Searching For Magic
Chapter 6

Omar spent the next couple of days searching around the lake. Personally, I felt like it was a wild goose chase at this point, but I didn't have the heart to tell him. Next Wednesday's class was taught by Patricia; she taught us about constructing charms and amulets, and tried to tell us that things like censers, incense, chalices, and candles were the traditional tools of witchcraft. When I pointed out that these sounded more like liturgical tools than anything the average Medieval peasant would've hand, she gave me a scathing look. Nicole decided to chime in, telling me that I should shut up because clearly Patricia knew more about this than I did.

Since most people don't really believe you when you tell them you have personal experience as a Medieval peasant, there wasn't really anything I could say to that.

Wednesday night, Omar climbed into bed at about two in the morning, this time warm and smelling like shampoo and soap - he'd just taken a hot shower. "So, I've been going about this all wrong," he said.

"Hmm?" I opened my eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Been looking around the lake," he said. "I need to look in the lake."

"What d'you mean?" I asked.

"I mean, whoever did this mighta done it more than once. And if they did, if there are any other bodies, they might be in the water. And maybe something on 'em to link them to the killer."

"Makes sense," I said.

"Yeah. Wanna come with me next time?" he asked. "'Cause I could use your help."

"'Course, honey," I said.

Thursday evening after work, Omar and I went down to the lake. I got out of the car and looked around; it was the kind of place with docks and picnic tables, and enough trees to have a reasonable amount of privacy wherever you went. Over on one of the docks, a man was teaching his six or seven year old daughter how to cast a fishing pole.

Omar went to the trunk and pulled out something wrapped inside a plastic bread bag. Looking closer, I could see it was a flashlight, and that he'd tied off the end of the bag at the back of the flashlight. He'd waterproofed the flashlight, I realized. Then he pulled out a small bucket with a flashlight in it, and he handed it to me.

"So what do you want me to do?" I asked.

"Well, if I pull up anything, you make sure nobody runs off with it," he said. He walked over to a secluded dock and pulled off his shoes, socks, and shirt, and he slid down into the water. In a second his flashlight came on.

I sat down on the dock and watched the light move around beneath the water. Several minutes the light rose up, and Omar surfaced. He placed a handful of objects down beside me - a couple of wallets, a ring, and an old metal lighter. While he went down under the water again, I turned on my flashlight and examined the items. There was nothing remarkable about the wallets, as far as I could tell. The ring was a piece of costume jewelry, and the engravings on the lighter had all but worn away. I put them in the bucket when I was finished, and I waited.

His light moved deeper and further away this time, and for awhile it faded from view altogether. Since it looked like it would be awhile before he got back, I practiced meditation while I waited.

Eventually he came up from the water and placed a new collection of objects on the dock. I opened my eyes and looked. There was more jewelry, more wallets, and various other personal items.

"There were so much damn garbage," Omar grumbled. "Almost cut myself on a beer bottle. Anyway, gonna go back. Got more ground to cover." He sunk beneath the water again.

I looked through what he'd brought me. The jewelry included a cameo locket, which I tried to pry open with the blade of a pocketknife Omar had brought up. Nothing doing, though; it was stuck.

None of the other items stood out, either. And so it went for awhile; I examined what Omar brought me and put them in the bucket. The sun went down and my flashlight started going dim.

Finally, Omar came up with nothing more than a single ladies' watch with a gold-plated band. "Got something," he said. He handed it to me.

"What about it?" I asked.

"Found it on somebody's wrist," he said grimly. He climbed on the dock and sat beside me.

I shone my dimming flashlight on the watch. It was an inexpensive piece, and it had been damaged by rust. But it wasn't so damaged that the remains of an unfamiliar symbol couldn't be seen. I held it for Omar to see, and he nodded. "Yep. Looks like I was right."

I pulled out my pocket notebook and sketched down the symbol, and wrote down a quick description of the watch. Then I handed the watch back to him. "Should put it back with the body," I said. "And call the police. Maybe somebody can finally know what happened to their..." Daughter? Sister? Girlfriend? Mother? All of the above?

Omar took it and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I hope so."

The next day was Friday, which meant another class. And this was when we met the third teacher. She was in her mid-twenties, with pale skin and long, dark hair. She wore a black flared cotton skirt with a black blouse. If she was trying to look like the stereotypical picture of a witch, she was doing pretty well.

"My name is Sarah Collum," she said. "And I'm going to teach you about my favorite specialty - spirits," she said.

"Like ghosts?" Eddie asked. "Are we gonna talk to ghosts? My uncle says you don't mess with ghosts."

"True," Sarah said. "If you go meddling with any kind of spirit irresponsibly, you will regret it."

"So there're multiple kinds?" I asked.

"Of course," Sarah said. "Places can be haunted by ghosts, the leftover energies of the living. If you look up hauntings, you'll find they happen where there was a huge amount of emotional energy going on. And then, human energy can come together to form what's known as a genius loci - a spirit of a place. And you can focus and shape your own energies into a kind of artificial spirit."

That was a completely new idea to me, and it was so different from anything I'd ever heard that I felt dizzy. "You can make... an actual spirit?" I asked.

"Yes, that's right," she said. "Of course, most of them go rogue at some point, especially when they start getting any real power of their own. I knew someone who tried to make a... let's just say an imaginary friend. It was nice and submissive at first, but then it started feeding on his personal energies and he had to destroy it." She paused. "And then there's gods, but I'm not here to teach you theology. That's your own personal business." She paused. "So, first rule of dealing with spirits is... spirits are always looking after Numero Uno - themselves. If there's a way they can take advantage of you, they will. That's why you have to be very, very careful around them and word any requests exactly."

"My grandmother had an angel," Nancy said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Her angel was nice."

"I'm sorry, but this isn't angelology," Sarah said sharply, and Nancy shrank back in her seat. "So as I was saying, they'll take advantage of you. And if you make yourself their servant, they will punish you if you misbehave. That's why you must know what you're doing. You must perform the correct rituals and mind your wording at all times. Have you ever heard of the story of the Monkey's Paw?"

"Isn't that the one where the guy wishes for money and his son gets killed at work, and the company pays him money to stay quiet about it or something?" Eddie asked.

"That's the one," Sarah said. "And if you're not careful, that's how you can end up. And it should go without saying that you should be mindful what you promise to a spirit. If you tell them that you'll give them anything, they may very well take you up on it."

"So hypothetically," I said, "You might end up with a spirit who demands human sacrifice from you?"

"Oh yes," Sarah said. "And you might find yourself tormented day and night until you pay your debt."

"That's really messed up," Layla said. "What would you do if you accidentally got into a situation like that?"

"An ounce of prevention's worth a pound of cure," Sarah said in that brisk tone. "If you don't want to get into that situation, don't get into it."

"Well... what if someone else did?" Layla asked. "And I wanted to help?"

"Then that's their own problem," Sarah said. "It's not your responsibility to save everyone, especially if it's their own fault they got into trouble."

"But what if I just want to?"

"But what if you just shut up and let me teach the class?"

Layla fell into a fuming silence. I looked at the others; I couldn't tell whether Eddie was feeling much, if anything. Ronnie had a weary look on his face. Nancy looked like she was trying to disappear into her seat. Nicole's expression was bordering on worshipful.

"This is no place for a Goodie Two-Shoes," Sarah continued. "Magic is demanding, and it won't be cheated. To get what you want, you must pay the price."

I thought back to the people who'd been trying to find an elixir of immortality awhile back. Was this dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest thinking normal among those who practiced magic? Did magic only appeal to people who were completely out for themselves? No, that couldn't be; Layla wasn't like that. I thought it over again and I realized what it was. Magic was a form of power, a means to obtain the otherwise unobtainable. It would appeal both to those who wanted to have complete control and dominion, and to those who wanted nothing more than to help others. And if there was one thing I'd learned over the years, it was that the former really hated the latter; they'd inevitably try to crush them or bring them under their control, to manipulate and trick them into serving their interests.

Sarah went on to teach us a basic routine for conjuring a spirit, involving a black mirror and an invocation, and I confess I didn't pay too much attention at this point. My thoughts were on the personalities of those I was investigating. If they all accepted it as fundamental truth that the weak of body or character could be sacrificed for the goals of the strong, then any one of them could have been responsible, and any one of the other students could be at risk - Eddie for being small, Layla for being soft-hearted, Ronnie for liking "bad" music, Nancy for being sensitive, and Nicole for being a sycophant. And their views on who was strong or weak, deserving or undeserving, would certainly be affected by their views of race and gender as well.

Next morning, I went to a library and checked out a few books on symbols, hoping I might find the one on the watch. But nothing turned up. On Sunday I looked through the books again to make sure I hadn't missed anything, but no such luck. I even checked a third time, and would have checked a fourth if Omar hadn't reminded me that I hadn't had anything to eat all day besides toast and coffee.

Monday I had work, of course; I informed Paula that we'd made headway on the case, but that we were still looking into it. I decided that what I needed to do now was examine the teachers closer, get serious about digging around and seeing what I could find.

Wednesday evening came, and I went back to the farmhouse. When I got there, Nicole was sitting on the sofa grinning like the cat who swallowed the cream while Nancy, Layla, and Ronnie looked on.

"Yeah, yeah Nancy, I know, it's a real bummer," Nicole said. "But has it occurred to you that if you stopped trying to contradict people all the time, and oh, maybe lost some weight, that you might get invited to things?"

"Wait, what happened?" I asked as I stepped inside.

"Sarah's asked me to come attend a ritual her people are doing," Nicole said. "And Nancy's pouting because she doesn't get to go." Her tone was mocking.

I looked at Nancy. "Pouting" wasn't how I'd describe her. She looked like she wanted to disappear. I looked at Nicole. "Ya know, you can ease off, right?" I asked. "Pretty sure nobody's giving you extra credit for being a jerk."

"Hey, it's like Patricia said, if Nancy can't take the heat, she should get out-"

The door opened, and Eddie came into the room. "Hey, bozos!" he greeted everybody cheerfully. "How's witch practice?"

The interruption gave Nancy the opportunity to sit down in a corner, and it gave me the chance to think things over. Was Sarah the murderer? Was Nicole the next intended victim? Nicole's desire to impress her superiors would make her easy to manipulate. Of course, I doubted she'd believe me if I told her that Sarah planned to kill her, and I needed some kind of proof. So, I'd have to go out wherever she'd be going with Sarah.

In a few moments, Craig walked into the room. "Hey, everybody!" he said. "Ready for the penultimate class? Today we're learning about divination!"

While Craig walked over to the table, I sat down next to Sarah. In a few moments he started demonstrating pendulum divination, and when everyone's eyes were focused on the crystal plumb bob he was using I reached over for Sarah's purse, pulled out her planner, and checked what she'd penciled in for September and October. For the next Saturday, she'd written in Autumn ritual w/ Sarah's coven 10 PM, with a location I recognized as near Lake Kimber.

Right after the last class. If Nicole was the murderer, it looked like she couldn't wait to get started again. Had she made a deal with a spirit that demanded victims, maybe one every year? Had she spoken to Layla the way she had because she wanted to seem too good, too smart to make mistakes like that?

I reminded myself that I couldn't get carried away with speculation and tucked the agenda back into the purse, and I watched Craig again. I hadn't missed anything important, since he'd gotten sidetracked with some story about a time he'd impressed some girl by divining the sex of her unborn child and how she'd fallen in love with him and how he'd had to nobly tell her to go back to her boyfriend.

When the lesson was over, I didn't leave immediately. Instead, I asked Patricia if I could look at her bookshelf for a moment so I could see what titles she had so I could pick them up for myself. There were a couple of Alameda Crane titles, some books on various mythologies, and a few on Western mystical traditions. I wrote the titles down in my notebook.

Behind me, I could hear Nancy apologizing to Craig for being a difficult student all these weeks. I sighed. I wanted to tell her that she hadn't been a difficult student at all, that she'd ended up around a bunch of jerks. But then Craig told her not to worry about it, so I decided I could let things be for now.

I needed to focus on the case.

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