A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2c
According to Melissa, this is the point when Frank Granges sighed and slumped back into a chair. “This guy you’re alluding to, the one after Annie who’s pretending to be a wizard… he somehow got the file, did he?” Frank theorized. “Damn. I thought it had been deleted.”
“Less wizard talk, more file talk,” Melissa insisted. “What was in it?”
Frank ran his fingers back through his hair. “Fine. It bugged me as to where I screwed up so seriously as to make Annie completely cut me out of her life. So I ran an analysis. Coded into my computer some stuff I knew about her, the main details of our relationship, and I tried to run an analysis. I hoped to identify the key moment, which would finally give me closure.”
Melissa nodded, all the pieces now falling into place for her. Apparently. (I gave her a look, which she ignored.) “So what happened to the file?” she asked Frank.
“My program ran for the better part of a day, then crashed,” Frank answered, shrugging. “The file itself had become corrupt or something. I figured it was because I was running a torrent at the same time, decided that it was a sign that I’d asked the computer for too much, and tried to trash the thing. Only to find it had already been placed into my recycling folder. Or I THOUGHT it had been… maybe it was a copy? I never gave that file much thought again until now,” Frank admitted.
“Your computer was hooked up to the internet at the time you ran the program then?” Melissa chastised.
“Um, duh?” Annie’s ex replied. He cleared his throat, looking guilty. “Look, I honestly thought her file had been erased. I’m sorry if some personal information got out. That was never my intent. Annie… she’s not going to die on account of my program, is she?”
“Not if I can help it,” Melissa concluded.
Having learned everything from Frank that she needed, the supernatural detective spun on her heel and marched back out of his apartment. She was already working out the best way to solve the problem. Frank quietly watched her go.
“Or at least, if he said anything else, I wasn’t paying attention,” Melissa admitted.
“All right,” I said, parsing her conversation. “So what you’re saying is, Annie’s ex-boyfriend created a computer file on her, which gained sentience, became evil and is now trying to kill her?”
“More or less. The sentience thing was no doubt due to an external entity melding with it at just the wrong – or the right – time. Anyway, the male perspective thing I wanted to know from you–”
“Wait,” I protested. I rubbed my eyes, not that it helped me to process the situation any better, but it gave me more time to assimilate things. “Okay,” I continued at last. “So this ‘entity’ – is now being controlled by an an actual evil wizard running around campus?”
“Of course not,” Melissa scoffed. “James, keep up. For one thing, the issue here is that Annie’s a witch. Naturally.”
I’m not sure what bothered me more, the fact that Melissa said it so matter-of-factly, or the fact that I hadn’t been anywhere near reaching that conclusion yet. Had I missed the clues once more? I leaned in a little closer, finding it hard to read Melissa’s expression in the absence of proper lighting. “A witch. Like you,” I said, dumbfounded.
Melissa shrugged. “Well, Annie’s taller.”
I gave my roommate a look that said I wanted more, and she seemed to pick up on that after a half a minute or so. She reached back for the piece of paper she’d been staring at when I entered. “I got Annie’s permission to do a quick lineage spell before she went to lie down,” Melissa said. She pointed to a branch of the family tree pictured. “I think it comes from two generations back on Annie’s mother’s side.”
Apparently, I was still going to have to ask the obvious question. “Okay… and you realized this about Annie because, what, you witches can sense each other, like immortals in those TV shows?”
“Oh James, please don’t make this silly,” Melissa sighed, putting the paper down. “While it’s true that witch magick can leave a scent on others, as a general rule, we don’t send up beacons for other witches to trace. It would paint a target on us for less friendly supernatural beings to spot.”
Something finally clicked for me. “But that computer file. It could have been a beacon.”
“It was,” Melissa agreed. “And from what Frank said, I gather it was entangled with elements of Annie’s personality and her magick power, creating our problem. His program might have even worked out the truth. Pity Frank never got the results, now it will be up to me to explain about being a witch to Annie.”
At last, things began to make sense. “Because Annie doesn’t know. About the computer file, or even about her witch abilities.”
“No, and not consciously.”
“So Annie wasn’t here consulting you as one witch to another.”
“Oh, heck no,” Melissa said, with a delightful laugh. “Did you think that? In fact, I wouldn’t have even suspected her inherent ability, had Annie not told me that her cat had been hissing at the computer. After all, certain animals are often more drawn towards those with magick potential, to the point of becoming protective of them. So when Annie replied to my question about cats by saying they’d always been around her family, it added credence to the theory.”
“And the supernatural books at her house…”
“Glad you saw those. Yes, on some level, Annie may be aware. Maybe that’s why, like me, she isn’t keen on technology? Either way, it told me that I’d need to ask her friends about any magick links. Leading to the herbal remedies in her family history, mentioned by a couple people. A red flag, as sometimes magick users use those to disguise what’s really going on.”
“Which is why you didn’t want me with you as you asked your questions,” I realized. “I might blurt out something awkward, like I did with the nail polish.”
Melissa patted my shoulder. “Yes, well, you do tend to react visibly, James, and I didn’t want to waste time on explanations. Though I really did need that orb you got me too.”
I pondered things. Something still didn’t quite add up. “Does anyone know about Annie being a witch?”
“I doubt it,” Melissa said. “Seems like a recent awakening.”
“Okay, so if Annie’s a witch, and there’s no one acting against her, why not simply teach her a spell she can use for protection against the entity?”
“Well, why can’t you simply make a green ball appear yellow?” Melissa fired back levelly. “Remember I said that’s simple illusion – anyone can do it, magick background or not.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. “Okay,” I yielded. “So doing the necessary spell isn’t simply a matter of rote repetition. It takes a lot of practice?”
“More than that,” Melissa said. “You have to be open to the very possibility. Supernatural balance. And Annie hasn’t seemed thrilled with what her subconscious has been trying to tell her. Of course, she’s STILL going to have to participate in our final spell so that she knows how to properly protect herself in the future… but even THAT is not my major problem right now.”
I rubbed my neck. “What’s the major problem then?”
“Oh, you mean I can finally get around to asking you what it is I wanted to know five minutes ago?” Melissa retorted.
Her tone wasn’t irritated exactly, but it wasn’t exactly calm, it was more dry and… the realization that she was attempting to be sarcastic hit me before I could get around to replying. As such, I didn’t say anything, because my mind became busy trying to remember if Melissa had ever used that particular tone with anyone else while I was around. Did she even know what sentiment the tone conveyed?
“I assume that’s a yes then,” Melissa decided, switching back to her more level tone. Wait, and was she blushing, or were the shadows of the room playing tricks on me? She turned to look out the window, so I couldn’t tell. Outside, the rain continued to fall.
“James, my problem is, I can’t think of a way to personally get rid of this entity in the time left to us. I’ll need Annie’s help, and to this point, my only viable plan also involves Frank, the unwitting originator of the base program.” She faced me again. “So I need you to tell me if his relationship with Annie is sufficiently ‘Odi et amo’ for my idea to work.”
I blinked. “Odie ate ammo?”
“I hate and I love,” Melissa translated. “Remind me to give you a latin phrasebook. See, we’ll need to get the entity inside of Frank, because once it has a physical form, me and Annie can use the orb of hex to wipe it out. However, for that plan to work, Frank can’t still be in love with Annie, or the entity will reject the merging. Yet he can’t outright hate her, or the entity will take over his persona completely.”
I tried not to boggle at my roommate. “This plan seems incredibly risky.”
“Yes. It’s always risky with emotions, they’re such a pain.”
“Not quite what I meant. Could Frank die? Or Annie?”
“Obviously,” Melissa snapped. She winced then, and marched over to her desk and leaned on it, staring towards my bedroom area.
“Sorry. I blame myself for this,” she stated, visibly tense. “I didn’t realize the evil would be able to adapt to life outside of a computer so quickly. But it must have had contact with Annie this morning for long enough to snare a piece of her magical essence. I suspect that’s how it’s been able to survive as an independent force for this long as well… taking in other magicks to sustain itself, and to grow, in pursuit of its ultimate goal. That being to gain control over a fledgling witch.” She shook her head. “If only the balance were properly in place, this would never have been possible.”
I moved closer to Melissa and reached up my hand, preparing to put it on her shoulder in a comforting way. I changed my mind at the last moment and used it to rub my chin. “Well, Frank sounds like he’s over their relationship. You’re sure he wasn’t feigning ignorance about knowing what his program was doing? Maybe he’s been behind things all along.”
Melissa shook her head, a shaft of light from a passing car briefly reflecting through the window and illuminating her long, chestnut brown hair in an inexplicably alluring way. “I can’t be certain, but I’m almost positive Frank never intended any harm. Thing is, that’s not enough to ensure he’d survive a connection to an evil electronic entity.” She glanced back my way. “James, tell me. Is involving him with Annie again the right thing to do?”
I turned that question around in my head a couple of times. The natural direction my thoughts took involved putting myself in the situation of being called in to help, were it Melissa in trouble. Given the witch parallel. But at this point any ‘love’ I was feeling for my roommate was probably only physical, and the ‘hate’ I felt at how she could do things like give up my living space without even asking permission didn’t exactly balance the scale. Also, we hadn’t yet spent a year dating.
For that matter, not knowing the details of Annie and Frank’s relationship, how could I properly compare my situation to theirs? I finally said the only thing that seemed to make sense, namely, “Why don’t you let Frank make that decision himself?”
Melissa blinked at me. “Mmmm. Just tell him Annie’s a witch, you mean?”
I coughed. “Maybe play up the ‘Annie is in trouble’ angle and downplay the ‘evil digital entity’ side of things. Thing is, if he really doesn’t want harm to come to her, he’ll help.”
“Mmmm,” she repeated. She then reached past me, opening the lower drawer of her desk and pulling out a phone. “I suppose that makes sense,” she decided. “Though I confess part of me hopes he’ll say no, as this outcome is becoming so hard to predict.” She untwisted the phone’s cable, plugging it into the wall. “Fortunately, the fact that this phone’s rotary should confound our evil incarnate, at least for as long as it takes me to phone Frank.”
I nodded. “And do we have a backup plan if Frank does say no?” I wondered.
Melissa grimaced. “Sure. We evacuate the building, I lure the entity in here, and then I destroy the whole apartment complex.”
“Ahh. Which kind of works better as a backup to a backup plan…”
“I know. I’m not keen on changing all my business cards,” Melissa remarked. “But it’s all I’ve got.” She finished dialling. Outside, there was a brief flash of lightning, then thunder rumbled again.
The four of us stood in the apartment building, aka Melissa’s office, a little later. All of us trying not to stare at each other. Which wasn’t too difficult, since it was still very dark.
“Well??” Melissa said at last, turning a glare first upon Annie, then Frank. “I explained the situation to you both individually, and you both agreed, however hesitantly, to go through with this. So, are you going to start talking to each other or not?”
I winced at Melissa’s blunt attitude, but she did have a point about needing to do something sooner rather than later. Even so, there was still a pause, broken only by another rumble of thunder – the rain was coming down harder now, tapping against the window.
“Is talking required then?” Frank said. “Because it’s obvious Annie’s no longer keen on speaking with me.”
“I speak to you,” Annie shot back.
“When there’s other people around,” Frank retorted. “You never called me back last month, or replied to those few emails I sent.”
“It was one phone call, I was busy that week. As to email, you know I’m not keen on computers.” Annie shuddered. “Hell, I’ll probably be even less thrilled with them after this nightmare is over.”
“Eh, okay, valid point,” Frank conceded. “Sorry for apparently about being the cause of this, by the way. I never should have made that program.”
Annie pursed her lips, but otherwise didn’t respond. Again, there was silence. Except for somewhere else in the building, I could just make out the sound of an Avril Lavigne song playing.
Melissa let out an exasperated sigh. “Look. If I let this entity in and you’re just staring morosely at each other, it’s going to go for Annie’s throat. It gains more power if it merges with you, Frank, but you’ve got to generate a more hospitable environment for evil inside you. So shout at her, or something.”
Frank turned to gave Melissa a dubious look.
“Perhaps if you explained to Annie why you created your program in the first place?” I jumped in, trying to help.
Frank now glanced in my direction before turning back to Annie. “Well, ah… basically, I was trying to work out why you broke up with me.”
Annie blinked back at him. “Wasn’t that obvious?”
Frank frowned. “Well, no, not really, that’s the whole point… you refused to talk to me about it, yeah?”
“I said we had differences. And I did answer your questions.”
“When I asked some, sure,” Frank granted. “But that was ME asking, you never showed initiative. So in order to avoid constantly berating you, I was left wondering to myself: Was it our different tastes in music? The fact that you enjoy cottage life more than I do? Was I not spending enough time with you? Was I that lousy in bed? I mean what, exactly, was the thing that caused you to cast me aside so easily?”
Annie flinched. “Easily? You think it was easy?!”
“I don’t KNOW!” Frank said in exasperation. “Anyway, don’t change the subject. Which of those things was it??”
“It… it wasn’t any one thing,” she stammered back. “It was all those things taken together which made me realize our relationship wasn’t going to go anywhere. In particular your inability to notice certain things that were happening.”
“In that case, why didn’t you TALK to me about these things?!” Frank said in exasperation. “Hell, you’re still avoiding me months later. What’s up with that?”
“Look, Frank, my concerns were pretty obvious,” Annie retorted, pointing at him. “And distancing myself from you, that seemed to me the best way for the both of us to get on with our lives.”
“Thank you, much better,” Melissa muttered off to my right. With one finger, she reached out and flipped the light switch while saying, “alea iacta est…”.
At this point, I suppose it would be fitting to say that there was a great crash of thunder, or a flash of lightning, marking the appearance of the evil net entity inside of the room. But while it might be fitting, it would be inaccurate – all that occurred was a bright light flooding the area, the filament in the bulb popping, and all of us being cast back into darkness. I had to rub my eyes at the afterimages, and as I did so I heard Frank speaking as if nothing had happened.
“Get on with our lives?” he was saying incredulously. “How could I get on with my so-called life when I wasn’t sure how to handle the relationship aspect of it any more? Damn it, Annie, did you forget that I can be a depressive? I was in a state of self-doubt for weeks!”
Annie pressed a hand to her forehead. “I didn’t forget. But telling you the truth, you would have thought I was making up stories. I was sure that would only make things even worse!”
“Oh, so you just decided for both us us then,” he fired back. “Being sure and all. Then you took the easy route, ignoring me whenever you got the chance.”
“Easy?! There you go again with that!”
I sidled over next to Melissa. “So, do we need to turn on another light or plug in another–”
She waved me off. “It’s there,” she said, the hushed tone of her voice managing to creep me out more than anything. “Look at his hair.”
I did. Frank’s hair was starting to stand on end, as if there was an excess of static electricity in the air. Then, when the lightning outside finally flashed in a suitably atmospheric way, I saw a spot of blue energy over Frank’s head. The image was only there for a moment, less than a second really, but I somehow I knew this thing was – and I know it sounds crazy – it was baring FANGS at Annie.
I think the only reason I didn’t run out of the room screaming was that I didn’t want to move, for fear of attracting the thing’s attention.
ASIDE: So, we’ve now had the dramatic revelation, more or less… still one piece missing. Can you predict how the case will wrap up?