A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2a
Hello, James Conway, back for a second time – at least, James is the name I will continue to use for the purposes of these chronicles. I’m a first year student at University X (again, no names), who should, perhaps, have been a little more suspicious as to why a piece of prime off campus housing was still available for rent in late August. As you’ll know by now if you read the first case, the reason for that was one Melissa ‘Weird-Gal’ Virga, who is running a supernatural detective agency out of the apartment.
If I don’t pay her on time, she could turn me into a chicken. I don’t think that’s a joke.
Fortunately, for the sake of my humanity, the two of us hit it off not too badly. In other words, I began finding ways of dealing with Melissa’s odd quirks, while she, well… she continued not paying much attention to me. I wondered how long she’d been living alone.
That’s the thing about Melissa, she prefers to spend her time inside her own private little world – a world which, by the way, allows her to violate some of the laws of physics. Perhaps that’s why she also piques the curiosity. Which leads into why, following the case involving Dan and Danielle, I began wondering just what other cases Melissa might end up working on.
Or what cases she’d taken on in the past.
It turned out that finding an answer by glancing over her papers and files was futile, mainly because any filing system itself seemed to be non-existent. When I scanned the stacks of paper on her desk one morning, a couple pages seemed to involve mathematical calculations, there were a few scrawlings in latin, some news clippings, notes containing mystical symbols, things written in unreadable shorthand, and what I gathered was a philosophy essay for one of her university classes.
There was also what I took at first to be a recipe for biscuits, until I read down to step five which stated “use mixture to lure poltergeist inside bottle”. I decided not to poke around inside her desk drawers, just in case.
Unfortunately, learning about Melissa’s cases by asking her about them directly didn’t seem prudent either. Mainly because I didn’t want Melissa to interpret that request as wanting more involvement. After all, there were still my first year university classes to worry about, and while I feel Melissa’s deeds should be credited, I was hardly going to commit myself towards her “balancing of supernatural forces on earth” crusade. Not at this point, anyway. In fact, twice in the evenings I saw our doorknob was fuchsia, and on those occasions, I didn’t enter the apartment.
Still… I was curious. To the point where there were days I started wondering if more involvement with someone as pretty as Melissa would really be such a bad thing, supernatural or otherwise. Please don’t judge me too harshly.
As such, when a female student came by the apartment late one afternoon (around the third week of September), looking for Melissa, I invited her in to wait. I even offered to make our visitor some tea, something which she took me up on. I wasn’t trying to flirt or anything (she looked like a senior), it’s more that, on some level, I sensed that she wanted to talk to someone. With the fringe benefit to me being my learning more about Melissa’s cases.
As we drank, I asked a few questions and learned the following: Her name was Annie Potts, she was in third year, she had consulted with Melissa already last week, and someone was trying to kill her.
This last point caught me off guard. I mean, as far as first impressions go, Annie didn’t seem like the sort of woman against whom you’d ever bear that much of a grudge.
A brief description is probably in order at this point, so I’ll say that Annie was tall (about six feet while in the heeled ankle boots she wore), had dark hair down to her shoulders, and that while she was not overly athletic looking, she certainly seemed well built. Her choice of attire was jeans and a T-shirt, her only notable accessory a red barrette holding back her bangs.
I also got the impression from looking into her eyes that it would be very unwise to ever get on her bad side, though as far as our conversation went she was pretty soft spoken.
“The thing is,” Annie explained to me, “there’s been a massive increase in the severity of the attacks. It’s gone beyond interfering in my schoolwork to downright creeping me out.”
“So why come to Melissa rather than go to the police?” I wondered.
Annie hesitated, uncrossed her legs, then recrossed them again the other way. “Well,” she admitted after a moment, “it’s that these attempts on my life, they’ve all been done… electronically.”
I frowned, putting my teacup back on the kitchen table. “You mean someone’s writing threatening email? Or is it that someone’s trying to electrocute you?”
“Neither,” Annie said, uneasily. “Or not exactly. For instance, when I turned on my home computer this morning, an incorporeal hand came out of the monitor and tried to pull me inside. Which sounds stupid, I know!” she went on quickly. “But it really happened. If I hadn’t managed to kick the power bar off with my foot, I’m not sure I’d even be here talking with you right now. And that’s not something I can tell the police.”
“Oh,” I answered, taking a moment to turn that around in my mind. Evil computers – not exactly the same thing as the Danielle case, so was it more typical of the things Melissa dealt with, or less so? “Well, I… I hope my roommate can help you,” I finished lamely. Where does one go after a story like that anyway?
An uncomfortable silence followed, during which time the two of us drank our tea.
“Look,” Annie said, rising at last. “If you can simply pass that message on to Melissa, I’ll come back later and–”
“Did someone mention my name?” Melissa said absently as she strolled into the apartment.
We both emerged from the kitchen. Melissa was holding a broom in one hand and scanning through the pages of a book in another. The book itself seemed normal, like something you’d read for an English class; the broom was the one Melissa normally kept in the closet. In fact, she put it back there and traveled around to the far side of her desk before looking up from her book quizzically.
“Er, we spoke last week,” Annie ventured. “Remember?” She appeared uncomfortable, either about her situation or Melissa’s demeanor, it was hard to tell.
Melissa, barely topping five feet, squinted up at Annie. “Yes. You were getting electrical shocks from all the computers on campus or something,” she replied. “Jolted you into a wall at one point. Hardly your typical static electric shock, hence talking to me.”
Annie let out a quick breath. “Yes,” she repeated back. “Well, you gave me that charm and said to come back if things got worse? It has. Gotten worse, I mean.” She outlined the experience with the hand she’d had earlier today, and added to it the fact that last night, her cat had been hissing at the computer. Which, Annie then recalled, had looked a little burnt around the ports at the back.
Melissa was quickly giving Annie her undivided attention. “Have you been near your computer since the incident?” the supernatural detective questioned, leaning forwards on the desk.
Annie shook her head. “I had to get to class this morning. After that I came right here.”
My roommate nodded. “Excellent. I recommend you don’t go back home then. Give me the key to your apartment. I’ll go, and I can pick you up a few things. Stay here tonight. I’ve got a spare room.” She started to gesture towards my bedroom, paused as she saw me, then snapped her fingers. “Well, I sort of have a spare room. It’s fine, with any luck I’ll get the case wrapped up within twenty-four hours. Annie can return back to her place then.”
Annie looked back and forth between us, taking half a step back. “Oh, er… I don’t want to be a bother. Do you think it’s really that serious? Wait, what about Tabby, my cat, he’s at home, do you think he’s in any danger?”
Melissa shook her head. “Doubt it. You’re obviously the target here, Annie. The problem is that your residence has been traced. Hard to say where the entity will go from there… incidentally, I’ll need a list of anyone in the area who knows you particularly well, for questioning purposes.”
“A-All right,” Annie stammered out. “Should I still keep your charm with me? Will it help?” She fished an oddly shaped piece of metal out of her jeans pocket.
Melissa peered at the item in Annie’s hands, raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt,” she said, now rummaging around in her desk drawer. “Besides, no refunds.”
After a short time looking through two drawers, Melissa glanced back in my direction and mimed writing. Divining her intent, I went to grab a pencil.
“One more thing,” Melissa requested, looking back up at Annie. “Your cat, how long have you had it?”
“Him,” Annie corrected. “And I’ve had Tabby for three years now. My parents got him for me as a going away gift.”
“And have you ever had a cat before then?”
“Well, sure,” Annie said, seemingly unsure where Melissa was going with this. “Our family’s always had a cat or two. It’s why I could never have a place in residence, no pets allowed.”
“Mmmmm,” was Melissa’s only reply. She plucked the pencil from my hand as I approached, grabbed a page with what looked like a grocery list on it and, flipping it over, handed it to Annie. “Names,” she reiterated. “Include the name of any university professor you’ve had more than once, and phone numbers where I can reach everybody, if you have them. Oh, and jot down anything you want me to pick up for you tonight too.”
Annie dutifully began writing on the sheet. “I’m not sure this will really help,” she pointed out. “None of my friends go for this supernatural stuff… I mean, I probably wouldn’t have even come here myself if I weren’t desperate. How could any of them be behind the attacks?”
“Perhaps they were replaced by very lifelike robot duplicates who can now get technology to do their bidding, and they’re testing their skills out on you,” Melissa remarked.
Annie paused in her scribbling, looking up uncertainly.
Melissa rolled her eyes. “Kidding, duh. I do magic, not science fiction.”
“Uh. Right.” Annie resumed writing. “Is bringing my computer here an option? I’m supposed to type up an assignment for next week, and I’ll need a computer for that.”
“I doubt that’ll work,” Melissa said curtly.
“I’m sure your handwriting isn’t that that illegible,” I quipped.
I failed to lighten the mood. Melissa ignored me, while Annie turned and gave me a little glare. Realizing I’d crossed the line with a comment on her penmanship (her list was a bit difficult to decipher, as it turned out), I decided to keep quiet as Annie exchanged final words with Melissa.
Melissa obtained Annie’s apartment key (like us, she lived off campus) and then bid our guest farewell. After watching Annie go, Melissa finally turned back towards me.
“James, you have a computer yourself, don’t you?”
I blinked and nodded. “A laptop, yes, not a tower. I use it for assignments mostly, though I also used it to type up your last case, the one with–”
“Shut it down. Don’t use it over the next couple days. Throw it out even, too risky to have it around here for very long.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. “Er, why?” I finally ventured as Melissa began stuffing some objects from her desk into her purse. “It did cost me a lot of money, you know.”
The petite brunette let out a quick sigh. “Because. Electronics, the internet, wires feeding into every home… the world wide web is a world wide nuisance if you ask me. Makes restoring supernatural balance just that much harder. Though, not your fault, of course, so maybe you could simply leave your laptop device with a friend overnight?”
She finished putting things away and reached out for Annie’s key, accidentally knocking it off the front of the desk. In moving around to pick it up, she managed a hip wiggle in the process. I wondered if she was trying to distract me, despite how the move seemed unintentional. She seemed to be wearing her tightest pair of jeans.
“I… I’ll see,” I said, lamely. “I guess witches aren’t keen on computers?” It might explain Melissa’s lack of a filing system.
Melissa spun back around, flicking some hair off her shoulder. “The new fangled techno-witches swear by them, but let’s not get into THAT discussion. Hey, how much do you know about computers anyway?”
I pulled my gaze back to her face. “Oh, um, enough to get by?”
“Then you’re welcome to come along too,” Melissa concluded with a smile. Annie’s key in hand, she marched to our apartment door before turning to meet my gaze again. “After all, I’ve never been too good with the damn things. Plus you should probably know why you’re giving up your bed tonight to a complete stranger. Let’s go.”
“Okay, but I’m hardly majoring in– wait, MY bed? Melissa, what do you… Melissa!”
She was already out of the apartment and I had to run in order to catch up.
The internet, Melissa explained to me as we walked to Annie Potts’ place, is a fertile breeding ground for evil. “Not just because entities can use it to manipulate the downtrodden, the desperate and the general lowlifes of society either,” the brunette insisted. “The real problem happens when evils that normally only lurk on the fringes of our realm catch sight of it. This whole web thing, it lights the way for them, provides them with a gateway to Earth.”
“A… gateway? You mean, what, evil is constantly entering our world through the internet?”
“Well, sure,” Melissa said airily, gesturing vaguely at me. “Understand that spectres and entities have been trying to hook themselves into our plane of existence for decades. Now the internet makes it a hundred times easier for them to do that. You think all bots or whatever have a human at the other end? Fortunately for us, the evil has to morph itself into a data stream if it wants to directly affect the real world, and most of the time it can’t survive in that form for more than a millisecond. Its bits get all corrupted, which kills it.” She paused in mid-step. “Kind of an irony there, actually.”
I considered asking how techno-witches fit into this, but given Melissa’s earlier attitude, went for what I presumed was the safer question of, “So is this part of the supernatural imbalance that you’re trying to fix?”
Melissa shrugged and continued walking. “Humans create faster ways of communicating, they allow for faster ways of spreading evil. The supernatural balance hasn’t been broken here, it’s just the ten gram weights have been replaced with hundred kilogram ones. Who am I to stand in the way of such stupidi– I mean, progress?”
I frowned. “Okay, but then… if the electronics aren’t what’s causing your problem…”
“They nevertheless make it harder to pinpoint exactly where the unbalancing is occurring,” Melissa stated matter-of-factly. “Instead of searching for a needle in a haystack, you end up searching all of Saskatchewan. Honestly James, do try to keep up.”
“No, yes, I get that,” I breathed, managing to keep pace with her mentally, if not quite as well physically. For a short woman, Melissa can walk fast when she wants to. “It’s just… if the web itself isn’t the problem… where did this thing attacking Annie come from?”
Melissa pursed her lips. “THAT is a good question,” she admitted, stopping abruptly once again. I nearly smacked into her, and took a half step back, only to have to almost jog when I realized she’d immediately started walking again.
“Thing is, any random evil that the net generates for balancing purposes should have been deflected away by that little grounding charm I gave Annie,” Melissa continued. “Yet this entity seems to have become specifically attached to her. It had to have help in order to do that. Presumably by someone who knows, or knew her.”
“Ah! Hence the list of names,” I deduced.
“Right,” Melissa affirmed. “The person wouldn’t even have to know anything about computers, just how to do a basic summoning. Or then again, they may know enough about computers to actually turn themselves into a malevolent digital entity. Or somewhere in between. Either way, I want to deal with this fast, before the thing hooks itself into other appliances and causes innocent people to get hurt in the crossfire.”
“Oh. Uh, you figure that’s possible?” I worried. I fired off a wan smile at a couple of people waiting at a bus stop as we passed. One of them had been raising their eyebrows. Melissa, of course, seemed all but oblivious to anyone else in the area.
“There’s always a chance,” she answered simply.
I guessed that’s why she was worried about my laptop. I considered the greater implications in my head for the rest of our walk, noting with some unease the number of devices in the area that involved electricity in some way. If someone got control of a traffic light, for example, it could cause real trouble!
I hoped the solution to all this would be found at Annie’s place.
To Virga – Entry 2b –>
ASIDE: Originally written in 2004, about a year after I’d written the first case. I’ve edited this one more to be less dated with technology, and for other reasons. Any initial thoughts or speculations? Let me know. Next update is Apr 1st.