiot,” said Phil. “He doesn’t have a lick of magic for the summon, you know that. Heck, you don’t have the mojo to call a wraith—that kinda magic is as dark as they come!”
There was silence.
“I don’t know though,” said Alice. “There’s something there—it was like he was a different person. His body…it was like he was…”
“Like I was what?” I asked, standing up. Considering they were a bunch of super-powered supernaturals, the fact that they hadn’t sensed me wake up put a pretty great look of shock on their faces as I approached them.
“Just forget it,” said Alice.
“No. Tell me.” I knew there was a trace of anger in my tone. This was the last thing I needed, for my friends (and Tomas) speaking behind my back while I slept. I expected this from many people, but not them.
“Your body was glowing,” said Alice. “The wraith was so still and you both were looking so fixedly at one another—it was,” she hesitated, then let it out: “just kind of creepy, Simon.”
“So I’m definitely a freak now, aren’t I?” I said and wiped some saliva off my cheek. I must have really dozed off.
Alice shook her head. “I knew you wouldn’t understand—you didn’t see what I saw!”
“I saw everything! I was there, Alice. I faced the thing all on my own.”
Alice gasped and then she slapped me across the face.
“Maybe I should let you face things on your own next time,” her voice soft as she spoke. I could still feel the cold sting of her slap on my cheek as she flew up and through the ceiling, out of sight.
“You’re acting like a real jerk-off, you know that?” said Phil and popped out of the room.
Tomas had his arms crossed as I stood there.
“Simon, Simon, I had no idea you could be such a jerk,” said Tomas.
“Not you, too,” I was already feeling horrible regret for what I’d just said without this jackass making things worse.
“Oh, I have no problem with jerks—being that I have been considered one for such a very long time.”
“You say that with pride.”
“Not just pride,” he said. “I make a damn good living off of it. And talking on making a damn good living, I have something for you,” he reached into his jean pocket and fetched a slim piece of paper he handed to me.
I unrolled it and I almost fainted when I saw what it was. “I don’t think I have seen these many zeros, ever,” I said.
“Well, they’re yours.”
“You found the wraith, you stopped it, and you avenged my goddaughter. This money was supposed to be mine, but I cannot take it—I may be a jerk, but I have my morals. After seeing your horrendous house, I figured that you may need the money more than me.”
It only felt bittersweet. I had just pushed two of the closest friends I’d ever had away from me and had simultaneously gained enough money to sustain me for a few years.
“I can’t take this,” I said, and Tomas’ eyebrows fell.
“Why? You earned it.”
“No. I haven’t,” I sat down on the couch again and rubbed the check between my fingers. So close yet so far away.
Tomas sat across from me, still looking bewildered. “But the wraith is gone—the attacks, they are over.”
I shook my head, “No. There are more coming.”
“You cannot be certain of that.”
“Oh, I am way more than certain.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you have a cigarette?”
“In the cabinet on the left side of the bar,” said Tomas, pointing at the bar area. “There is a lighter there, too. Simon?”
“Can you pass me one too?”
We sat in the silence, the smoke permeating the room in a misty gray. I dragged the smoke deep into my lungs, Tomas’ brown cigarettes weren’t too bad–a little too like menthol, maybe, but they were good. My head was feeling light and sickly and perfectly relaxed.
Tomas served us some drinks and we sat in the cloud of smoke.
“You think we should call someone about it?” said Tomas, who sat resting his feet on the coffee table.
“Maybe.” My words were slurred. Tomas switched on the TV, a flat screen that rotated out from behind the portrait of Tomas and the horse, which disappeared into the wall.
“See, that’s awesome,” I said, holding up the bottle “Cheers to you, my prick friend.”
“Cheers,” Tomas chuckled and raised his own bottle. “To Simon. The redheaded lunatic with weird powers and…stuff…” Tomas swung his legs around, so they fell over the back of the couch and looked at me upside down. “Why do you hate me?” he said.
I sat there and thought about how many times I had fantasized about setting up a witch hunt against Tomas, à la Crucible.
“Like you don’t know,” I said and drank off the bottle.
“No. I really don’t,” his face was flushed from the drink, but calm, as if genuinely expecting a response. I kind of figured he was messing with me—my empathy sometimes fails me when I’m drunk, so I began, “After Fran and I broke up—”
“You mean, after she dumped you.”
“Yeah that,” I pointed the butt of the bottle at him. “Well I just…I never had time, you know. For her. I was always going out—and I was still hanging on to the memory of Amelia.”
“So Fran was the rebound?”
“No,” I said indignantly. “No. She was more than just that. I love her…I mean I loved her. It’s just sometimes hard,” I couldn’t believe I was pouring my heart out to Tomas. “It was hard seeing her…”
“Seeing Fran? Simon, it’s not hard to see a hot chick if you just pay attention.”
“No—that’s not what I mean. I meant to say, I saw Amelia in her. Sometimes she would look at me, or she would fix me some breakfast and then I would see her…”
“Well, duh. They are cousins, so I would imagine you have to see Amelia in some things.”
I thought about that for a moment and said, “I just couldn’t handle it. Amelia had been gone for almost two years, but the thought of her—of our unborn child—was almost too much to bear.”
“Yes. I heard about that,” said Tomas. “They say you went crazy.”
I sucked on the bottle hard and nodded. I felt a hot tear escaping my eye and I caught it with the back of my hand.
“But the point is—” I began, gritting my teeth, “I hate you because you went after her right away.” It was amazing to me everything liquor would let you say.
“You think we dated after that?”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “You were always after her…and you’re handsome and rich and you had feelings for her.”
“You mean, have feelings for her. But I never had her,” he said, sitting right side up and placing the bottle down on the table. He ordered it to refill and the yellowish liquid filled the bottle again with a swoosh, until it looked like a brand new bottle.
“Whoa, you have to teach me that trick,” I said and we both laughed.
“But seriously, Simon. I mean I did try to be there for her—I had high hopes. I thought maybe, if that red-headed dude could steal her heart, I could take it back from him, but…I never could. Even now I wonder if she still loves you.”
I chortled “She’s about to get married.”
“Listen, there’s a saying in my country. It says ‘where there is smoke, there’s fire’.”
“Wow, I have never heard that one before, but it’s awesome. You think you can teach me Portuguese sometime?”
“Ah, no,” he said.
On the television’s local news a woman spoke solemnly through the screen. She was a long faced, owl-eyed woman with thick brown hair cut unevenly to her shoulders.
“Turn it up,” I said.
“Put the volume up.”
Tomas waved his hand and the woman’s voice boomed.
“…the police seem to have some kind of idea as to what happened here at Patron. This is footage taken earlier with Cathedral Police Detective Linda Harold.”
They switched the screen to show Linda. Behind her stood Garcia, cross armed and silent.
“Prick,” we said at the same time. Tomas raised his bottle to me and took a swig.
“We have investigated the scene and thankfully there were no casualties…” said Linda.
“Yeah-huh, what happened to Alana?” I said.
“Witch business has nothing to do with this,” said Tomas. “When a witch dies, we try to clean up the scene right away. It is our business and our business alone.”
I nodded. It made sense. I bet if you dissected one of them, you would find that they weren’t normal and witches didn’t want themselves exposed in any way. They had succeeded in keeping themselves a myth for quite a few hundred years –except for the whole Salem witch trial thing, in which they still swear the supposed hunters were killing off normal humans. Felipe had told me that. He said witches were too smart to get caught—and he was offended at the fact that humans would accuse them of serving the devil—they were above that, they had no master. I felt my heart tug for Felipe and I drank a big gulp in his name.
“We have dismissed the case and have classified it as a natural disaster. We cannot get into the specifics now, but after closer investigation we will be able to figure out how this whole thing went down.”
“What is your take on the string of suicides happening in Cathedral?” A man’s voice shot from the crowd. Then the rest of the reporters began asking questions over one another.
“Yes, and Mr. Lee, what has happened with his case?” said another voice.
“That Simon Berkley guy had anything to do with it?”
Linda kept her calm, glancing back to her partner and then pulling a smile on her mouth. “I can assure you Mr. Lee’s case is still being investigated—the string of suicides is as well. Mr. Simon Berkley is not a suspect in any of these cases, we’ve determined he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank you all, no more questions.”
There was an uproar from the reporters and then there was the owl lady again, saying her last words. I thanked the heavens when Tomas finally flicked the TV off. He turned to me and said, “Wow. You’re famous,”
“Famous like O.J. was famous,” I retorted. “They think I had something to do with the suicides. So what happened to the rest of the people on the list?” I said.
“They are under the protection of your friend, Linda. Though, to be honest, if it is true what you say, that this whole thing is not over yet, then…”
“We’re pretty much screwed?”
He nodded. “Well, what I’ve come to realize is this was an attack on us,” he said thoughtfully.
I remembered the dream, when the voice said, “Kill the witches.”
“I think I may have seen something,” I could re-envision the room in my head clearly.
Tomas looked at me inquiringly, hands on his knees.
Phil suddenly appeared in the living room.
“Alice was too quick for me,” he said and sat.
I passed him the bottle but he declined.
“Oh, you ain’t buying me off with no liquor,” he said. “Pass me a cigarette.” He lit the cigarette with his finger. “Now are you done being a jerk off, Simon? Or do I have to turn you into a shit-eating-monkey so you can resemble what you’re acting like?” the smoke twined together out his mouth and into the already foggy room.
“Been there,” I said. “No thanks.” After a second I added, “I was a jerk—I’m sorry.”
“You’d better tell Alice that,” he warned me.
“I will. I’m just under a whole lot of stress. I think I saw who conjured the wraith.”
Phil chocked on the smoke and coughed up a storm before he spoke.
“Well, who the hell was it?”
“I don’t know. I saw only a silhouette. He…or she, or whatever, was blocking my view. But there was a room and glyphs on the floor.”
“Glyphs? What kind of glyphs?” asked Tomas, who had been watching us and probably hoping Phil would turn me into a shit-eating monkey.
“They were animals. One was a bear, the other a snake, and the last a spider.”
“The first animals created,” said Phil absently.
Tomas nodded “You think that means anything?”
“Maybe,” said Phil. “My guess is that there are some major old powers working in this.”
“Like what?” I said.
“Like wizards,” said Tomas.
Phil looked taken aback by this he shook his head. “They’re all dead,” he said, but something in the way he said it made me think he wasn’t too sure himself.
“But what else can it be?” Tomas said. “We, as you say, don’t have the ‘magic’ to summon the wraiths—so what does?”
“It can’t be,” Phil rose to his feet and looked like he might pop out of the room, but instead he looked at his cigarette, took one last pull, and extinguished it on the ashtray. “I made sure they were all wiped out,” his voice was barely a whisper. “I killed the last of my own kind with my bare hands—I made sure they were all dead.”
My body turned cold and Tomas looked as confused as I was.
“You don’t understand what it’s like to have to kill your own,” he said and slowly sat down once again.
“But I feared this. I feared there would be a remnant somewhere. They tried to take over many thousands of years ago—they were obsessed with power and they were willing to do anything to gain it.”
He turned to me and said, “They’re evil, Simon. They think, breathe, and live evil—they were the real monsters of the old ages. And if what we fear is true, then we’re in danger. Not even one can live,” his voice was grave as he said the last part.
“But you’re alive,” said Tomas.
“I’m different,” said Phil.
“How do we know that?” Tomas was on his feet.
“You don’t—but you ain’t a friend of mine,” said Phil. “But Simon, he knows me.”
“But why witches?” I said, trying to keep the subject away from Phil. “Why kill off witches? I mean other than the fact that most wizards were evil. There must be a motive.”
Phil bit his bottom lip and his glasses slipped down his nose. “I don’t know. I just know this, Simon. If we’re dealing with an old wizard here, then we’re gonna need some major fire power.”
“We have you,” I said.
“I’m not as powerful as I used to be,” he said.
“I think we can start by calling that Linda,” said Tomas, who was already leaving the room on his cell phone.
“Phil. The wraith said something—it said it was just a ghost.”
“I know,” he said. “Me and…and my brothers used to make them…”
“You used to make them?”
Phil nodded, whispering, while Tomas was on the phone, talking in secret behind the bar.
“My brothers and I joined together—you have to understand, I wasn’t the same person I am now–”
I raised my hand: You don’t have to excuse yourself, friend, I thought and I pushed it from my mind.
I think it landed, because Phil smiled warmly.
“The thing is—I felt nothing, Simon. We had no hearts. We had seen greed and poverty and hunger for so long. For years we had been kind, and we worked to save the world with our powers. But then we lost it—we lost the will to fight for something so empty as peace.
“And then we decided enough was enough. Humans or witches were not our equals, no other supernatural that was made could challenge us. We were unstoppable.”
I saw a glimpse of this in Phil: a line of heavily robed men were walking, shooting electric bolts at anything, everything in their path.
“It was tragic. When I regained my heart I still remembered their faces—all those innocents who died at our hands,” he wiped his hand on his eyes, but more tears were streaming now. “And if this is happening, it’s all my fault.”
“No, Phil. You weren’t the one who conjured the wraith—or whatever the hell I saw in the vision. The spirit said something to me before it went to the other side. He said that, ‘he walks among them.’”
“The hell does that mean?” he said.
I shrugged and pulled out another cigarette and passed one to Phil. He flicked his thumb and I pulled the smoke in and felt that sweet sickly feeling in my head.
“The spirit said, ‘he is near them.’”
Phil scratched his head. “I’m not good with riddles.”
I nodded and said, “Especially when I’m drunk.” I suddenly felt exhausted.
“Whoever’s doing this, he’s trying to wage a war,” Tomas said from behind us. We both turned to look at him.
“Why you say that?” I said.
“The Council is getting together. They are all looking for someone to blame and…” he closed his phone. “It’s getting pretty ugly.”
“That’s what he wants,” I said.
“That is what who wants?” Tomas raised a brow.
“He—the dude who’s calling the wraiths—you’re right, he must wanna start a war.” I said. “Well, he’s definitely doing his job,” said Phil.
“That is a bit insulting. We witches are not so dense,” said Tomas, his arms crossed over his chest.
“But you sure as hell have your pride,” said Phil.
Tomas relaxed his posture and said, “Fine. But what would be the point of driving witches into war?”
“To destroy you—to destroy all witches who don’t wanna join,” I said. It was all beginning to make sense.
“I say it has to be a group of witches making the summon, maybe about twenty. Me and my brothers would go in groups of five, but we were always more powerful than wit–”
Tomas cleared his throat in offense. Phil just shrugged, “You know it’s the truth—all that crap about finding the source of all magic and all, you know it’s all shit! Magic has always been, since the light poured itself out,” Phil mumbled something under his breath and kissed his two fingers.
“It is not shit,” Tomas growled.
“Whatever,” said Phil.
“Point is,” I said fixedly at both. “We need to find whoever is doing this and stop him—stop this whole thing before it’s too late. If it’s true—if this thing came here to cause a war, then we have to make sure nothing starts.”
“It is too late,” said Tomas.
“What do you mean too late?”
“They have decided to go to trial with who they think did it.”
“But nothing has been proven,” I said.
“Yes, but while we were trying to stop the wraith, the Council investigated and they think they know who did it. Her name’s Bianca Summers.”
“Can you bring me to them?” I said.
“No way,” said Tomas. “Half of the Council suspect you already.”
“Why me? Can’t you just tell if I’m the culprit with your witchy-power-thing?”
“We can communicate through the Channel—or as you would simply put it, through the mind,” he lay his palm on his head. “But it is never that easy.”
“I know what it means, but can’t you feel it?”
“In my dream it wasn’t a woman who spoke—it was a man,” I said. “How exactly do these trials go?”
“They can take hours…and the verdict is almost always the same.”
“Death,” he said as if that should have been the obvious answer.
That threw me back and I felt the last bit of buzz from the liquor seep away.
“But they don’t know she did it!” said Phil.
“True,” he said. “But the Council is the law—the last word.”
I shrugged and said, “Just when I thought being a witch would have been cool.”
Phil snorted. “Not a shocker that these fools are still stuck in their old barbaric ways. Death first, ask later.”
“Watch your mouth!” said Tomas.
I growled, getting between them. The lights flickered and some burst as the two glared at one another.
“We don’t have time for this! That woman is innocent!” I said.
“Yes? And how can you be so sure?” said Tomas, snarling at Phil, his eyes feral. Phil’s hand was crackling with static. I planted my feet and pushed them apart.
“Drop it,” I shouted and Tomas snarled at me.”Watch yourselves,” I looked at Phil. “If you both wanna take out the measuring tape later and have a go at it, then be my guest! For now, I need to go to that trial.”
“I can’t take you—they will have my head!” said Tomas, who was cracking his neck with a hand.
“You have to. Like you said, you promised to avenge your godchild. Don’t you think she deserves to have her real killer punished?”
“Don’t be stupid, of course I do!”
“Well, prove it,” I said. “Grow some balls and take me to them. At least if they do kill you, you will know you tried your best for her.”
“Yeah, grow some,” mumbled Phil.
“And you,” I turned to Phil. “You, stop it.”
Phil looked ashamed and I felt pretty good about myself. I faced a wraith, a wizard, and a witch all in one night and beat them one way or another. I felt like I could take on the world.
“Now are you gonna take me or not?” I demanded.
“Okay, fine,” Tomas growled. “But it’s our heads.”
“And you’re coming too,” I said to Phil.
“Way,” I said. His brows furrowed and I begged, “Please,” with my hands curled as if in prayer.
“Okay,” Phil finally relented. “I just wish we knew where Alice was. If something goes down, it wouldn’t be so bad to have her around, at least we won’t go down without a fight.”
“Filhos da puta,” Tomas pushed me out of the way and stormed up to his room. “I will have to dress light!” he said. We heard his elevator glide up smoothly and his door slam.
“You think he’s just mad at the fact that he can’t dress up for this one?”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Gay,” said Phil. I considered telling him about what happened (or more like didn’t happen) between Fran and Tomas. So I did.
I held my hand up and said “I swear.”
“Totally gay,” said Phil decisively. “I would’ve gotten that witch and….” he stopped himself and smiled.
“I’m gonna choose to ignore that,” I said. “Phil, you think you have the juice to summon Alice?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Maybe,” he said. “But I am a little high….”
“When the hell did you have time to smoke?”
“I didn’t,” Phil reached into his pocket and took out a brown rectangle wrapped plastic. “I made brownies.”
“Nice,” I said. He offered, but I declined. The last thing I wanted was to catch the giggles in the presence of the witch Council. They were stuck up pricks with little patience and a knack for snapping necks.
Just thinking about the last time I had to meet some of them was enough to send my heart spinning.
“Don’t worry about these SOBs,” said Phil. “I’m sure we have this under control.” He drew a few symbols on the coffee table. I’m almost certain that if Tomas marched out of his room and saw his table with dark smears all over it, he would have a bitch fit, so I hoped Phil would hurry.
“Stop stressing the gay lord, man,” said Phil. “I’m gonna do this as fast as I can.”
“You reading my thoughts again?”
“All the time,” he threw a hand in the air. “But—and I know I never told you this—but you have a hell of a barrier on ya.”
I sat by his side.
“Really?” I said proudly. “Kick ass.”
“Yeah, most times I have trouble listening in. Though sometimes, like when you’re nervous like that,” he pointed at my shaking leg, which I hid indignantly. “I can read you easier. You need to control that, especially in front of the Council. Those a-holes have no respect for the mind.”
“And you do?”
“I didn’t say that,” he said, scribbling faster. “I’m just saying I don’t hold people against their thoughts. But maybe there are self-righteous pricks who can use them against you—thoughts can be a mighty powerful thing, Simon.”
When he was done scribbling he wiped the chalk on his jean’s knees and said, “I’m gonna show you a little trick,” and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes.
“Imitate what I do,” he said. I closed my eyes and inhaled exactly the same.
“Let your body go…clear your head, Simon. Now count backwards from thirty,” his voice became distant.
“Okay.” I let myself go. My mind fought the relaxed state at first. Flashes of Council members’ faces with their dark eyes seeped in and out, but soon I felt almost nothing, like I was empty.
“Good, now let the wind slip into you,” said Phil’s voice from a distance, an echo intertwining with a soft breeze.
“Yes. Now here,” he said. His last words brought a crash, like glass shattering from somewhere far off. Suddenly the air was filled with a rushing sound, like water passing down a stream.
“Can you hear me?” asked Phil. I nodded. “Open your eyes, Simon.”
I opened them and looked at Phil. I felt a little calmer, actually, I also felt hungry–like I had run a marathon.
“That’s how it feels at first,” said Phil. “It strains the mind a bit and the body gets a little weak.” I realized his lips weren’t moving.
“What the heck is this?”
“Welcome to the Channel,” said Phil’s voice, his mouth still closed.
“No freaking way,” I said, realizing I had my lips closed too.
“Way, dude,” Phil chuckled.
“Why did you do this? How did you do this…?”
“It’s a choice. I knew you wanted to listen in. I wanted to give you a present before you had to face the Council.”
“Can Tomas hear us?” I looked around the living room.
“Nope, not if we don’t want him to, and I think we pretty much agree on that one.”
“Can I hear him?”
“You will,” said Phil. “His defenses are down with you ‘cause he doesn’t know you can listen in,” he winked. “In fact, all of their defenses will be down.”
The realization dawned on me and I smiled. “Sweet!”
“I knew you’d like it. I can’t promise how long it will stick. It takes years to master that part, even for me. But at least you’ll have a good head start on ‘em evil bastards.”
Phil went back to the symbols and licked his thumb, fixing one ceremoniously.
“Just need a little saliva to…fix this…side, there you go,” he said, now using his mouth to speak.
Phil placed a hand over the symbols and began humming low.
“What the hell is this?” Tomas was at the foot of the hall, his eyes furiously scanning the table. “That is pure mahogany!” He began to pant.
So gay, I thought to Phil.
“How am I going to fix this now?” I heard Tomas think. Even his thoughts had an accent. “First I get involved with scum like this and then my table gets ruined!”
“Oh just calm yourself—I promise I’ll buy you a new one,” said Phil who was still very much calm over the ruined table.
“See,” I said, trying to alleviate things. “He’ll buy a new one.”
“That’s a one of a kind relic from the eighteenth century! How the hell are you supposed to replace that? And what the hell are you trying to do exactly?” Tomas had reached a new level of anger, one that included a higher pitch and wild hand gestures.
“We’re trying to snatch up Alice from where ever the hell she went to.”
“Oh. Is that what you’re trying to do?” Tomas’ voice was skeptical.
He knelt down next to his precious table and laid his head in his hands. “Do you remember when you first came here and I said I had placed protective hexes—enough mojo to thwart the wraith?”
Phil’s and I both nodded.
“That means,” Tomas’ voice was growing intense. “That you cannot conjure anything to this house–”
I scratched the side of my head and said, “But Phil popped in–”
“Phil is not a spell, now is he?!”
I shook my head and Phil’s eyebrows went up.
“And now my table is ruined!”
“Sorry, bro,” said Phil.
“Do not call me bro,” said Tomas with a menacing tone. “After this is all done I want nothing to do with you!”
“I’m pretty ok with that,” said Phil.
He scowled at us both and then said something in Portuguese that sounded like a horrendous word.
Phil waved a hand over the symbols and they swept themselves away, but you could still see the dark shadowy spots of the symbols on the surface.
And when we thought things just couldn’t get worse, the table made a creaking noise as we headed toward the door. It sparked suddenly and collapsed in on itself, the legs disjointing, tilting to the side and crashing on the carpet.
Tomas closed his eyes, but hurried his step out the door, cursing under his breath as we left the house.
Tomas took us in one of this other cars this time, a simple black Toyota. He wrapped his hair in a tight ponytail and wore a black leather jacket and jeans. This was the first time I had seen Tomas so dressed down.
It was mostly a silent ride, except for the low hum of the engine and the breathing of the AC in the car. I sat in the passenger side with Phil in the back. Tomas was thinking about his goddaughter and about what I said. I almost felt bad for prying into his psyche this way; but then again, he was no friend of mine, so my conscience wasn’t hurting me too bad.
He was thinking about some business he had to attend to in Brazil; someone had found a relic that was said to belong to the oldest witches alive.
I switched the Channel to Phil and made knock knock jokes while Tomas drove. He would occasionally glance in the rear view the mirror at Phil whenever he laughed at one of my punch lines, which was usually “Dick”.
“Dick driving gay lord.”
We went back and forth, avoiding the fact that I was going to meet one of the highest powers on earth and that I might come out of the trial in a body bag.
Not talking about the problem at hand was somewhat of a relief.
“My sources say the Council is holding a full trial against Bianca,” Tomas finally said.
“Meaning what?” I stared outside to the night sky. A yellowish-gray mist slithered across a half moon.
“Meaning they most likely will charge her fully for the murders.”
“Doesn’t the Council want to know if she is actually the culprit?” I said.
“Sure. But you don’t know how the Council could be,” he gave me a devilish grin and I swallowed hard.
I had not met the entire Council, though dinner parties at Fran’s were always a good way to meet some of those creeps. Most of them were more than willing to just ignore you, but I remember a few—two, specifically—who gave me the willies. One was Soraya Darious, Fran’s “godmother-witch-bitch”, who had as much pride for her heritage as she had contempt for humans (or anything that could not be explained, like moi).
The other witch was even creepier: Theo Percival, a witch who used to hunt down humans and who had also hunted down witches back in the real dark ages. His calm demeanor and smooth voice could fool anyone into believing he was human, but in truth he relished the hope that one day he could go back and (legally) hunt down the “human vermin”, or so I’d heard from Fran.
These were just two of the twenty or so council members: old witches who sought to keep their ways intact and keep humans away from the truth about witches and monsters and the like. Fran had warned me many times that they did whatever it took to keep things in balance. When I met them, I realized why Amelia insisted on keeping me out of their sight.
“Yeah, those two are horrible,” said Phil and though I hadn’t turned to look, I knew he was speaking through the Channel. I was beginning to understand how this Channel thing worked.
“Phil, stop thinking about burritos!”
“You two okay?” said Tomas.
“I’m great,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I be great? I am awesome.”
Tomas’ face screwed up and he said, “Right.”
Forty minutes later, we were reaching more rural land, far from the smooth highway, on rocky road. Forest lined both sides of the road, tightening up around us, until the dark row of trees narrowed into thick forest. I could have stuck my hand out of the window and touched a tree. The car began to speed up, the meter pulling toward 70 miles per hour, 75, 85… My body was pulled back against the chair by the force. I gripped both hands on the sides of the leather seat.
“Tomas!” I screamed.
I felt my face tighten with the pressure. The trees swiped at the windows until I could only see forest and the moon rising high above from the sun roof Tomas slid open.
I wanted to reach over and slap him, but the pressure held me down and I was afraid of the impact.
So this is how I would die!?
Tomas didn’t even flinch. The car twisting left and right, nearly missing trees at each turn. Tomas opened the windows and the cold night air slipping in as tree branches scratched my arms.
“Ah!” I screamed, blocking my face with my hands.
The car roared through a clearing, then ripped into the forest again.
“Come on, you asshole!” I looked over to Tomas, who was laughing, hands on his belly, as the steering wheel turned itself.
I grabbed the steering wheel and realized Phil was calm.
“He’s just messing with you, Simon,” said Phil through the Channel. The car pushed faster, the forest breaking into another clearing. The car skidded and made a wide circle, stirring up dust all around us.
The dust collected itself and I could see again. I was still hanging tight to the steering wheel. Tomas was coughing, though he managed to chuckle heartily.
“Oh, you should see your face,” his eyes welled with tears.
After I almost coughed my lungs out, I opened the car door and fell on my hands and began throwing up. The acid burned my throat, and between heaves I could hear Tomas laughing.
“Let it go!” Phil said as he helped me up to my feet.
“You had to pay for my table somehow,” said Tomas, wiping his eye with a piece of tissue. “And that was awesome!”
He turned to Phil and said, “You are next.”
“Bring it,” said Phil.
There was a tall, worn fence right behind us. The moonlight made a trail that slipped beyond a glowing gate just enough that we could see it led into more dead grass and finally ended at a barn that looked worn and rotted, like a black giant sleeping on its side. The shape of a tall house neighbored the barn, though you could barely see it from where we were.
Tomas pointed toward the house and began walking. The gate creaked open as we approached, its sound like nails against a chalkboard in the stillness.
Behind us the car roared one last time and slipped back into the forest.
As we neared the house, I could see its windows were broken and blocked with planks of wood. The wraparound porch was long, extending all the way toward the back, though the paint was chipped and the wood was dirty.
There was a kid’s swing that was half cut and drooped down, limp like a mouth half opened. A doll with a cracked skull lay sprawled on the ground, eyes staring back at me. My leg crashed through an old piece of wood on the porch. I cursed and the house shuttered and groaned.
“Ah! What the hell!” I slipped my leg out, debris from the overhang falling on my face.
The floor of the porch made creaking sounds and the house smelled like standing water and old wood.
“What the hell is this?” I said and Tomas put a finger to his lips.
Phil was poking the swing, making its metal chains clink.
“Stop,” said Tomas, and Phil threw his hands up.
Tomas knocked on the door. The wood sounded hollow under his fist and the house groaned. I looked through the slits of planks into the dark waiting inside the house; the warm, musty air slipped out at me through them.
“I don’t think–”
“Can’t you just be quiet?” Tomas rapped on the door three times quickly and three times slowly. It clicked open.
A strong gust pushed us back and a soft light poured out. As the wind died down, we all stared at a well-lit hall with white-washed stone walls with torches.
“Well…wow,” I said. Tomas just sighed.
“So, are we ready?” said Phil.
“Sure,” I said. “It would just be the umpteenth time I jump into death’s path, nothing new.”
“Yeah,” said Phil. “So. Let’s go.”