The Mediterranean sun lazed across the sky, shimmering off the crests of the water and shining off white cliffs, filling the air with light. The only shade in sight rested under a small collection of broad umbrellas standing guard over small tables on a wooden balcony overlooking the sea. Most of the tables were empty, the tourists having left for now, leaving two women at one table alone with their discussion. One of them was tall and dark, with sharp features and sharper eyes that made the waiter feel like prey when they paused on him for a moment too long. The other was shorter, with a lighter complexion hidden under a wide hat and large sunglasses that hid everything but her perfectly sculpted body and invitingly warm lips. Both of them wore light, airy fabrics, in light shades; though the taller woman was showing less of her legs than the other. The waiter brought them their drinks, trying not to look directly at either of them for different reasons, then slipped back inside.
“He seems nice,” the shorter woman said, slowly running her finger down the side of the goblet and down its stem. “Do you want this one?”
“I have more important work than that this afternoon, Babylon.” Babylon huffed and delicately lifted her goblet to take a sip.
“You’re so much less fun since you stopped being a demon.”
“I didn’t want to be a demon in the first place. I was a goddess.”
“Yes, yes. Weren’t we all, in some way or another. The way my old priests and priestesses used to scream my name, I still get a rush just thinking about it. But you seemed fine with it while you were the Devil at the Crossroads.”
“Speaking of priests. How’s that son of yours doing?” Babylon sighed and set her drink down.
“He still follows his own path. Which is to be expected, I suppose, if he wasn’t such a little prick about it.”
“This is the problem you run into when you mate with mortals.”
“Don’t go acting like you’re little miss innocent yourself over there. I know all about you and your witches.”
“I don’t bear them little spawn to aggravate me decades later.”
“No, of course not. You like your pets to remain pets. I understand, there’s a certain appeal to it. Of course you know I’ve had my share of toys. On that note!” She turned and lowered her sunglasses to peek over them at the other woman. “I hear you’ve been on the trail of a new Anchor.”
“Where do you hear these things?”
“I have my ways, dear,” Babylon said, waving her hand as she leaned back into her chair. “People like talking to me, especially if they think I’m not really listening. Is he fun? Jules was fun.”
“I thought you usually just broke stubborn and left it in a heap.”
“This one is different.”
“Oh, so he is fun?” The taller woman glared sideways at Babylon, who giggled.
“He isn’t of much interest to you, I’m sure. He made that very clear. But he’s powerful. And there’s something off about him. I can’t place it, but there’s some way he feels…connected, in a more visceral way, to our realm than the others have.”
“You think this is going to be the one? After all these centuries?”
“Yes. He has the power I need, and I already have a witch working on him. He’s getting close.”
“And if you can’t get him to subscribe to your plan?”
“Then I’ll have to make him desperate.” The taller woman grabbed her drink, finally, and finished it in one tilt.
“There she is.”
“Who?” Babylon smiled and picked her goblet back up.
“The demon I started having these drinks with.” The other woman chuckled. “Listen, Hecate. All this stress, it isn’t good for you. What if you finally get to be a Spirit of the People again, but lose sight of what you want out of it?”
“You think I’m working too hard. But you weren’t made second act to a bunch of upstart, petty little kings from another land.”
“I think you’ll find I’ve had many kings try to get one over on me.”
“Were you under them at the time?”
“Sometimes. But the point is, you need to make sure this is the goddess you want to be when you get what you want. Because once those people lock you into whatever you’ve been showing them…”
“I remember.” Babylon nodded, then waved toward the door. Soon the waiter slipped back out, picking up the empty glasses.
“Another for you ladies today?” he asked. Babylon looked to Hecate, who thought for a moment before giving a faint nod.
“That would be delightful, young man,” Babylon said, smiling, as she slid her finger across his arm. “As long as it’s you bringing it.” He smiled, then cleared his throat, nodded briskly, and ran back inside.
“Don’t break him before you get what you want from him,” Hecate said.
“Do you need help with your new pet?”
“I don’t think so. But I’ll remember you offered.” Babylon purred and turned to face the water.
“Good. I miss Jules. Another Anchor might be nice.”
3 November 2006
As the small crowd made its way around the room to speak to John Matteson at McGonigle Funeral Home, Jeremiah slipped passed them quietly to take a seat out of the way. He watched his grandson, and paid attention to the people who seemed to spend the most time checking in on him or helping him manage the flow of people. A young Latin woman stood out, and Jeremiah made note of her. When he got up, he hovered around groups of people until he picked up her name (Jackie) and then made his way to the casket. He made note of a couple other people that were clearly friends on his way, attempting to gauge their relationship to John by the way they handled themselves and their friend. He skipped the line entirely, avoiding the damned small talk expected of people at these things, and rested his hand on his son’s cheek.
“Thank you for showing me points of weakness,” he whispered. “Enjoy your rest.” With that, he quietly disappeared out the door and then out of the physical realm entirely.
29 October 2006
Henry’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. The nurse had gone to call Matteson, but they didn’t know if he would get there in time. He’d left a couple hours earlier, shortly after dinner, at Henry’s insistence. Before that, they had talked for hours. At first it was small talk, about what Matteson was doing when he wasn’t at the hospital, which hospital food Henry disliked less. Before long, though, Henry had grown more serious.
“Listen, John,” he’d begun, “he’s coming. He knows about you.”
“Who?” Matteson leaned forward and rested his hand on the rail of the bed.
“Your grandfather. I tried to keep your gift a secret.” Henry coughed, then took a deep breath. “I don’t know how he found out, but he did, and he’s coming for you after I’m gone.”
“I’ll be ready for him.” Henry shook his head.
“No, no, you can’t assume that. Never assume that. It’s dangerous.”
“What don’t I know?”
“Much. But it isn’t always about what you know. Listen, Jeremiah is ruthless, and driven, and patient. He may wait years before he moves, but I assure you, during this time he’ll be looking for a way to strike at you that you can’t just blow off.”
“Anything you can tell me would help.” Henry was breathing heavy, and reached for his cup of water. Matteson got it for him, and the two sat in silence for a moment as he drank.
The monitors were showing signs of distress, and the nurses outside were just starting to move. They seemed like a dream, slowly rising to their feet. They looked urgent, and I’m sure for them they were rushing, but time was moving slow. Henry noticed, and wondered if this is what time always looked like in the moments before one dies.
“It isn’t,” the man answered. Henry turned to see a robed man, his hood low over his face, his hand reaching out to Henry’s. Beside him was a young woman, with faintly glowing blue skin engraved with flowing runes. “We told Death to let us handle this one.”
“Why?” Henry asked, his voice weak and hoarse. The woman gave a weak smile, then walked around to the other side of the bed. The second hand on the hallways clock finally ticked. As the man’s hand touched Henry’s, Henry was flooded with memories. The things he had told Matteson, everything he could recall to mention about Jeremiah. The things he had forgotten to tell him. The face of his ex-wife. The moment he first held his son. The memories came in a flash, and then were gone again, back into the depths of his mind as the man’s fingers curled around Henry’s palm. “Who are you?”
The woman leaned down and whispered into his ear, and as she spoke, Henry’s eyes grew wide. When she finished, he stared into her eyes, then turned his focus to the man. His eyes began to water.
“Yes,” the man answered. “We are.” Henry slipped his hand out of the man’s grasp and rested it on the man’s cheek, then did the same to the woman’s cheek with his other hand as tears began to roll down his own.
“Thank you for visiting. Are you going to take me, too?” The Two both nodded, and Henry smiled. The second hand ticked again.
The nurses ran into the room just after the monitors around Henry’s bed began to sound alarms. They moved around his bed, pushing Matteson’s empty chair aside to access their patient and see if anything else could be done for him. Just on the other side of the doorway, Henry and The Two watched.
“Will John be okay? Do I need to stick around?” The man shook his head, and the woman took Henry’s hand and patted it.
“Your son will be fine,” she said. “You’ve trained him well, you’ve left him excellent records, and you’ve earned your rest.” He looked back toward the room, then slowly nodded, and the three of them walked away.