A VIRGA MYSTERY
Borderline: Case 3c
“So, how do you normally proceed in a case like this?” Eric asked, looking up at the apartment complex.
“Every case is different,” the brunette murmured in reply, not looking up, but rather scanning up and down the street. The area was mostly residential, but Melissa spotted a few commercial shops encroaching from the west.
“Gary lived on the 9th floor,” Eric offered. “I still have a key if–”
“I don’t need to see the apartment,” Melissa cut in. “We’re really only confirming my suspicions at this point, the case is solved… I figure we go this way,” she concluded, and began walking towards the shops.
“Oh, uh… hey, you want to let me in on what happened?”
“If you haven’t already figured it out, you will soon enough,” was Melissa’s reply. (In a way, it’s nice to know that she doesn’t only pull that enigmatic routine with me.)
They got almost three blocks before discovering the carpet store. Melissa marched right in. “Ah, you’re wondering if they’re missing any merchandise?” Eric hypothesized as he followed after.
Melissa tried to ignore the ramblings of her old friend, instead seeking out the nearest employee. It turned out to be the person manning the main counter.
“Hi!” Melissa said, flashing the man a smile. “I want to know who bought a throw rug from you last week.”
The counter man (who, Melissa remarked to me, seemed to have a rug on his head as well) sized up both her and Eric before replying. “All sales are final. Who wants to know?”
“I do,” the brunette answered easily. “I can even describe the buyer for you if you like. He was… uh…” She turned to Eric. “Describe Gary.”
Eric blinked. “What?”
“Wait, did you want to buy a similar rug?” the salesman wondered.
Melissa sighed. “No, I’m not buying a rug. Just listen as Eric describes Gary.” She elbowed her associate.
“Oh, uh…” Eric went on to provide a basic description. It’s not really relevant, so picture Gary however you like.
“It would have been last week, late in the day,” Melissa added.
The salesman nodded slowly. “Oh, right, I remember him. In fact we still have a limited number of those throw rugs in stock, if you…”
“Wait, Gary bought a throw rug here?” Eric interjected.
“He had to have, since you said it was in his apartment,” Melissa said patiently.
“The killer made him buy the murder weapon then?” Eric gasped.
“Whoa! Killer? What do you mean?” the man at the counter asked warily. “Look, what people do with our carpets once they’ve been bought is out of our hands…”
Melissa’s selective hearing now began ignoring the store employee. “Eric, your friend was not murdered. Gary chose a bad time to buy a throw rug.”
Eric shook his head. “Mel, I know what I saw at the seance. Gary said himself that there was a killer. Unless… did the rug come alive and attack him?? Man, that’s some freaky Aladdin craziness!”
The witch palmed her forehead, and let out a long breath. “Eric. Are you at least with me as far as your friend buying the rug, or do you need to see the receipt?”
Eric paused, looking from her to the counterman, who in my mind had started edging away. “I’m with you on Gary buying the rug,” he yielded. “But he could have been coerced.”
“Fine.” Melissa turned and began to walk out of the store. “We have one quick stop to make first, then you can take me to Melody.”
Eric hurried to catch up. “Melody? You… you need to team up with her?”
Once again, Melissa chose not to respond. Eric could only grumble to himself.
(“I hope,” my roommate told me during the course of providing this backstory, “that you, at least, would have figured out Melody’s connection by now. Seeing as you don’t have Eric’s blind spot for death.” Trying to look intelligent, I told Melissa that I certainly couldn’t imagine her teaming up with this other witch. However, I suspect that at this point I’d be blaming Melody for Gary’s death – which wasn’t correct either.)
Melody Nedsen’s residence was rather different from mine and Melissa’s. For one, it was actually a house, and for another, it was separate from her “business”, which she ran out of a different place. However, given the time of day and Melissa’s insistence that things couldn’t wait until morning, Eric brought them there instead.
Picture, if you will, a typical two story building, with a small balcony wrapping around the second level. It had a small lawn and straight driveway, and there were two obvious entrances. One at the front, the other at the side, by the driveway. Eric brought them to this side entrance, and knocked in a distinctive rhythm.
Apparently, Melody had at least converted one room of her place to use for ‘spiritual emergencies’, and this was the way in. She answered the door herself. Which is a good time to describe her, much as I did with Eric. Bearing in mind that the only time I saw her firsthand was when I was being suspended upside down, I can offer the following.
She was beautiful. Long blonde hair, bright blue eyes and knowing smile. Perhaps in her early fifties, but could easily be mistaken for ten years younger. Taller than Melissa (though that’s not difficult), and apparently pretty sharp mentally. Given her first remark was “Eric? What… oh.” Her eyes narrowed upon spotting my brunette roommate. “I suppose it would do no good to send you away.”
“Nope,” Melissa countered.
“Uh, Melody, this is Melissa… Melissa, Melody… please try to get along?”
There was a pause, then Melody invited them in. The side entry room had some rugs on the floor and candles around on some dressers, along with what I presumed to be magickal draperies on the wall, but it was otherwise reasonably sparse.
I guess if you’re having a spiritual emergency, you don’t need a chair.
After closing the door, Melody sat down on a pillow in the middle of the central rug, gesturing at the others to do the same. Melissa did so, her posture tense. “Quanta de spe decidi,” Melissa began.
Melody ventured a smile. “Quae haec est fabula?”
“Dixi tibi. Quid in te fecit?”
A sigh. “Si id non fecissem, aliquis id fecisset. Volenti non fit iniuria…”
Melissa slammed her palm down onto the carpet. “Voluntarius?!”
“Whoa, hey, uh, ladies?” Eric interrupted. “I, um, er… re vera, linguam Latinam vix cognovi?”
The two witches turned to glance at him, and Melody half smiled. “Oh, Eric. How long have you been waiting to use that phrase?”
“Uh, not long. I tried to brush up before going to get Melissa,” he admitted. “But I meant it. I don’t really know all that much Latin. Who is volunteering for what here?”
“Voluntarius essentially means willing,” my roommate clarified, still looking at the other witch. “She’s saying you were a willing victim.”
Melody sighed again. “Melissa dear, don’t be so dramatic.” She spelled things out at this point, gesturing first at Eric’s companion, then back at herself, as she reiterated the conversation.
Melissa: “I am very disappointed.”
Melody: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Melissa: “You know very well. What harm has he done to you?”
Melody: “If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have. One who is willing suffers no injustice.”
“Eric’s not willing,” Melissa now broke back in, in English. “He doesn’t even know what you’re doing!”
“But the way Eric feels… wait. Doesn’t? As in, not even now? You haven’t explained it to him yet?”
“It’s pretty damn obvious, given how you imprinted yourself.”
Melody laughed lightly. “To you, perhaps. Not to people like him.” Again Melody looked to Eric, brushing some hair back off her shoulder. “In which case, I’ll come clean first then. Eric, I’m afraid that I have, in a very minor way, been using you.”
“Melissa? Shut up. Please,” Eric broke in.
The interruption brought her up short, and she looked back at Eric, as he clenched his jaw and continued.
“Obviously I’m missing something,” Eric said. “And have been for a while. But you two witches arguing is not helping me understand. So, Melody first. What do you mean by using me? Did you…” He swallowed. “Did you make me kill Gary or something?”
Melody’s eyes went wide. “Oh, God, no, nothing like that. I’ve just…” She tapped her index fingers together. “Well, for the last few years, I’ve been using you a bit like a sponge.”
Melissa snorted, her arms by now crossed back over her front, her standard angry pose. “That’s putting it mildly. Eric, Melody is amplifying her magick power by bleeding it from the dead. Through you. It must stop now.”
“It’s not like that,” Melody said, her eyes flashing as she looked back at the brunette. “Eric’s not just some conduit for me to use. Nor have I killed anyone directly with this act! All those whom I take energy from, they died of natural causes. You’re too young to understand.”
“I understand that Gary called you a killer.”
Melody’s hand was lightning quick, striking Melissa’s cheek even as the shorter witch started to raise her hand to try and block. Melissa tumbled to the side, more from shock at the speed of the act than the actual force of the blow.
“Gary was confused,” Melody said, angrily. “He didn’t understand what was happening, because I hadn’t anticipated Eric absorbing some of his friend’s spiritual energy. Interfering with my normal collection methods. It must have been owing to their close friendship, and the suddenness of Gary’s accidental death… which WAS an accident.”
“I am aware of his unfortunate death on account of the throw rug. I wasn’t blaming you directly, but it is you who has since tied his spirit here.”
“Temporarily. Since the seance with Eric, I’ve corrected the problem.”
Melissa gaped. “Corrected? You cannot be serious. This is not a problem you can correct so easily. I shudder to think of what might have happened with Cam back when you first met Eric, and started your…”
“Melissa, STOP IT!”
Melissa blinked in surprise as Eric now stood, looking down at her. His fists clenched and unclenched. The brunette righted herself back into a seating position, following her tumble due to Melody’s slap, still looking up at him. “What? Eric… don’t you get it? What she’s done?”
“Sure. I’m an energy sieve, am I? Fine, whatever. Setting that aside, Melissa, I asked you to be civil. Since it’s obvious you won’t be, and further, that Gary’s death was not, apparently, a murder, your involvement is now finished. So leave. NOW.”
Melissa swallowed. “Eric, listen. People who are associated with you who die, they’re not immediately able to pass on. They’re tied to this plane by Melody, who is bleeding spiritual energy through you – for however long she wants! She told you to volunteer your time at a retirement home for that reason.”
“*I* chose to volunteer my time,” Eric said. “To help people continue to live decent lives in their old age. Dammit Melissa, now who’s ‘theorizing without facts’? This is just like it was in high school. You still think you know everything, when really, you don’t have a clue. Because, guess what?”
He took in a deep breath before continuing. “You could have stopped all this. It was pure happenstance that I hooked up with Melody in a cafe, a week after Cam died. The only reason I pulled away from you then was because you were so dispassionate about the whole thing. I needed to talk to someone… if not to Cam, then to you… but you didn’t care, not the way I did! So Melody did what you wouldn’t – and I’m with her now.”
“But…” Melissa began, suddenly not sure what to say. She admitted to me after the fact that perhaps some of the conclusions she had drawn, while correct, had neglected to factor in the random human element.
“Melissa,” Melody broke in quietly. “You know as well as I do that for my siphoning to work without Eric’s direct awareness, he had to have a predisposition. In being a person who cannot accept the death of others, he can bind their spiritual energy here without conscious effort on my part. If I had not used that knowledge and imprinted upon him, someone else might have done much worse… even caused deaths, to exploit his weakness. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t realize we were associating from the start.”
“I… I was sixteen when Cam died,” Melissa protested, deflating. “I just wanted to get on with my life. To hone my abilities.”
“So go, Melissa,” Eric said, turning away. “Get on with your life again. I’ll stop getting in touch.”
A pained look crossed Melissa’s face. “Eric…”
(‘Things were hitting too close to home,’ she told me during our later talk. ‘My plan here had been to make Eric stop trusting Melody, forcing her to break their link. But, seeing as I’d practically sent him to her, back in high school… I was at a loss. That was when I thought of you, James. Of how you might be able to handle this, using interpersonal skills or something. I realized then that perhaps I should have brought you along.’ Which made me feel good, until I realized it’s what led to my less than stellar arrival.)
Melissa took in a breath, and turned from Eric back to the older witch. “The thing is, you’re not going to stop this if I leave, are you.”
Melody slowly shook her head. “No. No, I’m not. I’m not doing anything wrong. Supernatural balance is being maintained.”
“It’s not wrong according to our rules. But it’s morally wrong. Plus, Eric knows now.”
“So he knows. There are spells that can make people forget, if necessary. Perhaps you can even accept the use of one on yourself too, if you’re that worked up about this.”
“THAT is wrong.”
Melody shrugged. “Necessitas caret lege.” (Now there’s one for you to look up.)
Melissa rose, as did Melody in tandem with her, so that the three of them were standing. “No,” Melissa whispered. “I’m not leaving Eric. I can’t. Not this time. Not again.”
Eric turned back. “Mel…!” His voice was pleading, but it was hard for her to say what it was he was hoping for.
The two witches remained staring at each other, as if sizing the other up, waiting to see who would make the first move.
Melody’s eyes narrowed. “Melissa… you leave me no choice. Semper paratus!”
This is when I came back into it. Of course, back at our apartment, all I knew was that my roommate had pulled a new vanishing act. Melissa hadn’t told me about leaving with Eric, and while I’d poked around briefly that evening to see if she’d left a message, there wasn’t one. (Though I did find another note advising me not to answer the phone, in the medicine cabinet of the bathroom.) Hence me doing my homework. Possibly wishing to be elsewhere. Which alas only made things easier for Melody.
Without warning, I was suspended upside down over a bed of nails, with people (monks?) chanting around me. Earlier, I said this was incredibly disorienting, yes? That bears repeating. At least I now know in retrospect that it was because Melody had pulled my identity from Melissa’s immediate thoughts, and transposed me into a position of peril. Supposedly a spell the elderly blonde witch kept on standby in her home, for use in such situations, given how she only had to say “Always prepared” to achieve that effect.
It happened so quickly that all Melissa knew was that a spell had been cast, doing something which gave her a feeling of dread in her gut related to me.
“Where is he?” Melissa gasped.
“In jeopardy. Now you must deal with that, effectively dividing your attention.”
“Giving you time to take control of the situation here, and bind my powers or steal Eric’s memory.”
“Only if I must. Understand, my dear girl, that I have been doing this for decades. There were others before Eric. I’m not going to allow you to change things.”
“Melody, what’s going on?” Eric broke back in. “Let’s just let bygones be bygones, okay? I’m sorry for bringing Melissa in. It’s my fault. Just let her leave, and stop all this jeopardy talk.”
Melody’s lips thinned. “Too late for that now.”
“Because the truth of it is,” Melissa said, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “This IS my fault, for not doing something sooner. I’m sorry.”
She half turned to Eric, while keeping an eye on Melody. “You know, you’re right. I’m dispassionate. I compartmentalize my emotions. Even when I’m supposed to be having fun, like on a date, I still do it. And back then, since I didn’t seem to care about what was going on around me, I guess to you, it looked like I didn’t care about Cam. But caring… Eric, that’s when people get hurt. I couldn’t deal with being hurt, not as a witch, not with my power – lest I do what Melody is doing, and get innocents involved in a personal matter.”
Melody placed her hands on her hips. “My my, Melissa, how you do overdramatize. Please grow up. No one is truly innocent, and necessitas caret…”
“…lege, you said that,” Melissa finished for her. She took in a deep breath, returning full attention to the elder blonde. “I’m sorry. Both of you, I’m so, SO sorry. This is going to hurt me more than anyone else. But perhaps, after all this, I deserve to be hurt.”
Melissa reached into the pocket of her jeans.
ASIDE: If you missed it, last week I posted up my stats for May 2018. We’re back to decimal numbers of views. Anyway, hope some people are still interested in the conclusion to this tale, coming in two weeks!