A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT
ACT 1e: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS
The whole investigative process took us about three weeks. The first of those were merely to determine the guy’s online alias (which involved a few false starts, as to begin with we hadn’t even known Amy’s crazed fan was a ‘he’), then there was one additional week for Melissa to pinpoint his location. Though… perhaps I shouldn’t have said ‘us’.
As Melissa had suggested, I spent all that time with Amy, after moving back to my hometown and staying with my parents.
The justification was that I was keeping Amy safe, being a sort of bodyguard, as well as gathering information. Which was partially true – I did get some hints about pieces of dreams, and information about fans who had sent her messages in the past, all of which I relayed on to Melissa.
Yet at the same time, I couldn’t deny that I was also taking the opportunity to see what life would be like without the presence of supernatural investigating. What life would be like without Melissa.
It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. On some level, that worried me.
I thought I’d be yearning for Melissa’s arms. Instead, I was realizing that half the time my interactions with her had involved me trying to make sure she had an income, and was functioning in modern society. The other half of the time had been spent trying to figure Mel out – her deductive skills, her thought processes, her romantic preferences, et cetera. For the first time in a long time, I no longer felt like had to concern myself with those things.
I DO grant that part of the trouble there could have been my balancing all of that with university classes as well. We all need some downtime, and I hadn’t had any of that in a long time either. Now I had both downtime, and time away from Melissa.
However, in a related note, I wasn’t seeing supernatural events everywhere, which others were writing off as natural phenomena. And that had been one of my other big concerns. Had Melissa known that I needed to experience this?
Finally, there’s the fact that Amy was kind of fun to be around.
I watched her do one of her online episodes, and helped to lay some of the groundwork for her newsletter. We went on what some might classify as dates, though neither of us admitted to each other that that’s what a dinner out was. (My parents, you might imagine, had no problems with the label.)
I also watched Amy sleep, in what we assured ourselves was a purely professional capacity, to see if there were any clues to be garnered there. There didn’t seem to be. (Note I didn’t actually share her bed, and I tried to behave in as much of a non-creepy way as possible.)
Then, I got the phone call.
“Amy’s stalker creep is Charlie Halko,” the female said on the other end of the line. “Missy wants you to bring Amy to a motel just outside the town where he lives. Within the next two or three days, if possible. I’ll email you the info, it’s not overseas or anything. Alright?”
I stared at my phone. “W-Who is this?”
“Trixie. This is James, yeah?”
“Yes… um, you’re working with Melissa?”
A pause. “O. M. G,” the female said at last. “Four years, FOUR FREAKING YEARS with my cousin, and she NEVER mentioned me?”
I did a quick scan back in my semi-photographic memory. “No…?”
Come to think, Melissa had never mentioned any relatives at all, not that I’d ever asked. But I suppose it stood to reason that someone within her family would have made a good replacement for me.
“Missy is SO going to hear from me about that!” came Trixie’s sharp voice. And she hung up.
I never got the email, instead getting the particulars from Melissa herself, when she called me an hour later. Apparently Trixie had told her to “send James the info your own damn self, he doesn’t know me”. More on Melissa’s cousin later.
Amy and I met up with Melissa Virga two days following, at the motel she had recommended.
“So here’s the thing,” Melissa said, pacing back and forth in front of the motel room window. (I’d drawn the curtains, of course, so no one could see us. For all I knew, this Halko guy had magical means of knowing Amy was in town, and was looking for her.) “Charlie must be using some kind of item to control the Somnibulus. Problem: I’m going to have no way of identifying what that object might be, and defusing it, unless it’s active.”
“So you need me to fall asleep,” Amy deduced. She was sitting in the only chair in the room, at the desk near the television. I was sitting on a corner of the bed.
Melissa made a little gesture, indicating agreement. “You released a new episode two days ago, and James told me that you’ve had the most difficulty getting a restful sleep in the days after a publication. Plus it’s now Friday night, a good time for Charlie to stay up, so you’re liable to be targeted. Which brings me to our next problem: To have the Somnibulus demon release you of his own free will, we need to make your dreams less hospitable to him.”
I blinked and exchanged a glance with Amy. “How do we do that?”
“Lucid dreaming,” Melissa clarified. “That is, becoming aware of the fact that you’re in a dream, and taking control of it. It’s the best way. Somnibuli hate that, they basically become at your mercy rather than the other way around.”
“I’ve heard of the concept,” Amy agreed. “But I have no idea how to do it.”
“Oh, I figured as much,” Melissa said offhandedly. She finished her most recent bout of pacing over by a small bag she’d brought with her, reaching in and pulling out an ornamental knife. “That’s why I’ve enchanted this object to act as a focus. Upon seeing it in your dream, you should realize the truth of your situation and be able to act as you like.”
Amy’s eyes went a little wider. “Okay… one, what guarantee do I have that your focus will show up in my dream at all, and second, why a KNIFE of all things?”
I found myself answering. “It makes sense that if you go to bed holding it, the enchantment will take effect, bringing it into the dream with you. As to the object itself, either the knife was particularly easy to enchant, or Melissa was considering the need for self defence. Or a combination of the two.”
“That’s pretty accurate, well done,” Melissa said, lightly tapping the fingers of one hand against her other palm in light applause. “You haven’t lost your edge.”
“No, wait, hold on,” Amy protested. “Are you saying I’m actually going to have to FIGHT this demon thing??”
“Doubtful, but you may need to bare your teeth a little, yes.” Melissa extended the hand holding the knife.
Amy continued to look at it a bit nervously. “Okay, no, wait, I need a moment here,” Amy said at last, sliding out of her chair and away from Melissa’s arm. “Why didn’t you warn me it was going to come down to this three weeks ago when you first diagnosed the problem? Isn’t there some other way to handle these demons?”
“No. And I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to risk your dream reactions tipping the demon off, otherwise Charlie might have shifted his target to someone else. Making it impossible for me to locate this fan and solve this problem,” Melissa said, her tone casually dismissive. “Besides, it’s not like you could have prepared.”
Amy made a face. “You don’t know that. Also, I’m not good with knives. What if the demon takes it, or otherwise manages to get control of the dream away from me?”
Melissa sighed. “I don’t know, but according to James, the demon hasn’t been giving you images of anguish and torture to this point. Why would he start now?”
“Because now I’d be actually trying to annoy him!” Amy pointed out. She shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself, and it was again obvious to me that she hadn’t been kidding about getting flustered by the unexpected. “I’m not sure I’ll even be able to fall asleep at this rate.”
Melissa now let out a sound of exasperation, while rolling her eyes. “Well, I’m sorry this doesn’t fit in with your world view. But look, James will be staying here with you! Right? The way he has been for the last several weeks, to keep you out of danger, and to wake you up if necessary. All better?”
Both girls turned to look at me at that point. Amy’s expression was almost pitying, as if it was dawning on her that Melissa really was a heck of a roommate to have had for four years. Melissa’s expression… was, as always, harder to read, but it seemed almost… wistful? Could it be that she’d hoped to bring me along with her to Halko’s?
I decided I was merely seeing what I wanted to see.
“No, not all better, but with James here, I suppose there’s a better chance of me enjoying myself tonight,” Amy said after a moment. Her tone now struck me as petty, but again, might have been imagining it.
I also nodded agreement, though I’d kind of expected that I’d end up staying behind anyway. So I wasn’t upset with Melissa having volunteered this duty on me. Heck, it would hardly have been the first time she did something like that, usually my own safety being part of the equation.
“Just one more thing though,” Amy said, finally taking the knife and holding it gingerly. “Is it true that if you die in a dream, you die in real life?”
Melissa merely rolled her eyes again before looking at me. Which, I must point out, wasn’t a denial.
“James, to activate the talisman, just have Amy say ‘Incipio’,” Melissa said. “Oh, and send me one of those text things once your friend’s fully asleep. That way I’ll know it’s time to break into Charlie’s apartment. Got it? Good.”
She headed out before waiting for a response, though I suppose my not protesting or calling her back was response enough.
With that, I turned my attention back to my former schoolmate. “Let’s focus on positive thinking at this point,” I suggested, knowing Melissa had utterly failed to address Amy’s concerns. “From what I’ve read about the Somnibuli, this guy will take one look at the knife and run. No problem.”
I managed a smile, and she smiled back.
“Thanks, James.” Amy then glanced idly about the room, as I stood and went to lock the door for an added show of security. “You know, in under a month we’ve progressed from dinner to checking into a motel together,” she said. “At this rate, people will talk.”
The thought hadn’t even occurred to me. “Uh, yeah. Guess it’s a good thing you’re not famous enough yet to have paparazzi?” I fired back. Then, seeing her smile vanish, I back-pedalled. “Sorry, that sounded better in my head.”
Amy shook her head. “Oh, it’s not that, it’s just… well, I suppose in a way it is that.” She stood herself, moving to the bed and curling her legs up. I rejoined her, again sitting on the edge.
“It seems to be a human thing,” she continued. “To want to be popular, to want to have our fifteen minutes of fame, huh? Yet now here I am, a borderline celebrity, and look where it’s got me. Attacked by a crazed fan with a pet demon.” She shook her head. “And if I get any more popular, I may not have a life of my own to look forward to… or not a private one, anyway. Do you think people would be trying to dredge up gossip on me?”
“Uh, I don’t know.” I tried to think of something cheery to say. “At least you’re not an author, like me. We’re pretty much disregarded, barring the off chance of a story being turned into a movie or a television serial.”
Making light of the situation obviously wasn’t helping. “Sorry,” I said again, this time reaching out to put my arm around Amy’s shoulders. She leaned into me. “You don’t have to keep doing your lamp reviews, you know,” I pointed out.
“Oh, I know,” Amy sighed. “But I enjoy it And I don’t want to disappoint the few fans I have. Of course, being a part time waitress to help pay for it, that I can do without. Maybe I should have aimed for better than a three year degree.” She shook her head. “I guess my life just isn’t going quite how I pictured it would.”
“Life never does,” I granted. “Unless you’re Melissa.”
Amy turned to look at me, her expression hinting at a frown. “What?”