So the night was a bust. Actually, worse than a bust, really. The
only reliable information I could pick up about Cheryl was her number and
address, useful, of course, but not really what I was looking for. I had been
checking around for anyone who'd been collecting good luck. It's a useful
feat before attempting any huge magical undertaking. Not really a nice thing
to do though- basically, you steal all the good luck someone will have for
however long, leaving them with terrible things happening to them. Typically,
you would do this to a number of people, one not having enough good luck to
guarantee success. No word of that going on, though.
Unfortunately, the word that was buzzing through the community was that there
was a new medium over on the jut. Great. Here I though something in my life
would go easily. No one seemed to know the details, just that some kid was
just awakened. I played it off like I didn't believe them. Don't want to tip
my hand too early. I tried to find the source of the info, but that didn't
really happen either.
So I did the next best thing- I went to see Gino. Wanted to put the fear
in him a little, just in case he was planning on bragging about his new abilities
to anyone. The kid is a little perv, which, looking the way I do, could be
useful later. I told him to keep his mouth shut, and after he catches up on
Torath-Gol, I'm sure he will. There was just one thing left to deal with-
I'd told them I was from the school, and thanks to a simple air of authority
spell, they'd bought it. Works on anyone who doesn't know who you are already,
which is nice. On the way out, I pulled Mr. and Mrs. DeFeo aside.
"The truth is," I told them, "Even if the nurse did send him
home… there is another issue I wanted to discuss with you here today.
Has he spoken to you about… auras?"
"Yes!" his mother called out. "He said he's been seeing things
in mirrors and the doctor told us they were called auras!"
"I was afraid of this…"
"What?" said Mr. Defeo. "Is something wrong with the boy?"
"He's been in to speak with me about them. I'll be perfectly honest
with you- delusions like this could signal the start of serious mental problems."
"No!" said the mother, swooning. "My baby!"
"See, Polly, see? " said the father. "Your genes, just like
your Aunt Rita."
"It's still in the early warning stages," I said, moving to a more
reassuring tone, "And I have every reason to believe that with the proper
help, Gino will be fine. I will do my best to set up sessions with him to
help him through this time of mental crisis. I will, however, need your help."
"Anything, anything for my baby!" Mrs. DeFeo said.
"Don't talk about this with him. Or with anyone. Discussing these 'auras'
with him only lends them credence, fuels his delusions. To be honest, I'd
appreciate it if you not tell him I told you these things- it will only make
him defensive and work against the trust I've been building with him."
"Of course, ah… what did you say your name was?"
"Lowry. Doctor Lowry."
"Of course, Dr. Lowry, we don't want to interfere with helping Gino
get better… I can't believe it, our little baby is going crazy!"
"Your genes, Polly," Mr. DeFeo repeated.
"This doctor you took him to, can I have his name?" I asked. "I'd
like to speak to him about putting these deluded ideas into impressionable
"Oh, yeah, sure," Mr. DeFeo said. "Polly, get a piece of paper,
take out his card."
Once equipped with that knowledge, I left the DeFeos, confident that they
wouldn't be spilling the information on their poor crazy son anytime soon.
I headed back to Ancient Spirits. There were a few regulars who tended to
show up later who might have something. Hell, you never know, and it was pretty
much on my way, anyway. When I breezed down the stairs, Kelly's eyes went
wide behind the bar. He tried to signal me something, but I wasn't sure what.
A moment later, when Rowena's hand grabbed my by the neck, slammed me to the
wall, and pinned me in place, choking me, I think I got his signal. It was
sort of a 'watch out' signal. Thanks.
Rowena was a massive lady. At least six feet tall, two hundred pounds. At
least. Probably more, since I'd never realized until she was holding me off
my feet by the head how much of her bulk was muscle. She must have been about
40, of mostly Gypsy blood, from what I knew of her, but she'd traded in the
old ways for staying local to new Rome. She was wearing a brown leather coat
that went down about to her butt, and a woman's suit that looked almost like
a parody of a man's, especially on her man-ish body. Her frizzy black hair
was pulled back tightly. She wasn't wearing any make-up- she never did.
I was pretty sure I knew what I did to piss her off, but just in case I was
unsure, the first thing she said to me was "You killed Charlie, bitch." She
still had an accent, even after twenty years in this city.
How long was I going to be catching shit for this one? I tried to gurgle
out that Charlie wasn't dead, but my windpipe wasn't open enough. I settled
for clawing helplessly at her hand around my throat, attempting to keep myself
aloft enough not to actually die.
"Rowena," said Kelly, "Let her down. You know there's no fighting
here, unless you want to be banned."
"No trouble," she said. "We'll take this outside." Before
I could stop her, she lowered her arm, thumping my ass onto the floor, and
began to drag me outside by the head. The stairs were particularly painful.
Once outside, she rounded the corner to the nearest alleyway between buildings
and tossed me into a brick wall. Which, I might mention, also hurt.
"Charlie trusted you," said Rowena, "a mistake I never made
a long with him. I always warned him against you, but he said you'd never
dick him over." She pronounced dick like 'deek', which almost made me
laugh, except that I was lying on my face in a pile of trash.
I peeled myself off the ground. "Charlie is… Charlie's problem," I
"You filth." Rowena kicked my legs out from under me. My face hit
brick again, and I spat blood onto the pavement where I landed.
"You want an explanation? You want me to explain?" I coughed. Rowena
glared down at me. I feel my fingers in my own warm blood. "Well, in
anticipation, you, frozen, shall remain."
Rowena continued to glare down at me.
It worked. Frankly, I was surprised. Not only did I not think I'd get the
blood symbol done correctly without looking, I just didn't count on Rowena
being dumb enough to let me talk long enough to formulate something. I suppose
I should stop underestimating the stupidity of those around me. It rarely
ceases to amaze me.
I grabbed onto Rowena and swayed her from side to side, walking her over
to the garbage pile she'd thrown me into, the way one would walk a bureau.
I toppled her into the pile. I assume eventually it would rain or a rat would
disturb my symbols, or else some bum would pee them away. The real question
was if they would notice the frozen lady and take advantage first. Couldn't
happen to a nicer lady.
At this point, I basically decided that my night was crappy enough by half
already, so I made my way home and folded out my bed immediately. I sleep
on the sleeper sofa, the actual 'bedrooms' of my two-bedroom apartment being
taken up by things magical. The sofa is crappy, but not the worst thing I've
slept on over the years. I did a minor comfort spell on it one night, so it's
I slept well. No dreams, which means that spell is still holding strong as
well. God, I don't know how people used to live in the old days when spells
were for special occasions like revenging a death. Give me modern convenience
any day of the week, thank you very much.
Got up the next day and headed down to the shop. Considering I'd taken pretty
much the entire day off yesterday I figured I should out in a few hours. I
mean, it's not that big of a deal- business is always good when it all comes
down. Everyone who matters knows that we're the best place in town to get
serious books and will wait for us to open. In fact, usually when I show up
there's a charm or two waiting to be set off by my arrival, letting someone
somewhere know that we're open.
The bum was gone when I arrived. At first I didn't notice, but when I passed
the place where he'd been I could still smell the strong urine-y smell he'd
left behind as a reminder. I wondered how long it would take for his taint
to drift away from the area.
There were two charms on the door when I arrived. Neither was visible- they
were basically magical versions of the old 'stick a hair across the door'
trick, letting someone know if it had been opened. As I unlocked and opened,
I saw the charms break and whisk away to their masters. One of them was Mr.
Bellock's, I was pretty sure. We had a copy of Right to the Ways and the Rules
of the World that he'd been waiting for. The other I was not sure about.
The previous day's acquisitions had apparently been through the boss's sorting,
as they were waiting for me on the counter again. I filed Rituals of the Black
Continent in our African section and Divining the Gods in the Occult section.
Kidding, kidding, a little occult shop humor there. That's what I always tell
customers when they ask what section a certain book is in. Occult section.
Well, it's funny for me. It really went in the Deity Studies section.
I lit a few candles around the counter. It adds to the ambiance of the place,
which is nice, but I also usually choose some scented candles, which helps
with the old book mustiness. The scent I chose was called 'Dragon Blood',
but it smelled much less like dragon blood than you'd expect. I typically
read at work to kill time - one of the benefits of working in a bookstore.
I checked out what type of books on luck we had. After browsing a bit, I settled
with Luck and All Its Uses, which had a nice balance of age and comprehensibility.
I lay the book down on the counter and it flopped open to a random page.
It was the start of a chapter called "Reading Bad Luck". Pretty
much exactly what I needed. On a hunch, I kept my hand in that page and flipped
to the front of the book. As I'd suspected, the book came with a free amount
of good luck included. I smiled. Maybe things were looking up for me.
I began to read. It starts off with a basic outline of how you know you really
have a bad luck problem and aren't just having a bad run. I felt pretty confident
that I was reading the situation right in that respect. Cheryl was practically
a luck black hole. Some of the things she'd gotten wrong at that guessing
game were pretty ridiculous. I skipped forward a little to the subheading
of 'Most Common Causes of Bad Luck', and began reading there.
That was when the door opened. I figured it was Mr. Bellock, of course, and
called out "Hey, there, I've got something for you." I'd taken Right
to the Ways… down and put it up by the register.
A very non-Bellock like woman voice said, "You?"
It was Cheryl.
"Cheryl!" I said, "What are you doing here?" I came around
from behind the counter.
"How did you know my name?" she said, a little scared. "I
just… I thought this was a bookstore… I wanted to find a book…"
"Hey, sure we got a lot of those here!" I said, trying to sound
reassuring. "What can I help you with? Let me guess, some sort of charm?
Protection spell, am I right? I've been thinking about your problem myself."
Cheryl wasn't getting reassured. "I was… I was hoping for some… Grisham?"
I blinked. "You thought this was a regular bookstore?"
"I'm sorry, I should go," she said turning. "I've been having
terrible with things…"
"No, stay!" I said, "I think I can help! We can figure out
what's happened to you."
"What do you mean?" said Cheryl, paused right in front of the door.
"Luck like yours doesn’t just happen. There's a good chance someone
did this to you."
"Someone is making these bad things happen to me, you mean?"
"Sort of," I said. "Maybe. We can find out."
She looked at me skeptically. I extended a hand.
"My name is Desiree," I said.
She took a moment to look at everything around her, the books, the candles,
the talismans. "You really believe in all this stuff?" she asked.
"Most of it," I said. I tried to do a genuinely friendly smile.
She hesitated another moment, but then said, "What the hell? It's not
like anything else has been helping me. Nice to meet you, Desiree." She
extended her hand towards mine and walked a few steps closer to grasp it.
Which bumped her elbow into the register.
Which knocked over Right to the Ways….
Which smacked into my Dragon's Blood candle.
Which landed on the open copy of Luck and All Its Uses.
Which began to burn.
I would have grabbed the book and slammed it shut, putting out the flames
as best I could with whatever was around, but when Cheryl hit her elbow, she
instinctively jerked it back, throwing herself off balance just enough to
make her left foot twist an inch, sending her toppling towards me head first,
knocking me to the floor along with her. We struggled to get to our feet as
the book caught like kindling. When I finally got up and grabbed the small
fire extinguisher from behind the counter and sprayed the fire out, the book
So much for it's good luck, I thought. Actually, that was probably the only
thing that kept it from spreading to the entire ship full of books. I guessed
whatever Cheryl had was stronger than the book was.
I quickly went around and blew out the remaining candles in the store while
Cheryl got up and apologized profusely a hundred times over. I told her not
"I don't think this is you, Cheryl," I said. "That book… that
just got destroyed… well, I'd hoped it would help me figure out what
was going on with you."
"Oh, god, I'm so sorry!"
"Don't worry about it. We'll figure something out. This is what I do."
"Don't be. It's going to be all right."
She stood awkwardly for a moment. "Thanks," she said. "I'm
lucky I met you."
Which was when it hit me. No, she wasn't. She wasn't lucky to have met me.
She's got terrible luck. If fate had 'accidentally' lead her into this shop
and into my life, then that wasn't something that would be good for her. I
suppose like the cards had said the day before- things would come together
in the end, but won't necessarily end well. Great.
I looked at Cheryl. Would she better off if I just threw her out right now?
Maybe there was a way to change things?
Wasn't I supposed to get help?
"Come on," I said to Cheryl, and took her by the hand. "We're
going out. I turned the shop lights off and Cheryl opened the door, tripping
on her way out over something on the ground.
It was a crumpled piece of newspaper with a brick on top of it. I helped
Cheryl to her feet and picked up the paper. It was a page from a paper from
a few days ago. Someone had written on it in what looked like ketchup. It
said, "Might want to check on your new boy. Hospital dangerous."