A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT
ACT 1a: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS
It was as I stared down at my childhood friend, Amy, as she slept, that I realized she wasn’t the one for me. My gaze went from her, to the knife in my hand, to the window, even as my thoughts went from what I was about to do here, to what Melissa was doing some blocks away.
Namely breaking into an apartment on our behalf.
In retrospect, I think that’s when it finally dawned on me that Melissa Virga was, in fact, the woman I wanted in my life. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’d missed it before. Alas, I had no idea that Melissa would then be taken away from me before the end of the summer. But you probably need more context, don’t you? Even if, by chance, you are someone who has read the previous three cases with Melissa that I chronicled, I bet you are more than a bit confused. I’ll back up.
My name, for the purposes of this story, will be James Conway. Some of you may recall that it’s not my real name, merely the name I chose when I first started writing about Melissa’s cases. Again, that’s also a name I picked for her, though her last name of ‘Virga’ is genuine. Don’t mispronounce it, it comes from the latin. Now, since we started there, I figure we might as well keep using these names, right?
At the time of those early cases, as a university freshman, I was using them to try and ensure anonymity. Now, well, maybe the last name is all you’d need to find “Melissa”. Even ignoring her recent status in the magic community, technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, just the four years I spent working on my degree. For all I know, someone’s created a wiki page about her on the dark web.
Heck, it’s hard to believe that we’re now at the point where shutting down the entire world’s electronic infrastructure required the use of witches and wizards spanning the entire globe. Not merely to accomplish it, of course, but also to make it seem like a natural… but there I go, rushing ahead again. How about we begin somewhere normal, namely with my university graduation.
I had spent my entire time at university living with Melissa Virga, in apartment 66 of some off-campus housing that I took sight unseen. (If you haven’t read the prior case material, know that I was kind of a naïve guy from out of town, who didn’t question why it might still be available in late August.) Melissa ran a supernatural detective agency out of the apartment. Ultimately, I helped her do this.
Melissa continued her case work even after obtaining a philosophy degree from the university herself. In fact, I probably helped Melissa with her career work unrelated to the supernatural too, since she was a bit of a technophobe… and assuming people will just “find you”? It might serve a student acting as a private detective who doubles as a witch, but it is less helpful when you’re hoping to be paid as a creative consultant. So really, the question became, when I graduated, would I still stick around and continue to help out said self-proclaimed witch, Melissa “Weird Gal” Virga? Or would I set off and try to make something of my english degree, with a focus on journalism?
It may come as no surprise that my parents were leaning more towards the latter. They had met Melissa, you see. Met her after my first couple of semesters away, during that first summer, when I elected to stick around and help with cases from May through August. I’d managed to prevent all but the briefest encounters prior to that point. Upon her first official meeting with my parents, she aimed for a good first impression by offering them a casserole of blue cheese and hot peppers. My dad immediately wondered if I’d gotten Melissa pregnant and given her strange cravings. (For the record, no, she came by those naturally.)
Melissa proceeded to talk down to them, and… well, look, as they say, “show, don’t tell”. I’ll jump in with my graduation tale now, lest you get bored from too much exposition. You’ll see Melissa in action shortly. Simply picture her with less blunted edges for earlier encounters.
Though if you want – or need – a teaser for how Melissa can be, do feel free to look up my prior trilogy of cases for extra context. I’m sure they’re floating around on the internet somewhere. Then, when you’re ready, read on.
*** Picture it. It’s the end of April, and my parents come into town again to watch me walk across the stage. Except they’re in town a day in advance, with a surprise. When I answer the door on Friday evening, there’s Jim Conway, my dad, Helen Conway, my mom… and Amy “Lampana” Lamkins.
You may have heard of Amy, she reviews lamps and other such illuminating devices on the internet. Or more likely you haven’t heard of her, because I’m still somewhat altering the names of people in this story (including those of my parents), along with other minor details. But suffice to say, Amy has a rather niche market of internet fans, and I knew her before she became famous(?), having gone to high school with her. I’d better describe her here too, for those who need a visual. Asian descent, short dark hair (though she varies that up during her reviews by wearing wigs), maybe five foot five (so just a couple inches shorter than me), brown eyes, and a somewhat reserved personality (at least in person). On this occasion, conservatively dressed in a blouse and skirt. Not exactly the sort of person I expected to be hanging out with my parents, who probably don’t even subscribe to UTube, so colour me a bit nonplussed as I invited them all in. By the way, no, I won’t be describing myself (or my parents) in detail. Picture me however you like, I’m not going to do that cliche “checking myself out in the mirror” thing. My mother sighed as she entered. “Love what you haven’t done with the place,” she said with a resigned tone.
I’m not sure what she was expecting. We’ve got a large open area which doubles as Melissa’s office and our sitting room, off of which there is a kitchen, bathroom, and mine and Melissa’s bedrooms. (My room used to be the dining room.) We don’t have dead monkey paws sitting around, or obvious mystical symbols inscribed on the walls.
I mean, I suppose there’s the eye in the triangle on the main door, so people with an interest in the supernatural can find us. But trust me, the interior was hardly as bad as it had been before I developed a filing system for Melissa. I gestured towards the couch for my parents, our only comfortable chair for Amy, and went to grab one of the standard folding seats in front of Melissa’s desk for me. “Well, it’s great to have you all here,” I said. “Can I get anyone a drink, or just a glass of water?” “I’m fine,” my mother assured me. “Amy?” “Uh, I’m good,” she said. “Thanks though.” My dad just shook his head and sat quietly, folding his arms and regarding the situation as it unfolded. He doesn’t generally say a lot, but he usually doesn’t have to in order to get his points across. In this case, I got the impression that whatever was going on was my mom’s idea.
Anyway, I simply sat down in the chair I’d pulled over, wondering what to say next. Fortunately, Amy spoke up, vocalizing exactly what was on my mind, namely, “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here, James.” “Little bit,” I admitted. She smiled quietly. “Well, I don’t know if you’ve kept up, but I run a little review site online. We’re planning on expanding, and starting a newsletter. So, someone with your skills would be useful, not only for stuff like proofreading, but also doing research and the like. Of course,” she added quickly, “it wouldn’t really pay much, so if you have other prospects, I understand. But they always say it’s important to keep gaining experience and contacts when you’re looking for other work.” “Oh! Well, yeah, and I’ve nothing really on the radar at this point,” I admitted. “So sure, email me the details, and I’ll think it over.” I’m sure my brow furrowed a little. “You didn’t have to come out here and make me this offer in person though.” Amy shrugged. “I was back in our hometown, I ended up chatting with your parents when they came to visit my parents, and I didn’t have anything else going on this weekend. So I thought, what the heck.” “Being here is also a chance for Amy to talk to the editor of one of your university publications,” my dad put in. “Apparently they’d met in an online forum, and he has some items she could use. So it wasn’t just about seeing you again.” “But dear, do notice how that means Amy has connections,” my mother added. “Maybe she can help give you some direction for the job market. You can’t spend the rest of your life working here on those supernatural oddities, right?” Ah, so there it was. The fact that Amy was sitting a little uncomfortably also implied to me that her interest in my writing was genuine, and as such she wasn’t in on my parents trying to leverage me away from Melissa’s supernatural agency. I wondered if Amy even knew about the supernatural. It seemed unlikely, as my parents themselves only had a vague idea of the work Melissa and I did.
At the same time though, I had been asking myself exactly where my life was going to go after my degree. And I had been putting off thinking about it. Meaning I was simultaneously annoyed by my parents’ meddling, and yet appreciative that they were looking out for me at a time when I wasn’t really doing it for myself.
So, how to respond? “I’m weighing my options,” was my answer. “Let me see what Amy’s looking for first. Either way, I’d rather not decide anything until after I have the all important graduation paper in my hand tomorrow.” “Of course,” my dad said, before either of the others could speak. “So how exactly will the ceremony go then, and more importantly, how long is it and how comfortable are the chairs we’ll have to sit in?” Talk then moved to the mechanics of graduation and other trivialities, and the whole encounter wouldn’t necessarily have been worth remembering, if it weren’t for the fact that Melissa came home about twenty minutes later.
ASIDE: I’ve decided to keep every-other-week updating, which means that this serial is liable to continue for the rest of 2019. Hope you enjoy, share the links and all.