Copyright © 2012 by Brian Bixby.
Chapter 15: Abigail in flight
Abigail saw her pursuer drop on his knees at her side. She put all the force she could into her good leg, and kicked out the feet of her assailant. The man toppled. Knowing it would hurt her damaged joints, Abigail swung herself on top of her assailant and prepared to deliver him a knock-out blow.
Except that it wasn’t a man. The person underneath her was a woman. A young woman. With mixed feelings of relief, embarrassment, and anger, Abigail recognized the dress and the hair. It was Patty Leigh. Abigail flopped off of her and over to one side. In a low voice, she quickly said to Patty, “I thought you were attacking me. People are hunting me. Speak softly. Are you hurt?”
Patty rolled over and sat up. “Not much. You?”
Abigail was surprised at Patty’s aplomb, but grateful for it as well. “Hurt my knee and wrist in a fall. Help me up.”
Patty sprang to her assistance. Abigail got up, and then pulled them both into the alley she had been trying to reach, until they were in the shadows. Patty tried to speak to Abigail, but Abigail shushed her. They had already made too much noise, in Abigail’s opinion. And she needed to think. She had a change of clothes, but that would not disguise her. Rebecca had a proper change of Abigail’s clothing, but Abigail didn’t think it would be healthy to drag her into this situation. Libby’s appearance as a dead statue could all too easily be considered witchcraft. The logical person to ask for help would be Jeremiah, but as her employer he might also be the first person that fool of a deputy sheriff would visit. No, Abigail’s best bet was to find the quickest way out of town, and then send Patty to get help.
Abigail considered her position. She was south of the river, and crossing on a bridge was out of the question, so her refuge would have to be on this side. She knew no one here. But the houses gave way in another two blocks south to woods and hills. They would have to do.
She quickly explained her plan to Patty, and the two of them set off, keeping to shadows as much as possible.
Patty’s job, when she wasn’t acting as a servant to Rebecca or as a go-between, was to gather gossip among servants, shop girls, and the like. Patty enjoyed this. She liked making friends and ferreting out information, as if she were some sort of spy. It also gave her the chance to indulge in drinking alcohol on the sly. Like her sisters, Patty had an affinity for drink. Fortunately for them all, they also had sense enough not to overdo it, most of the time.
She had been spending the evening with some of the female help from the Double Eagle and their friends, helping to consume a bottle of rum they had secured. She had kept her head better than her fellow revelers, and in consequence learned far too many scandalous details about the other guests and the staff of the Double Eagle. In turn, she had kept them entertained with completely untrue stories about Rebecca doing witchcraft and how poorly Rebecca treated her. It was part of her cover story that Rebecca mistreated her. That way she might lure Rebecca’s enemies into confiding in her. The strategy had not yielded any results, as yet, to Patty’s disappointment.
After the end of the drinking session, she had helped walk one of the more inebriated women back to her lodgings at the Burning Dog, which is how she came to be on the scene when the cry of murder went up. One look at poor Libby, and hearing mention that her roommate was Fanny O’Rourke, was enough for Patty to decide she had best go run and tell Rebecca what had happened. It was while she was on her way that she realized that the tall woman limping in front of her was probably Abigail.
Patty had been completely unprepared to have Abigail attack her. Yet when Abigail did, Patty quickly realized why. Besides, she so desperately wanted to be helpful that she was willing to follow Rebecca’s or Abigail’s orders without question, so long as they let her join in their magical business.
Now she found herself helping Abigail along a dirt road climbing up a hill in the woods. Abigail had at first whispered some questions to Patty, but as the going got steeper, Abigail’s limp grew worse, and she devoted all her attention to moving on.
Suddenly Abigail stopped. Patty was going to ask whether she wanted to rest, but Abigail put a finger to Patty’s lips. Abigail looked around, turning her head back and forth. And then in a dead voice, she said to Patty, “We’re being followed.” Abigail started to walk, staggered, and then turned off the road and headed into the woods, still going up. Though she was limping even worse than before, she seemed to Patty to be putting on more speed.
Patty kept pace, supporting her. Once Abigail’s pace had become steady, Patty asked her, “What did you hear?”
Abigail shook her head. “Not heard.” Another few steps. “Magic.” Some more steps. “Demons, powerful, pursuing.”
Patty tried to think of something helpful to say. Then she remembered the little silver cross on her necklace. She pulled it out of her blouse, tried to show it to Abigail. “Won’t this help?”
Abigail knew Patty could have nothing that would help. Abigail was quite sensitive. She was fairly sure those were Taryan demons pursuing them. Still, she had been feeling some sort of magic from Patty this evening, and wondered what she could have. She stopped for a second, looked at the cross. To her surprise, she could see that it created a protective field around Patty. Not strong enough to stand off a Taryan demon, but strong enough that Abigail would have to make an effort to crack it. She shook her head, started walking again, but managed to ask Patty, “Where did you get that?”
“I got it when I was confirmed.”
That didn’t make any sense to Abigail. Most Catholics she knew would be wearing such a cross every day. Patty had not been wearing a magically-charged cross even as late as mid-afternoon when she swung through Jeremiah’s store. The matter was a mystery to Abigail, but she dismissed the matter for now. She had more important matters at hand.
Abigail had not cut off the path to evade the demons. She knew they could track her as easily through woods as on an open plain. No, she was taking a desperate gamble. She doubted her ability to defeat Taryan demons in her current state. She needed help. And she had seen a glimmer through the trees of some form of magic. Whatever it was, it wasn’t hostile. It might be helpful.
The closer she got to it, the odder it appeared. It was as if all the trees in an area were suffused with magic. As she got closer, she could see a field beyond, and it, too, seemed to be bathed in magic. In fact, the magic was at its strongest at one point in that field. It did not seem hostile. In any case, it could not be worse than what was rapidly gaining on them. They would just make it into the magical region with about a minute to spare. Long enough, Abigail thought to herself, for me to come up with some idea of what to do.
And then she was brought up short, as Patty came to a stop. She turned. Patty was staring behind them. In the dim light, Abigail could see that her eyes were open, blank and staring. Her mouth was open, too, but she made no noise. She couldn’t. As Abigail realized, Patty was terrified by what she was seeing: Taryan demons. It wasn’t so much what Taryan demons looked like, though they were dreadful enough. It was how they reached through one’s senses to the mind, to find what was most feared, and to make the person experience it.
Abigail did not know what Patty was seeing, in reality or thanks to demonic influence. She did not risk looking herself. Their survival was at stake. She steadied herself, reached out with both hands and twisted Patty’s head until Patty was facing her. Calling on her own magic, she hissed, “Help me get us both to safety.”
Patty found herself looking at Abigail, knowing she had to help get them both to safety. She remembered she had looked back, and there was something awful there, but she retained no memory of what it was. She had been too frightened to remember. She was still frightened enough, just knowing there was something back there that was horrible, that she hurried Abigail on even faster than Abigail had been going.
They came to a stone wall. Patty jumped on top of it, and then, being careful not to look past Abigail, helped her over the wall. She jumped down herself, prepared to help Abigail keep moving, only to find Abigail standing straight, looking backwards. Remembering the effect on her even as little as she did, Patty was afraid the Abigail might be paralyzed. “Abigail, don’t look!” she called out in a loud whisper.
Abigail gave her a shake of the head. In a normal voice that sounded almost cheerful, she said, “It’s all right, Patty. I’m feeling strong enough to fight them, now. But I don’t think I’m going to have to. They seem to be afraid of the magic here. They’ve stopped just beyond the wall. I don’t think they can cross it.” Abigail turned and strode into the field, walking normally as if she was unhurt.
Patty was dumbfounded. Then, realizing with a start that the horrible things were just behind her, she ran and caught up with Abigail. Abigail was striding toward an overgrown patch in the field. Patty reached out and stopped her. “There’s magic here?”
Abigail gestured widely with her hands. “All around us, Patty, in every living thing.” She paused and considered what she was seeing. It didn’t take her long to realize, the sight was so familiar in the hill country of New England. “It was a farm. And this,” she pointed to the overgrown patch, which Patty could see in the dim moonlight had a low wall around it, “was the family cemetery.”
Patty trailed Abigail as she walked around the little lot until she found an entrance in the wall. There were a few headstones in the lot, but Abigail headed to an open space toward the rear of the lot. She looked down, and then said to Patty, “The source of the magic is here. It’s a grave. Somehow, someone who is dead is projecting magic over what was once their farm, I guess.” She looked into the distance. Patty hadn’t seen Abigail smile much, but she saw Abigail grin broadly now. Abigail turned back to Patty. “And the magic is keeping the Taryan demons away. It looks like they’re circling the old farm, but they don’t dare set foot on it.”
Patty was less charmed by the situation. “But doesn’t that mean we can’t leave?”
Her words didn’t dim Abigail’s smile. “Pass me over my bag,” she said to Patty. Patty handed over the bag containing Abigail’s possessions from the Burning Dog, which she’d been carrying for her. Abigail reached in and pulled out a knife. She held it up so Patty could see. “Here’s a lesson for you, Patty. I want to summon up the ghost of whoever is the source of the magic protecting us. The surest way to summon a ghost is with blood. Pity my shoulder doesn’t seem to be bleeding anymore.” Abigail held out her left hand and brought the knife down to slice across her palm. She knew just how to do this to produce enough blood without doing herself much harm.
Only she couldn’t. At the last moment, her arm went numb, and the knife slipped from her fingers and vanished into the grass.
No blood is to be shed here.
Patty jumped. She wasn’t sure if she had heard that voice, or whether it was a thought in her head. To her it seemed like the driest of whispers, like the sound of old leaves in a pile stirred by the wind.
She looked around, saw nothing, turned back to say something to Abigail, and then saw it. It was standing beside Abigail. It looked like a shadow, but it was standing upright. It was the shadow of a person, a woman. It had a touch of color: green eyes.
Abigail spoke. “I meant no disrespect. Do we have you to thank for protecting us from the demons out there?”
Again the voice of dry leaves: You were pursued. They meant you harm. None may be harmed here.
Patty still felt spooked by the voice, and decided she had to say something, if only to reassure herself. “Can you help us get back to town?”
Abigail wanted to hush Patty. One doesn’t go about asking for help from ghosts until one knows who they are and what their intentions are. But it was usually a bad idea to try to interrupt them, too. So Abigail remained quiet, and resolved to speak first after the ghost was finished.
I cannot leave here. My influence extends only over my farm and no farther.
Before Patty could say another word, Abigail jumped in. “Who are you . . .”
She didn’t finish. Patty had remembered a story her sister Grace had told her about her last adventure with Rebecca. She interrupted Abigail. “You’re Asenath Shattuck. Rebecca summoned you years ago.”
To Patty, it seemed the ghost turned its eyes on her. A shadowy hand reached out. A chill ran through Patty’s body, and a more intense coldness and numbness in her brain. Then it just stopped and Patty found herself looking at the ghost and Abigail again.
Patty would have been amazed to know that Abigail had the very same experience at the same time. Unlike Patty, she knew exactly what the ghost was doing, entering their minds and looking for information. She would not have let it do so, but realized too late that the ghost’s power had entered into her from the moment she had set foot on its ground. Its power had allowed her to walk normally once she had got over the stone wall. Abigail had drawn on that power unwittingly, and now could not resist it. Yet the ghost seemed to realize the offense it was causing, and let Abigail see just exactly what information it wanted: information on Rebecca Maxwell. And not just any information on Rebecca, no, just information on why she was here.
Rebecca has returned. It is an evil time.
Patty was offended. She would have said something, but Abigail gave her a warning glance, and then spoke herself. “I am sorry if we are friends with one you dislike.”
She is of my blood. I could not dislike her. There are evil times when she is here, but they are not of her doing.
Abigail had an inspiration. If Rebecca did not bring bad times, then perhaps the dragon did? So she said to the ghost, “Who brought the evil times?”
The man who sent these demons that stay out of my reach for fear I will destroy them, as I did with one of their number before.
This was not the answer Abigail was expecting, but it was informative. Abigail was impressed that a ghost could destroy a Taryan demon, and privately resolved to stay on Asenath’s good side. Perhaps the ghost could tell her more. “Do you know the man’s name?”
No. He was cautious, and did not step onto my land. But this is his appearance.
As Abigail watched, a second shadow appeared beside Asenath. It gradually assumed more definite form, and began acquiring features and coloring. Within a quarter-minute, the representation was complete.
Abigail stared at the apparition, scarcely willing to credit what she saw. She recognized the figure. They were all in much deeper trouble than she had realized. And, though it pained her to admit it, it was all her fault.
End of chapter fifteen