Chapter 10: The perils of an amateur magician
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby
I’ve worked long enough with Mac to take news like that professionally. “Cause of death?” I asked.
Mac made a face. “Doc says cerebral hemorrhage, same as the previous one. But she doesn’t like it. Says it doesn’t look right. So she’s taken both corpses over to Mountain View Hospital for consultation.”
“Not the county coroner?” I joked. Dr. Frederick Owens was notoriously incompetent.
Mac shook his head in disgust. “Don’t get me started. Owens will raise a fit about the bodies going out of his county, but Doc’s fought that battle before. Question is, why are guests in the motel suddenly all getting killed by bleeding in the brain? Got a clue, Sanderson?”
“Maybe the start of one,” I replied, and gave him a short version of the history Angela Farr had told me. It took a while, and it was dark when I finished.
Mac had listened in silence, his customary smile back on his face from the moment I mentioned Miss Angela Farr’s cats. At the end, he gave me a wink. “Nice to know you aren’t crazy, isn’t it, Sanderson, what with this Abigail Lane turning out to be real?”
“I really did wonder about Miss Abigail Lane, and I still do, Mac. But I want to check on the mine first.”
He laughed at that. “And how are you going to do that? The old road across the ravine fades out. It doesn’t go anywhere anymore.”
“Well, Mac,” I said to him as I leaned back and stretched out my legs, “as I was telling you yesterday, I can fly. And Angela Farr gave me a map with the location of the mine. I’m thinking of doing a fly-over and seeing what it looks like.”
“It’s dark out.”
“I know. It has to be. As Doc figured out without my telling her, I can fly only at night.”
Mac let out a short, sharp laugh. “OK, and while you’re doing that, I think I’ll spend a night in the motel, looking around.”
“No.” I leaned back forward, stood up and began pacing. “You can’t do that, Mac. If the ghosts are involved, you don’t have any way to deal with them.”
If anything, Mac looked even more amused. “Are you trying to give me orders?”
I stood in front of his desk, looking right at him. “Mac, I’m serious. At least let me come with you. Maybe I can come up with some way to defend the two of us if the ghosts attack.”
Mac gave me an appraising stare. “You didn’t do too well against them in the ravine.”
“I wasn’t ready for them,” I replied. It was only a lie by omission: I wasn’t sure I was ready for them now.
Mac nodded. “OK, then, you go do your flying magic . . . which, incidentally, you are going to show to me someday soon. Then join me at the motel. If you’re not there by 10, I’m going to assume you’re in trouble. Can you carry a cell phone with you? Nope, sorry, stupid question.”
“Actually, I can, Mac, and I will. And no, I can’t explain it. But I should get going, now, if I’m going to have enough time to get out to the old mine site and back.”
“Go,” he said, and waved me off.
I got home, unloaded myself of the stuff Angela Farr had given me, studied the map, and took to the air. Finding the road was easy. Finding the mine? Not so much. I have good night vision while I’m on wing, better than I have in normal human form. If I was ever going to be a peeping Tom, or Thomasina, I’d be better doing it in my flying form. But matching the map to the hills was difficult. I circled around for probably an hour, reorienting myself with the old road every so often.
And then I found . . . something. There was a spot that looked like a recent hole or depression. I dropped down, playing the breezes to take me slowly over the spot in a glide. I still couldn’t quite make out what it was, so I reversed course and dropped to the ground just beside it.
And almost fell in. Once I’d scooted back a bit from the edge, I could see what it was. It was a cave-in. Part of the mine’s roof must have recently collapsed, very recently, forming a hole in the ground. I was willing to bet that it must have caved in on Saturday or Sunday, just in time for a bunch of ghosts of old miners to escape the evening I went hunting for a cat. What luck. Presumably something had been holding them in, and it collapsed when the ground above collapsed.
I transformed and dropped into the mine, and immediately wished I hadn’t. There were at least two shafts, one horizontal, which was blocked in one direction, and another than steeply declined. There was almost no light at all. And then, without my doing anything, I transformed back into normal human form and dropped about four feet onto what had been the floor of the shaft. I was lucky I didn’t twist an ankle or elbow when I landed. Instead, all I did was cut open my left hand on something.
The floor of the shaft was wet, rough, and there were what felt like bones underneath me. I was on the edge near the sloping shaft, which I could sense from the cold air coming out of it. That, and the ground was shifting underneath me, sliding into the sloping shaft. I crawled away from the edge, disturbing what felt like bones in the process, losing about half of whatever I gained due to slippage.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the feathers on my right hand were twitching frantically, which meant there was something wrong. And I couldn’t transform back into my flying shape. Nor could I stop trying to pull myself forward, which also meant upward. The ground kept shifting underneath me. If I stopped, I’d end up sliding down into the sloping shaft. And I had no idea how deep it was or whether it would fill up with debris.
I clawed, I pulled, I pushed with my feet. Inch after inch, another foot. A rest stop, and another half a foot lost. Keep climbing, keep climbing. I must have been at it for hours.
And then my cell phone rang. Great, there’s no cell phone reception in the ravine, but here, here in a mine cave-in, I could receive calls. I laughed hysterically, but cut it short to grab for the phone.
“Sanderson? Where are you?” It was Mac.
“Mac, I’m climbing out of a mine shaft, talk to you later,” I shouted, broke the connection, and then fumbled the phone and lost it. I’d like to say I could hear it slide down the shaft. But there was too much noise from the debris falling down to tell.
That made me angry. Another hundred bucks, maybe two hundred, to get the phone replaced. I attacked the ground underneath me with a will, pulled hard, and in another half hour reached the surface. I’d been scaling the caved-in side of the horizontal shaft, apparently.
I gave myself to the count of one thousand to recuperate, then stood up and tried to fly. To my great relief, I could. I made a beeline back to my house, changed back to human form, and went into my fortune telling parlor for more gewgaws. Non-stop, I proceeded to the kitchen where I loaded up on the materials I thought I would need.
Doc was there. “Where have you been? Mac’s been worried sick about you? What’s happened to . . .”
I cut her off. “Later, Doc, later. Call Mac and tell him I’m on my way.” Doc sputtered a few more things, but I single-mindedly kept to my task and was out of the kitchen and the house in less than three minutes more.
Mac was waiting outside of the motel in the parking lot, which was good, because I didn’t know where he was staying in the hotel. He took one look at me, started to say something, saw the look in my eye, and just shut up. We went back to the room the motel manager, Tim Taisey, had given Mac to spend the night.
I looked at the clock: 11:37 PM. I had twenty-three minutes to get ready. I shushed Mac any time he said anything and went to work. I had him sit down in a chair we pulled out into the center of the room, and paced a circle around it, dropping a fine stream of flour behind me until the circle was complete, all the while muttering a peace spell. Took a small plastic bag, put in some ginger, cinnamon, and allspice, tied it up, put a spell on it, and gave it to Mac to put in his jacket pocket. Got out my crystal ball, put it in a bowl, poured honey over it, said a few more words, and sat down on the floor in front of Mac and inside the circle. It was 11:54 PM.
Mac had been following my proceedings with alternating looks of amusement and bewilderment. Now he spoke. “Finished?”
I let my breath go in relief; hadn’t realized I was holding it. “I think so. Best protection I could improvise. Needed to get it together before midnight.”
“You look an absolute mess. What happened?”
I finally took a look at myself. Mac was right. I was filthy. Dirt was ground into my clothes and my skin. I reached my fingers up to my face and felt it there, too, unless that was the grime underneath my fingernails. No wonder Doc had been alarmed. I looked up at Mac. “I’m surprised you didn’t tell me to go take a shower.”
Mac chuckled at that. “You looked like a woman on a mission, and ever since my ex-wife, I’ve learned to stay out of the way in those situations. So what happened to you?”
“Sexist,” I chided him, and then told him about the mine cave-in. I looked at the clock when I was finished: 12:16 AM. I breathed out a sigh of relief. I had figured that if they didn’t strike at dusk, that midnight was the other logical time for ghosts to attack.
Mac went out on patrol, and I took a shower. Couldn’t do anything with the clothes until I got home, so I put the dirty ones back on. Yuck. Mac came back, we got back into our positions at my insistence (can’t be too careful), and talked over a few things.
Without warning, just about 1 AM, the lights in the room went out. Mac started to rise, but I told him to stay for a minute, and he settled down.
Several seconds ticked by. And then it was as if some mighty hand was pressing on my circle. I could feel a horrible pressure squeezing the air, squeezing my head, squeezing my body. I tried to speak, to ask Mac if he felt the same, but I couldn’t talk. It felt tighter and tighter. I could feel the feathers in my hand rising straight up, and then to my complete surprise they began to glow. The pressure started to let off a bit. Then the ring of flour began to glow, and the pressure backed off even more. And then my crystal ball began to glow, glow for real. I couldn’t believe it. I reached out to touch it with my right hand, and my hand flew onto it and stuck there. It wasn’t due to the honey, either. It was like an enormous current was flowing between the crystal ball and my body through my hand, and I couldn’t do anything about it. It was painful, it was frightening, and yet it was also thrilling as well. It was as if I was some sort of switch or conduit for a massive amount of energy. I was completely paralyzed by what was happening, and frightened by that. And yet it felt glorious, wonderful, almost ecstatic. I can’t explain it, really.
All at once, a beam of light shot out of the crystal ball, and swept the room in a complete circle. There was a noise, a yell or scream, and then it was over. The pressure was gone, the light vanished from the crystal ball and my feathers, and the lights went back on.
Nothing else happened that night to us. Mac asked a lot of questions, to which I could give only uninformative responses. I really didn’t know what I had done, or what I’d been fighting, if that was what I had been doing. As it turned out, he had been paralyzed by the pressure, too, and had seen my hand glowing and all. So I knew I hadn’t imagined all that. It was something learned, and a lot of new questions.
The two of us walked around the motel several times, and saw nothing out of the ordinary. At dawn, Mac told me to go home and get some sleep. He said he’d take care of anything that developed. He also said he’d explain to Tim Taisey why the room we were using was so dirty from what I’d dragged in and done. I mentally thanked Mac, and walked my weary way home, to yet another shower and some sleep between clean sheets.
So it wasn’t until noon, when I woke up, that I got the news. No one had been killed in the motel last night. Apparently we’d prevented that. No, instead the ghostly killer had visited the convenience store at “The Pit Stop,” and claimed a new victim: Charlotte Smith, the woman whose kids’ cat I had found.
Oh, man. Someone we already know. (But in fact we don’t have any information about the two people who died at the motel — travellers, most likely — but were they in the same room? Or did I miss that?)
The only thing we know so far are that the two who died at the motel died on separate nights. We can assume, because their names haven’t been mentioned, that they were travelers unknown to the good people of Farnham. Mac’s not said a word about what rooms they were in, but I can tell you the travelers weren’t in the same room.
Interesting effects there, Gleaned from books and movies, or straight out of your head?
I’m not sure myself. In reading it over, I’m reminded a but about a passage in Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Haunted and the Haunters,” which is probably where I got the idea of pressure. But the rest . . . who knows?
I’d not come across the pressure; even the glow is unusual, though Sanderson’s measure to protect are more of less standard. Always the circle as first defence. Doesn’t matter what’s used for it.
A point which Sanderson will shortly address in talking with Mac, who is understandably mystified.