Searching For Magic
Chapter 8

Saturday morning dawned, and I remembered that the world had changed. Not the whole world, of course. Just mine. I'd become something else, something more. It wasn't the first time it happened to me - the first time was back in the 13th century, of course - but this was a strange and new way of being for me. A few weeks back I'd set myself down a path, and now I'd crossed a point of no return. Things would be different from hereon out. I knew I'd get used to them eventually and one day I'd take them for granted, but for now, I was in new territory.

I got out of bed and did exactly what one usually does in this situation: something normal. I went to the kitchen and made oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, and I thought about what I was going to have to do later today. I couldn't see how it wouldn't be a pretty straightforward job, so it didn't bear thinking about. The real question was what I was going to do with the rest of my Saturday.

I decided that the thing to do would be to start examining objects and cataloging what I felt from them. I didn't know what I was going to do with this information just yet, but I figured I'd find a use for it someday. If you could put a few plants and rocks in a bag and attract money into your life, you could probably put different plants and rocks into a bag and attract... well, maybe an accidental meeting with Glenn Campbell.

So after telling Omar that I was going out for awhile, I grabbed a notebook and pencil and made my egress.

The first thing I saw outside the apartment was grass. Grass wasn't on the list of ingredients used by the witches of Shakespeare, and I imagined Prospero would give me odd looks if I were to suggest it to him, but I had to try. I sat down on the grass and placed my hands on it. "Okay, grass, what do you do?" I whispered softly.

For a moment I imagined that the grass might be about hiding or concealing something hideous, but the impression I got was much more benign. Living, growing, making sure everybody has a good time. I had mental images of parties on lawns, of children playing in the parks.


I wrote it down in my notebook. Then I placed my hand on the nearby sidewalk. This one took longer, but eventually the impression I had was solidifying, stabilizing, holding still, being strong. I wrote that down, too.

I saw a gum wrapper on the sidewalk, and I picked it up and held it. Preserving. Protecting. I had a humorous mental image of a protection spell made by covering a poppet in gum wrappers. Maybe it wasn't practical, but who knew, maybe one day I'd be short on supplies except for gum wrappers. I wrote down my findings and continued on.

And that's how I spent my afternoon. Anything I could get my hands on, that wouldn't get me into trouble, I examined and wrote down my findings. I'd need to test them out later at some point, but I felt I was making a reasonable start. I wondered whether others would have the same results as me; did my findings represent what these things could do for everyone, or simply what they could do for me? One thing I knew was that a single folk charm could have numerous (and even contradictory) variants from place to place, which suggested that some things may have been subjective.

I even examined a couple of churches. One of them felt welcoming, loving. It was as if an angel was reaching me out to welcome me home and assure me that everything would be all right now, that I would be loved here. Another one felt completely different; it was like a stern, cold father figure telling me that I'd been horrible and how I should be grateful he was letting me come back for a second chance, because what I really deserved was hellfire.

I wondered what made them feel so different. Was it whoever was in charge? Or was it the effect of everyone who frequented these places, including the congregation?

I wouldn't have any answers today, that was for sure. But someday in the future, perhaps, I'd figure it out.

Evening came, and after stopping back home to get food, I drove out to where this meeting was going to take place. It looked like it used to be a farm, but was long since abandoned and had gone to forest. I parked my car in a secluded area, and got out. I picked up a few small rocks and put them in my pockets, just in case I needed to make a diversion somehow. Then I flew up into the trees and made my way through them until I could see a bonfire in a clear spot.

Several people were standing around, and the mood seemed to be pretty cheerful. Moving lower, I eventually saw Sarah and Nicole, who looked completely ecstatic. All of them were dressed in black robes. Somebody had set up a picnic table, where there was a drink cooler that people were filling Solo cups from.

I tried to reach out and connect with the place, try and feel its magical aura. Maybe I could learn something.

It took a moment, but I got a sense of the forest minding its own business and being mostly unconcerned with those noisy humans - but would they please stop leaving their trash? Then there were the remains of the farmhouse, feeling old and tired and missing the days when people lived in it. Nothing particularly hostile or menacing at all.

I wondered if all of these people could feel this, or if I just had a particular gift for it. Or had they even tried?

I moved closer to the bonfire, and if it wasn't for the fact that night had fallen they could have easily seen me if they'd looked in my direction.

They gathered in a circle and one of them recited a blessing. Then the one who recited the blessing stepped into the center of the circle and beckoned Nicole to come closer, which she did eagerly. And from there, it was obvious that this was some kind of initiation and there was nothing murderous about it whatsoever.

So it looked like Sarah wasn't planning murder after all.

On the one hand, I'd ruled out one suspect. On the other, I wasn't sure who else it would be. Maybe I could talk to the other students, ask them if anyone had ever said anything to them in private, arranged any private meetings. But I didn't know their numbers, and I couldn't check the phone books because I didn't know their surnames.

I was going to have to get the information from Patricia's home.

How and when would I get it, though? Would I watch outside, wait for her to leave? That was never fun. Then I remembered the calendar with the dates marked on it. What were they, again? Dentist, dinner, hair? And what time? The dinner date - that one I remembered best. It was scheduled for this coming Tuesday, at four.

I stayed and watched their meeting play out, just to be sure. But nothing sinister happened; Nicole was just part of the Something-Or-Other Sisterhood now. (I couldn't quite catch the name.) Once it was over and the people had left, I went back to my car and drove back home.

Come Sunday, there wasn't much else to do but ruminate over the case. I laid on the couch thinking over what I'd learned, what I'd observed, how it all connected, and what it all meant. Eventually I thought back to how Omar had seemed so deeply shaken by Debbie's death. I looked over at him, sitting on the chair with a book. "Hey, Omar?" I asked. "Mind if I ask you something? Might be a little personal."

He put his book down and looked at me. "Yeah, go ahead," he said.

"I understand you were upset because... obviously, racism," I said, looking at his face. "But it seemed like... it might've been something personal, too. Close to home."

He was quiet for a moment before he sighed. "Oh. Yeah. It was, um..." He swallowed and looked off to the side. "My little sister."

I felt as if my blood had become electrified. "Oh."

He chuckled bitterly. "Yeah, yeah. That's how - that's what kicked off the whole thing where I became a vampire, too." I could see his eyes tearing up. "Ask me about it sometime. Just not today, though." He wiped one eye with the heel of his hand.

"All right," I said. Then I got up to grab a torn shirt from the mending pile on the end table to fix while I continued my thinking.

Monday wasn't too interesting. It was work and our usual home routines together, and me occasionally taking notes on my magical observations when I had the time.

Tuesday I went back to Patricia's house and laid down on the roof while I waited for her to leave. Eventually she came out and got into her car, and drove off. Then I came down from the roof, picked open the door's lock, and stepped inside. Everything was just as I'd remembered it.

As I'd said earlier, the house had such a small footprint that any bedrooms would need to be in the attic. And so, therefore, would anything resembling an office. I headed upstairs, where her combination bedroom/office was. I went over to the wooden desk. There was a three-ring binder sitting on it, labeled "Sacred Stones Mystic School." I picked it up and started looking through it, and soon I found the names and phone numbers of the students. I wrote them down in my notebook and put the binder back.

Then I glanced around the rest of the room. I didn't want to overlook anything else that might be useful, even if I'd found what I'd technically come for. I saw a small trash can on the floor, full of old envelopes and waste papers. That would be a good place to start. Maybe I'd find a receipt for a watch, or something. I sat down on the floor and started carefully examining the papers. Everything seemed pretty normal and innocuous - everything up to a piece of crumpled paper that I could see part of a familiar symbol on. I carefully unfolded it, and read the print.

Hey Nancy, no matter what anyone says I think you're doing great. Why don't you meet me at Paul's Diner this Saturday at six

There was a phone number attached - and the symbol from the watch, or something close to it. It seemed that partway through drawing the symbol, he'd messed up and must have decided it would be better to write a new one than try to fix this one.

So it was Craig. He was the killer. And he was going after Nancy.

Or he already had. After all, "this Saturday" was now last Saturday.

I tore downstairs to the phone and called Nancy's number, dreading that she wouldn't pick up. But in a few moments I got an answer. "Hey, this is Nancy," she said.

"Hi," I said. "It's me, Adry, from the school. Listen, I think Craig might want to hurt you. According to a friend of mine, somebody he used to date just... disappeared. She was a former student, like you."

"What?" she asked incredulously. "This is a prank, right?"

"No. I think Craig's into some bad stuff. Human sacrifice."

There was a long silence. Then, "I don't know what's wrong with you people, but you all need help! You just enjoy ruining people's happiness, don't you? You, Nicole, everybody else. Craig's nice to me, he's the only person who's nice to me. Leave me alone!" And she slammed down the phone.

So Nancy was alive, at least for now. And I knew where Craig would probably try and take her to meet her demise. The question was, when? It wasn't practical to camp out at the lake for possibly weeks on end. I had to narrow it down somehow.

I sat back and thought about what I knew so far. Debbie had been murdered in September, which suggested that Craig didn't like to wait very long. So he'd probably do it sooner rather than later. He wouldn't want anyone watching, so he'd probably do it at night, in a secluded spot.

I probably wouldn't have to camp out for much longer than a week, in that case.

I could manage that.

I left Patricia's house and locked the door behind me, and when I got home I explained the situation to Omar, who immediately offered to lend his car (since Craig wouldn't recognize it) and come out with me. So that's what we did. We'd get out to the lake in the late afternoon and keep watch. He watched from the ground, I watched from above. We had flashlights to signal each other with if we saw anything.

This time, I noticed something different about the lake. I could feel a sense of hunger, a taste for human blood. So this was what Craig wanted to sacrifice Nancy to. How much power was he getting out of it? What would happen if he ever stopped?

We spent many hours doing nothing but watching the lake, and I contemplated this thought often. I also contemplated what went through the minds of the mosquitos that didn't seem to be put off by mosquito repellent. Were they more determined than the other mosquitoes? Hungrier? Or were they just unable to smell the repellent?

We'd been at it for several days when I saw Omar's flashlight blink the signal. I looked around and saw Craig and Nancy getting out of a car and walking toward the lake. I lowered myself to the ground and ran over to Omar.

"So what now?" he asked me.

I thought about it. "Nancy's not gonna believe us if we just go over and tell her he's up to something. We gotta wait until he makes a move - and then, intervene. Plus, we'll need her as a witness."

He nodded, and we followed behind them quietly, keeping ourselves concealed in the shadows of the trees. The moon gave enough light that we could see well enough.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out one of my rocks, figuring I'd throw it the minute things got serious. I figured he'd pull a gun, or maybe try to strangle her. But nothing happened. She just walked to the edge of the dock - and then stepped straight into the water.

"Did she just-" Omar began.

"She did," I said. "Gonna distract Craig. Get Nancy." I threw a rock at Craig, who was standing at the end of the dock looking at the rippling water. It hit him in the square of his back.

He whipped around. "All right, who's out there?" he demanded.

I threw another rock and hit his chest.

"Come out where I can see you, you coward!" he said.

So I did. I walked out toward him, keeping my gaze on his face. His focus stayed on me, so he never noticed Omar moving out toward the water.

I considered what kind of threat I might be dealing with. He was experienced with magic, I wasn't. However, he probably didn't have my fighting experience. But how much good would that do me? I had no idea how powerful he was.

I'd just have to hope for the best here.

Craig rolled his eyes and sneered. "It's you. Oh, of course it's you. One of you idiots who won't understand that that it's dog-eat-dog. Every man for himself. That in the end, the only law that matters is the law of survival."

"Oh yeah, because that's how society's built," I said. "Stabbing each other in the back. Sure."

"'Course it is," he said. "You ever worked in business? Nah, I doubt it."

"I have, actually," I said. "And society doesn't work because that's what they're doing. It works despite it. It works because some people don't give into that. Or at least don't give into it completely."

He shook his head. "Whatever you wanna believe."

I wasn't arguing with him to change his mind, of course. I knew it wouldn't happen. I was just keeping him distracted. I could see Omar pulling Nancy out of the water.

Come to think of it, Craig hadn't done anything more than talk. Maybe that was all he could do.

Or maybe I wasn't going to get that lucky today.

Craig stepped forward. "Anyway, the world can alway use one less delusional idiot in it, so..." And then, Craig's body changed. His skin shifted and writhed, becoming pale and shiny, like the underside of a fish. His hair looked like strands of algae or underwater grass. It was weird, but I wasn't exactly sure what the tactical advantage was. Then he raised his arms, and muddy ropes of underwater plants rose from the water and launched at me.

I flew upward to escape, but they followed me. I darted in among the trees and they followed behind me - but as I hoped, they caught in the branches and tangled there.

Then I heard him yell. "Hey, what do you think you're doing? You put that back!"

Omar and Nancy.

I flew back in time to see him summoning ropes and sending them toward Omar, who was standing over Nancy. The vampire struck out with long claws, slicing the ropes - only problem was, that didn't stop them; it just turned them into smaller ropes. Two pieces wrapped around his fingers on each hand, holding them together.

So I pulled a rock out of my pocket and threw it at Craig's head. He startled and turned around to face me while Omar worked to get the rope off his hands. He waved his hands again, and a thick fog started to rise off the water, filling the air and thickening by the milisecond. I ran toward him, intending to launch myself at him, but before I could reach him he lifted a barely-conscious Nancy up by the collar and dragged her toward the water.

"Don't interfere if you know what's good for ya!" he snarled. Blobs of mud and water weeds rose from the water and flew at me and Omar, who'd just gotten his hands free. The last thing I saw before the fog became too thick was him reaching down to grab a large stick to hit the flying blobs with.

Craig, I had to find Craig. I flew just above the surface of lake, and I realized that he'd pulled her down beneath the water. I wouldn't be surprised if whatever power he had prevented him from drowning. I could see the water grasses floating just below the water's surface, probably ripped up earlier. Would they grab me if I went down? I cautiously dipped a hand in the water; nothing happened. So I went down.

One thing about being underwater was that my power worked just fine. Sure, the water gave more resistance, but I didn't have to actually physically swim. Or I could physically swim, and use my power to move myself faster. And that's what I did. The minute I saw Craig, I moved in his direction. He was holding Nancy by her neck.

His own neck, I realized, was exposed.

Omar said there were glass bottles down here. I looked down and I could see the neck of a bottle that had broken on the bottom. I picked it up, lunged toward him, and made a slash - and then there was blood everywhere, and Craig whirled around to face me. He grabbed me by the shirt collar, and I stabbed at his arm with the broken glass bottle. Problem was, he wasn't running out of oxygen; I was. I couldn't last long like this.

Then I felt myself yanked away from behind and dragged upward, and next thing I knew Omar was pushing me up on the dock. He dived down again, and a moment later he came back with Nancy and lifted her up beside me.

The fog was beginning to clear.

"Where's Craig?" I asked.

"Down below," Omar said. "You musta got him good - he was changing back."

Out of curiosity I tried to sense the lake again - or to kythe with it, to borrow a word used by a famous writer. I could feel a massive disappointment, a disgust. I realized: I wasn't responsible for Craig changing back. Craig changed back because the lake spirit had decided he'd failed him, that he'd become useless.

I wondered if Craig thought that was fair play and accepted his fate, or whether he thought that he should be granted an exception in his law of survival. I'd never know for sure, though. Omar dived down into the water again, and a few minutes later he pulled Craig's drowned and lifeless body back to the shore.

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