I took the dinner dishes to the kitchen and started washing them, mostly to watch John and Jackie as long as I could out the back window. I didn’t know what else to do. There they were, running off to some new supernatural danger, and Rick and I were just…here. Left behind. Waiting on the hope that they’d be back for us. Rick came into the kitchen with the last of the cups and then stood watching out the back door.
“I feel like a dog watching its humans go to work,” he finally said. I nodded.
“I get that.”
“You know they left us behind because nothing’s going to happen here.”
“We don’t know that, actually.”
“What, that that’s their reason, or that nothing’s going to happen?”
“Either. Both. I don’t know. I just.” I let my hands sink into the water and stared out the window at the dark trees. “I understand that we both need to be our own people and have our own lives, and the relationship is the place where those lives intersect, but. It’s hard sometimes to believe he’s really letting me in when he keeps this stuff so closed off from me. I want to trust him, to not assume he views me as outside of this stuff, but sometimes it really seems like he does.”
“Yeah. You know that’s the main reason I haven’t proposed to Jackie?”
“I didn’t! I just assumed you weren’t thinking about that yet.”
“I’ve been paying on a ring over at the Eastwood Mall, you know, far enough from town she wouldn’t just run into me there.”
“Don’t tell me that was the unavoidable appointment in Ohio you had to do before coming here!”
“The last payment was due. The ring’s in my bag, hidden. I’m not gonna ask her while we’re here, you know, this is for Matteson’s birthday. That seems rude.”
“Oh, Rick, that’s exciting! I’m sure—”
We were interrupted by the creak of the front door. We stopped, looked at each other, and then I grabbed a towel for my hands and he pulled his gun from the back of his pants.
“Are you really going to shoot someone?” I whispered.
“Last time we encountered the cult, I hesitated,” he whispered back. “It almost got me killed. I swore I wouldn’t hesitate again.”
We heard footsteps in the foyer. He raised his gun to point it at the door and waved be back. I stepped behind and past him, locking checking the lock on the back door as I passed it. I didn’t see anyone out there, but I was also pretty certain we’d locked the front door, and yet…
Thick black smoke started to seep into the room under the kitchen door. I sniffed the air but didn’t smell any fire, and when I looked to Rick to see if he noticed he was still fixed on the door itself. I pushed back against the wall and lowered myself to the floor as quietly as I could. From under the breakfast table I could see the smoke moving, almost like it was alive. It didn’t rise like regular smoke, and it didn’t dissipate. It just flowed, and twitched, as if looking around for something. Then it fixed on us and shot forward. I didn’t have time to react before it surrounded me and the world started to fade. I heard the door, and three gunshots, and then everything went dark.
“Oh HELL no,” Jackie exclaimed, stepping back away from the stone. I stared at the marking. Not here. Not this close to our cabin.
“The paint’s still tacky,” John said, poking the spiral. “This was just made. They’re active here now.” Shit.
“Maybe we should go,” I said. Everyone turned to me. “Look, it’s just, these folks are dangerous, and we’re trying to have a nice relaxing weekend, and I’m sorry if we can’t do that at the cabin but we could find some other place?”
“This cult, they kill people, Alice.”
“Yes! Yes, so we should call the police—”
“And they use magic and they bind elder gods to power their magic and they won’t stop, not until they’ve stripped the world of its magic.”
“Or someone stops them,” Rick said.
“Oh God, you want to stay, too?” I asked.
“I can’t just walk away this time.”
“You can and you should,” Jackie said, pointing at him. “You’re not equipped to deal with them and almost got yourself killed last time you came barging in!”
“And what, huh? Leave the rest of you here to deal with this!?”
“We have Alpha. If you and Alice go back to town—”
“I’m not doing that, Jackie! I’m not running away and leaving you to face these bastards without backup!”
“Not here,” John said. Everyone stopped. “We can talk about this somewhere else. We don’t know who or what is listening here.” We all begrudgingly agreed and headed back to the cabin. No one talked on the way back, I assume they were as lost in their thoughts as I was. The Brood was here. Now. I couldn’t wrap my head around what to do with this situation. On the flight to England, I’d heard so much about them, how John broke his leg fighting one of their bound gods, how they’d enslaved the minds of an entire town, how they’d been hunting people as far away as Pakistan. And now here they were, a brisk walk away from my family’s cabin, where we were expected to sleep at night, and the rest of them are just…trying to fight them. I didn’t want to be here, but at the same time, I didn’t want to leave everyone else behind.
Back at the cabin, we gathered in the living room and sat uneasily for a few minutes. John finally broke the silence.
“What do we know so far?”
“You said they just made that spiral,” Rick said. “So they must have made it recently.”
“Because they intend to use it soon,” I said.
“Beltaine,” Jackie said. “They’re waiting for Beltaine.”
“And what’s that?” Rick asked.
“It’s May 1. The Celtic traditions believe it’s one of the four main liminal days of the year, when the veil between worlds is thin and magic is easier.”
“You haven’t mentioned Beltaine as important before.”
“I don’t practice the Celtic traditions. My holidays are different. But the fact remains that the veil only exists because people believe it exists. So if a large number of people believe the veil is thin on May 1, and they do—that calendar has been co-opted by a lot of European pagans whether they have ties to the Celts or not—then the veil is thin on May 1.”
“Happy birthday to me,” John muttered. I patted his knee.
“Do we know how to stop them?” I asked.
“It depends on what they’re doing. But I know a fair bit about countermagic and Matteson is what he is,” Jackie answered.
“And I have a gun,” Rick added. Jackie glared at him. “So overall we’re pretty much ready for whatever they have going on.”
“I thought you weren’t carrying that around anymore.”
“It isn’t that gun. I, uh…bought my own.” Rick scratched the back of his neck as Jackie threw her hands up and leaned back into her chair.
“I can’t believe you!”
“We run into dangerous shit, Jackie! And no one’s jumping to give me any other way to deal with it!”
“And I don’t know how to control my magic, but I have it on good authority that it’ll be available if I really need it,” I said.
“No, Alice,” John said, “you, at least, should go back. I don’t want you in any danger.”
“Oh it’s too late for that! You think I can be safe here, ever, if we let them take this place? This is practically my second home, I’m not just leaving it, I’m not.”
“You didn’t sound so certain in the clearing,” Rick said.
“I had some time to think about it.” There was another long pause.
“Okay. If we’re all in,” John said, “we need to sort out a plan.”
When I returned to the living room, John was still sitting there. He looked like he’d cried while I was gone, and he was smoking another cigarette. I hoped he hadn’t been chainsmoking the whole time I was gone. I brought a book with me, and dropped it on his lap when I got back. He stared at it for a moment before picking it up and turning it over a few times.
“You know what that is?” I asked, standing in front of him.
“Uh, yeah. I do.”
“You know, I had to plug the title into translation software to find out what it was. But you, you can read that language, right?” He nodded. “And you’ve probably read it. And know full well that it’s a detailed study of various supernatural threats, right?”
“Yeah. I have. It’s less comprehensive than it thinks it is.”
“See, see? That? I don’t think you understand my position here, John!” I knelt down and took his hands in mine, pushing the book back down onto his lap. He looked into my eyes, finally. “I am diving into a complex and dangerous world, and so much, so much, of what I know and what I do and what I believe hinges on trusting you. You’re the expert, you’re my guide in this. You know enough about it to have informed opinions on the quality of expert texts. And I want to explore it with you! I want to explore everything with you! But it’s not just that I trust you, it’s that I have to trust you. I need to rely on you in this. And when you withhold information, when you don’t tell me the truth about the dangers we’re facing together, it makes it real hard to do that.”
“Alice, I…I’m sorry.”
“I need to know that you’re not holding anything back here, okay? I want to be able to trust you.”
“Okay,” he said. I gave him a weak smile, squeezed his hands briefly, then walked over to the couch to sit down. “Alice?”
“You know, the Hudsons are in this book.” He turned it back over, and flipped through the pages until he apparently found what he was looking for. “It was written shortly before Cromwell’s government came into power. Describes them as bloodthirsty dogs of the crown, committed to taking any steps necessary to protect England’s interests. Talks about them enslaving spirits from around the world and using them to boost the estate’s power.”
“Oh. I did meet some spirits who were…employed by the Hudsons.”
“Don’t call it employment.”
“What did they do to you while we were there?”
“Where are you going with this, John?”
“I’m not trying to accuse anyone of anything. I’m just saying, in order to be there for you, I need to know what your connection to it all actually is. And the night before we left England, something changed in you. There was magic in you that wasn’t there before, and a whole bag of magic items among your luggage.”
“You knew about that?”
“One thing I learned from my father was to always know more than I let on. I’m sorry I lied to you about that.”
“It’s okay. Um…okay. Well. My grandfather was supposed to be the Lord Hudson of his generation. But he, um, he disagreed with some aspects of the job. So he left the task to his brother, Michael’s grandfather. But when he left, he bound the family to a magical oath. The magic in our branch was locked away, and the English branch was forbidden to reveal it to us. But I found out on my own, and the spirits weren’t bound to that same oath, so they gave me a way to access the magic in an emergency. And Melinda gave me some items to use if I need them. Just in case.”
“Do you know how to use any of it?”
“No. Not yet. Jackie is going to help me.”
“You told Jackie?”
“I…yeah. I was going to tell you, I just hadn’t yet, I guess.”
“Okay,” he said. We both sat for a while before he stood and set the book down. “I’m not used to talking about some of this stuff. I’ll try to do better about that, okay?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Are you hungry?” he asked. I laughed.
“Then let’s go,” he said, reaching his hand out to me. “We can do more of this later.”
Personal notes regarding the interaction of the physical and metaphysical
Biology major on the edges of the 'burgh.