Chapter 14: Road trip
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
Sanderson eases off on the rod across my throat. Not enough that I can breathe freely, but enough that I can speak. In a hoarse whisper, I tell her, “I don’t know why I’m here.” It’s true.
Sanderson doesn’t like my answer. “How did you get here, Harry?”
I’m noticing that Sanderson is buck naked. I’d like to appreciate that fact. And maybe I do, because Sanderson increases the pressure on my throat again. “This isn’t a peep show, Harry. Give me an answer.”
What did happen to me? I try to remember what happened. I gesture to Sanderson to ease up on my throat. I tell her, “I think Abigail Lane sent me here, I guess.”
She looks baffled at my answer, and then snarls, “That’s just stupid enough to be true.” She pulls the rod away from my throat. I see it’s a baton, the same one she used against the demon back in Farnham. I also see that Sanderson has a nice young body. I really must reconsider my ideas about her.
She sees what I’m doing and says, “Look away, Harry. I’m getting dressed.” And she gets up and starts picking some clothes off a chair. Although she doesn’t turn around, she says, “Look away, Harry. Last warning.” So I do.
What the hell did happen to me? I was talking with Abigail. When that ended, the spell that sent me into the realm of the dead should have returned me back to Farnham. Instead, I’m here. Where’s here? I look about, trying not to catch a view of Sanderson, well, at least not long enough for her to notice. We’re in a motel room. “Where are we?” I ask.
Sanderson replies, “Outside Kansas City.” I turn to look at her. She’s throwing on her leather jacket. She sees me looking at her and grimaces. “How did you get here, Harry?”
I try to put my thoughts in order. “Marge Winter and another necromancer sent me into the realm of the dead to talk to Abigail Lane. I was supposed to return to Farnham when I was through. I think Abigail changed my destination, sent me here to you.”
“Why would she do that?”
I know how ridiculous this is going to sound. “She thinks I can be some sort of moral guide to you, keep you from becoming a dark power as your mother fears.”
Sanderson glares at me. She’s done that so often I’m beginning to think of it as her normal expression. And then she reaches to pick up a set of keys. “Are you in fit shape to drive, Harry?” she asks me.
“I think so.”
“Good.” She tosses some car keys to me. “I need to sleep some more, so you can play moral guardian while you drive us to our destination.”
“East of here. Wherever Deecee Young is going to spend tonight.”
I’ve been driving about an hour. Sanderson sleeps in the passenger seat. I glance over at her every so often. Asleep, she looks neither as old nor as tense as she usually does, closer to her actual age, which according to what Abigail Lane told me can’t be more than twenty-one. She’s even kind of attractive in an offbeat way, a weird twin to her quite sexy mother. It helps that I’ve just seen her naked in the motel.
I catch myself. How can I think of Sanderson like that? I’m Candy’s. No other woman is supposed to appeal to me. And yet, now, this one does. There’s something wrong here.
I try thinking of other women I’ve found sexually attractive: Marge, Polly, the strippers I saw the other night. I’m not indifferent to them anymore. And yet I’m still attracted to Candy.
I try to hate Candy. I can’t. But I find I can resent what she did to me, especially some of the things she had me do that night. I don’t let any woman handcuff me. But I did. And now I don’t like it.
As near as I can figure it, Abigail Lane must have lifted the spell Candy put on me. So I’m no longer forced to love only her. Though I’d happily give her another go, with me in control this time.
Sanderson wakes up, stretches, and looks around. “How long have I been asleep?” she asks.
“Three hours or so,” I tell her.
“Must have been tired from all the flying I’ve been doing at nights. Guess I really did need it.” She fishes Deecee’s brooch out of her jacket pocket, holds it out in her right hand, and closes her eyes. Then she opens them and puts the jewel away. “We’re still going in the right direction. And Deecee’s coming towards us. She reversed course the morning after I started after her.”
We’re silent for a bit. And then Sanderson turns to me and asks, “You really mean it about Abigail Lane sending you here to be some sort of moral guardian to me?”
“What do you want me to say?” I ask her. “That’s what she said. She admitted it sounded implausible. And don’t think that I’m convinced myself.”
Sanderson sits back in her seat, thinking about that. And then she says, “Maybe it has something to do with how you’ve changed.”
“What do you mean by that?”
She hesitates. “You feel different. My feel for people doesn’t usually change much. Something important must have happened to you.”
Shut this down. “Well, nothing did. So leave it alone.”
She shrugs and closes her eyes. “It’s your affair, Harry. Not my business what happens to you. But I’m not accepting any moral guide who hides stuff from me, either.”
“Will you shut up!”
I drive, burning up inside. And then I figure I need to say something. But what comes out isn’t what I meant to say. “A sex magician raped me.”
Sanderson opens her eyes, sits up, and looks over to me, her eyes wide. She shakes her head a few times before saying, “I don’t know what that means, Harry.”
“Well, then, why don’t you just take yourself back to Farnham, where Dr. Candy Knox will be happy to demonstrate on your cold, bitter soul.” I’m boiling by this time, ready to beat the tar out of Sanderson if she says another word.
Sanderson doesn’t reply immediately. And when she does, she lowers her voice. “I don’t understand what happened to you, Harry. I guess it was a bad idea to ask. Sorry.” She sits back in her seat and closes her eyes.
Of course she doesn’t understand. She understands nothing. What she is, what she does, what they all do, what they did to me. Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Well, I’ll make her understand. I yank the car over into the breakdown lane so sharply that Sanderson sits up with a start and glares at me, again. Well, to hell with your annoyance, sister, because you are about to get a piece of my mind. I turn and say to Sanderson, “A sex magician made me her sex slave. I had to love her, to do whatever she wanted. Didn’t matter what I would have wanted myself, I had to want her, had to please her. Got it, Sanderson? Think I freakin’ enjoyed it?”
She looks wide-eyes at me. She still doesn’t understand. So I get in close, right up to her face. “Well, you know, I did. It was great being a sex slave. I was just so dumb and happy. And then Abigail Lane removed the spell from me, something about how I couldn’t be your goddamn moral guardian if I were someone else’s slave. I had to sacrifice my happiness for you, kid. I had to find out just what sort of jerk I really was, thanks to you. And you know what really sucks, Sanderson? What really sucks? I still love her. Isn’t that just a scream, Sanderson? Don’t you just want to laugh at me . . .” I can’t finish, but just break down in sobs.
I’m a fool. I’m a failure. I’m hopeless. What the hell am I doing here? Let the Office magically neuter me, I don’t care. And here’s this woman I want to have sex with, and I’m crying in front of her. That ends that possibility. Great job, Harry.
After a while I look up. I expect to see Sanderson laughing at me. She isn’t. Instead, she’s just holding out a handkerchief to me. I take it and use it. While I’m wiping off my face, she says to me, “Want me to drive for a while?”
I nod, we swap places, and Sanderson takes off. I spend the next several minutes mopping up my face some more with the help of the vanity mirror on the sun visor.
And then I sit, wondering what just happened to me. I sort of know. Harry Eberhardt, sex slave by someone else’s choice. And even free of the spell, I’m not free from what Candy did to me. Val was right, damn her: I really have gone to pot.
I look over to Sanderson driving. She’s not said a word. She must despise me. It’s unfair. I didn’t ask to have a sex magician take me over. Surely she must see that. Maybe she sees I deserve her love after all I’ve been through on account of her. So I ask her, “Finished laughing to yourself about me?”
Sanderson shrugs. “I don’t know what to say, Harry. You’ve been trained in this world. I haven’t. I didn’t even know there were such things as sex magicians until just now. Judging from what you’ve said, I can see why you might love and hate this woman, both. At the moment, I don’t feel much different about my mother. She gave me life, and now she wants me dead.” She looks over at me. “You want to laugh at my predicament, Harry? Make you feel any better? Because I’ll tell you, I’ve been crying about it every night since then.” She turns back to watch the road, blinking back some tears.
Shit, I forgot about her mother. Well, there you go, you blew your chance to rack up points with Sanderson, Harry. Though it’s funny that we have similar problems. I wonder about it a bit. And then I see an angle. I say to Sanderson, “Maybe that’s why I’m supposed to be your moral guardian. We’re both confused.”
Sanderson gives a dry chuckle. “Yeah, maybe. It also helps that . . . you know how I said you’d changed? You don’t want to rape me anymore. Should I be happy or worried?”
That’s interesting. Seeing as we’re exchanging confidences, I put on my sexiest voice and tell her, “That’s because I want to seduce you, instead.”
Sanderson doesn’t answer for a while. Her voice is hard once again as she tells me, “Thanks for the heads up on that, Harry. It’s not going to happen, though.” And then after a moment, she softens her voice and adds, “But I think a bit better of you for telling me so.”
I’m driving again. It’s night, early evening. Sanderson’s asleep. And my phone rings. I pick it up.
“Harry?” The voice is female, but it sounds weird.
“It’s me. Who is this?”
“It’s Polly. We’ve stopped for the night not far from where you are. Come join us” Her voice is hard to recognize, it’s so flat. She gives me her room number and the directions to the motel, and then just hangs up.
Sanderson’s awake. She asks, “Who was that?”
I shake my head. “Polly Joshi. The team’s nearby. But she sounded really weird. And I don’t know how they knew I was nearby.”
Sanderson’s sitting bolt upright. “Did she say she knew you were nearby, or we were?”
I think about it. “She didn’t mention you, but she didn’t not mention you, if you know what I mean.”
“Damn. Because I’m pretty sure that Deecee and her demon can track me, somehow, from the way I’m tracking them.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Our caution in approaching Polly’s room is unnecessary. No one’s waiting for us at the door.
As the trained member of our little two-man team, I step in first. Nothing happens. And then I really, really feel tired and depressed. All this way for what? Nothing.
I hear Sanderson swear and brush past me. There’s what sounds like a choked off yell. And then I suddenly feel fine again. I stand up and step into the room.
Sanderson is standing by a bed, her right hand pressed down on Polly’s head. Polly’s lying on the bed, thrashing about. On the other bed is Amelia, fully clothed, staring blankly up at the ceiling. Stan’s sitting in the chair by the desk, rigidly looking forward at nothing at all. I go to Stan first. He doesn’t seem to be under a spell, but pays me no attention at all. Amelia’s much the same.
I turn to Sanderson, who’s finally stopped Polly’s thrashing. “These two don’t seem to respond to anything. It’s like they’re catatonic.”
Sanderson grimaces. “They may well be. Polly’s been broadcasting despair at them and herself. See if there’s anyone in the bathroom.”
There is. There’s a man’s down on his knees by the bathtub. I pull back his head and check his pulse. But it’s hopeless. A magician can tell when someone’s dead. And to judge from appearances, Ben Keller just committed suicide by holding his head down and drowning himself in the bathtub. Didn’t believe it was possible. Hate to think what it was like.
I return to the bedroom. “Keller’s dead. No sign of Deecee Young.”
Sanderson sniffs the air. “She was here, though. Recently.” She hauls out the jewel and holds it a moment. “We’ve overshot her somehow in the last twenty minutes.” She looks very unhappy with this.
“Sanderson?” The voice is faint. We both turn. Amelia is trying to move, but she can’t, really. It’s as if she’s terribly weak.
I rush over to her bedside. “Amelia? What happened to you?”
She tries to look at me, but she can’t stay focused. “Harry? Both of you?”
Sanderson has come up beside me and replies, “I’m here.”
“Good.” Amelia tries to nod. It’s as if she doesn’t really control her body. Have to wonder how she manages to talk. “Tricked us,” she tells us. “Took over Polly from afar. Empathy. Influenced us. Couldn’t fight her when she appeared.” Amelia shudders, closes her eyes. I think she’s fallen unconscious, but she opens them again after about half a minute. The strain and fatigue in her voice are evident. “Fighting what she did to us. Made us do . . . made us do . . .” A spasm shakes her body. “Teleport.”
Teleport. We’ve been hunting Deecee Young and her demon, and now she’s given us the slip. Sanderson asks, “Teleport who? Where?”
Amelia tries to reply, but she can’t get the words out. I crouch down beside her, hold her hand, try to reach her with magic. She knows me. I’m trying to help you, Amelia. Trust me. Teleport. What about teleport?
There’s something still affecting Amelia, something that’s been done to her. She struggles, impressively, and finally gets out two words. “Farnham. Revenge.” And then she passes out.
End of chapter fourteen
“They may be well.” — Should this be “They may well be.” ?
Some amazing stuff here. Harry humanized through being aware of his vulnerability. And now a new dimension to the demon threat.
Argh! How I reversed that phrase I don’t know. Thanks for the notice; has been corrected.
Let’s not give Harry TOO much credit! But, yeah, he’s been doubly humiliated, and for once he has no one but himself to blame . . . though he even tries to escape from that conclusion!
Not sure I am used to a sobbing or more circumspect Harry yet. But, pretty funny scenario with him landing in the motel with Sanderson. So will they teleport or drive back?
Both, sort of. Well, neither, really. It’ll take the next two chapters to answer that question, Judy.
Humor’s not been a strong element in this story, apart from Harry’s ego. That will change a bit, though not immediately.
I kinda ditto Judy’s response to the change in Harry. It’s like he’s undergone major catharsis, total release. I’ve seen that happen. Like an avalanche of emotion. Clever you to click on that. And I doubt you didn’t drag that out of the writer’s inspiration hat. But you’ve pulled it from somewhere–successfully. The climax–suicide, comatose states–teleportation–seems almost anticlimatic after that.
I’m beaming with pride over Harry’s catharsis.
And so you should be.
Despite my doubts, he’s changed! It’ s not only the spell, Sanderson is right…. but at the same time, he’s also the bad old guy he used to be. Can’t wait for
the next chapter!
You’ve captured the paradox of Harry’s emotional breakdown. He’s been traumatized, but he’s still trying to get by on the old patterns.