A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT
ACT 2a: OF VAMPYRES AND GENIES
Bizarrely, I found myself standing in an office. And not Melissa’s office either.
Feeling momentarily disoriented, I took a half step back before evaluating my surroundings. Large wooden desk, coat rack, filing cabinet, no obvious windows. That is, the door had a window, but the glass was frosted. Had I just been magically teleported somewhere? If so, it wouldn’t have been the first time.
Lacking anything better to do, I moved to open the door and peer outside.
On the other side of it was Amy, although she seemed to have purple hair. Like in one of her reviews, except it didn’t look like a wig, the colour looked completely natural. She looked equally startled to see me.
“James?” she said in confusion. She looked down at the rather familiar knife in her hand, then back up. “Did I summon you here? Because the private investigator I was hiring a minute ago just seemed to vanish on me when I turned–”
And then just like that, I was back in the hotel.
“–like an idiot,” Trixie concluded.
“Whoa, what?” I placed a hand to the side of my head to steady myself.
“I said you could actually suggest pertinent details from Amy’s recurring dreams, or continue to stand there like an idiot,” the redheaded witch reiterated without missing a beat, still scrolling through the internet using her electronic device.
“I think I just saw it,” I admitted. “She was with a private investigator.”
“Vampyr PIs, okay, that narrows it down to Moonlight, Angel, Forever Knight, maybe True Blood – no, wait, Blood Ties…” Trixie stopped and looked back up. “JUST saw? Wait. Were you also holding onto the talisman when Amy fell asleep?”
Trixie stared. “Huh. That’s either brilliant, or idiotic. I know which direction I’m leaning, but then again, maybe you do have some usefulness after all. Go fig.”
She finally lowered her keyboard to continue. “Look, there’s a good chance Amy’s dreams were being used as a kind of self insertion fanfiction. Can you recall anything more about a dream motif on her end that might lead us towards the kind of vampyr we’re dealing with?”
“Uh…” I tried to recall some of the information I’d previously passed on to Melissa. “The theme was often film noir, so not a lot of sunlight.”
“Yeah, but no vampyre types like sun, it doesn’t even kill all of them, and right now it’s 11 PM, so Missy can’t use that. Next?”
“Okay, euh… oh, countdowns. There was almost always a countdown to some event or other celebration in a lot of the dreams Amy could remember.”
“So now we’re leaning towards the more OCD vampyres, like the ones from X-Files or the Count from Sesame Street. Better. More?”
With a slight ping in my ears, I was back in Amy’s dreamworld again. This time I was standing in a lobby. It seemed likely that I was in the same building that the PI’s office had been in during my last trip, as I saw Amy walking across the open area, towards the front doors.
“Amy!” I called out to her, hurrying to catch up. “Where are you going?”
She turned. “James? You’re back! I… I was thinking I should be somewhere surrounded by people. Or should I just wake up? I mean, if the investigator was Charlie, and he’s not here any more?”
“No,” I said hastily, which I then attempted to clarify. “There’s been complications. What I need to know is –”
How could I put it incredibly succinctly? There was no telling how much time I had left here! But just like that, I had it. “Is there anything that you particularly enjoy in real life, that you never, ever, remember having or seeing while you’re inside of these dreams?”
Amy blinked, and her brow creased a bit as she looped a bit of purple hair back off her ear. “Wow, no pressure, huh? Um… oh! Would garlic bread count? That and bruschetta, it’s never on the menus in the restaurants which–”
“–are being increasingly unhelpful,” Trixie concluded in annoyance, as I adjusted to my return to reality.
“Garlic,” I said firmly. “Garlic’s been absent from Amy’s dreams. It must be a particular weakness.”
“Says who?” Trixie said dismissively. “Vampyres have heightened senses, which are irritated by items like allium sativum.” Then her head canted to the side, one of her two red twintails swishing over her shoulder. “Unless?”
She resumed tapping at her keyboard.
“Unless?” I prompted after a second or two.
“Culicinae realm,” the redhead muttered. “It fits, but realistically there’s no way Charlie would know about it. Still…” She punched a final button, then spoke into her phone. “Rixi, garlic cloves.”
“All right,” the device intoned back. It didn’t sound like Siri, the voice was an electronic variation on Trixie’s own voice. “Accessing.”
Having backpedalled a step or two at the sound, I stepped forwards again. Only to take another step back as a small globe of light appeared, hovering over the screen. Inside the glowing sphere, what looked like a few cloves of garlic appeared; Trixie grabbed them, which dispelled the light.
Sensing (or expecting?) my amazement, the young witch shot me a knowing grin. “My own personal Siri, connected to my magical hammerspace. Did I mention I have an IQ of 151?”
“Um, no,” I said. I supposed I could believe it, she seemed to know exactly what she was doing. “And why do you have a hammerspace full of garlic?”
“I’ve had to eat Missy’s cooking,” Trixie said with a shrug. “Remind me to impress you more later, for now, we’d better get this to my cousin.” She strode over towards the door – which I now realized had been partly ajar throughout the whole conversation – then looked back at me expectantly.
“Trixie, I can’t leave Amy,” I pointed out, gesturing at the bed.
At that moment, my Asian friend stirred a little, and I found myself standing outside on a street, no doubt in her dream again. However, this time, before I could even get a handle on exactly where Amy was, I was back in the motel room, so all that really happened was I missed the gist of what Trixie was saying. Something about driving.
“Sorry, mentally absent again,” I apologized.
Trixie pressed a palm to her forehead, and then spoke with deliberate enunciation. “Me no license. Cannot teleport somewhere new. Car faster than broom. You drive?”
“I can, but someone has to stay with Amy,” I reiterated. “If she gets in trouble in the dream, someone may need to wake her up.”
“Seriously?” Trixie made a bit of a pouty face as she stared at me. Just as I was wondering if her interpersonal skills were really any better than Melissa’s, she reached out to grab my hand.
“Fine,” the redhead said, handing over the garlic, along with another object that she pulled from her pocket. “Skeleton key,” she explained as I looked down at it. “It’s how I got in here.”
She then rattled off an address and apartment number. “But hurry up,” Trixie finished. “While I’m sure my cousin can hold her own, it’s better for all of us if she doesn’t get bitten by any lurking vampyres in the process, hm?”
Given how it had already been close to five minutes since I’d sent the text, and from what I recalled of the town’s road map, it was liable to take me another five to get over to Melissa’s location… I hurried up.
For her part, Melissa hadn’t wasted any time in shutting her phone completely off after receiving my message. She even admitted later that she hadn’t fully read what I’d sent, so perhaps I could have texted anything. For the sake of the narrative, I’ll give you the gist of what happened here, as I was talking with Trixie.
Focused on the task at hand, Melissa began by using a picture of a key (and a little magick) to trip the lock on the apartment complex. When that worked, she decided that the complex itself wasn’t housing a lot of witches, or at least that there was not liable to be any magical protection outside of Carlie Halko’s apartment.
Melissa then proceeded up the stairs and to the apartment door in question, taking just a moment to listen against it, figuring it was possible that Charlie wasn’t alone inside. As it turned out, she was correct in that, though not in the typical sense.
Hearing nothing, she gently tried the door – locked, eliminating the excuse of meaning to have gone next door – and proceeded to knock.
Some might find this tipping of her hand to be a curious decision, but understand that Melissa had held some hope that Charlie would be reasonable when confronted with the truth of the situation. Plus there was always the chance that she and Trixie had been wrong about his involvement, and on top of this, Melissa says deadbolts are a pain to deal with, even using magick.
There was no answer, but my former roommate later indicated to me that, at this point, she thought she heard someone moving around inside. Melissa then tried to open the door using the old trick of sliding a piece of plastic between the lock and the doorframe. (Well, it wasn’t plastic per se, but you get the gist.)
This being a more conventional way to break and enter, it could have tipped her off as to the extent of actual magical protection on the door, as well as informed her as to how much force she might need to use on a more unconventional attempt.
However, with a click, it felt like the door completely unlocked at this one attempt.
That immediately ramped up Melissa’s level of concern. Either Charlie was way too overconfident, or he was forgetful, or… he was otherwise prepared for this sort of eventuality.
She turned the knob slowly and pushed the door open.
At that point, all Melissa could register was that it was dark. Even the curtains leading to the small balcony were blacked out, meaning the only light spilling in was from the hall.
Committed now, Melissa took a step or two, attuning her senses to the talisman that Amy had, looking for a trace of it to pinpoint the Somnalibus as soon as possible.
The door swung shut.
Melissa ducked instinctively, having caught sight of movement out of the corner of her eye. The frying pan whizzed over her head, and the person swinging it was put off balance. (Of note, her small stature can be an advantage at times like this.)
During Melissa’s initial scan, in the available light from the hallway, she had remembered seeing a light switch, and dove for it now. Hoping to gain the advantage, given that Charlie’s eyes were obviously attuned to the darkness, while she had the opposite problem.
But despite flipping the switch, no light came on.
Melissa hadn’t brought a flashlight; she doesn’t like to weigh herself down with useless items. So her backup plan became a lamp on a nearby table.
Ducking again and heading over, she didn’t even fumble for the lamp’s switch, instead reaching out to touch the bulb, then calling, “Luminarium!” The lamp switched on, revealing… a lot more lamps.
As far as layout went, Charlie’s apartment door opened into a main living area and kitchen. Apart from the closet (where Melissa deduced that her assailant had crouched when she knocked), there were two other doors. But what really drew her attention now was how a lot of available space was taken up with lights and lamps.
Ones that Amy had reviewed in her online web series.
Of course, Charlie was also visible now, brandishing the same frying pan which he’d swung earlier. He was of medium build, with short dark hair, wearing a button up shirt and pants.
“Witch!” he called out, recognizing the use of a spell (and not, presumably, fumbling a ‘b’). He flung his frying pan right at Melissa’s head, despite blinking to adjust to the illumination.