Author: mathtans

Writer and high school mathematics teacher.

Virga: Act 2A

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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?”

“Yeah.”

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?”

“I…”

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.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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.

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Virga: Act 1F

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1f: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

I realized I must have vocalized that last thought aloud. “Oh, uh, it’s just, Melissa, she’s so well organized. She’s picked her calling in terms of supernatural balance, she’s observant to the point of being able to anticipate events surrounding it, she often seems to have an answer for everything… she knows what’s coming.”

“You once told me she’d be broke by now if it weren’t for you helping her plan out some investments,” Amy pointed out.

“Well, there’s that. No one’s perfect.”

“Also, she’s rude and insensitive.”

“Not out of spite. You just have to get to know her.”

Amy continued to look at me quietly for a moment. “You talk a lot about Melissa,” she said at last.

I blinked. Did I really? “Oh. Um, sorry?”

Amy shook her head. “Don’t apologize, it’s just… I don’t know. Never mind.”

Amy pulled away and rose off the bed again. “I should probably get ready to sleep,” she concluded, moving towards her overnight bag. Setting the knife on the side table, she stretched her arms over her head before reaching down to pick her bag up. “Now, no peeking,” she added, teasingly waggling a finger.

“Of course,” I retorted, pressing a hand to my chest and looking indignant as she vanished into the bathroom.

Though, truth be told, I was still a little hung up on Amy’s prior remark. With her out of the room, I used my eidetic memory to flash back to a few of my conversations over the last three weeks. Melissa had, in fact, come up in a lot of them, in one form or another.

Was I really living a life without Melissa? And was that really what I wanted?

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

For a minute, I worried that I had turned into one of those guys who’s always obliviously droning on about his ex-girlfriend. If that was the case, why hadn’t Amy said something sooner? After all, Melissa sure would have said something if… damn it, there she was again.

Amy was right, I couldn’t get her out of my head.

I forced myself to calm down and assess things a bit more rationally. It wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed. Yes, Melissa had come up in conversations, but usually only in passing, in connection to a topic already being discussed. I wasn’t purposefully mentioning her name, or drawing comparisons between the two girls, like an idiot. Melissa had simply been THERE the entire time I was in university.

Consider that game ‘Taboo’, where you have to make a person guess a word without using any of five words associated with it. Not as easy as it sounds. In the same vein, Melissa couldn’t help but be associated with a lot of words in my life. So to speak.

However.

It finally dawned on me that I’d been treating the last few weeks almost like a vacation, like “down time”. But a vacation from what? Was it in the back of my head that I’d be going back to Melissa’s agency?

Also, while I’d been enjoying my time with Amy, I hadn’t felt like she needed me the way Melissa did. Oh sure, I was helping Amy out, but I’m she could just as easily have found someone else to be a bodyguard. Could the same thing be said of the help I gave to Melissa? Because honestly, I didn’t mind helping her with organization or finance. It helped give me purpose, and she was appreciative.

Also, what of the way Melissa had been helping me to see the world?

One other point of comparison flashed into my head then, as Melissa had predicted three weeks ago. For the record, I’m not exactly proud of what I did next. When Amy came out of the bathroom, dressed in her pyjamas, I moved in close… and kissed her.

This wasn’t completely out of left field. We had almost kissed on one prior occasion, a goodnight kiss when dropping her off, and I’d been the one to turn away at the last moment. Which might be why Amy went along with it now, not shoving me or saying “what the hell?” or anything.

No, she simply kissed me back for a second or two before marginally tilting her head away.

“Why James, what prompted that?” she said coyly, slightly raising an eyebrow.

“I…” Words failed me. ‘I wanted to see if I’d enjoy a kiss with you as much as I had with Melissa’ was definitely the wrong thing to say. I wondered if Melissa would have said it anyway. “I wanted to make sure you had pleasant dreams tonight,” I managed.

I think Amy sensed there was more to it than that, but either she didn’t want to confront the issue, or she didn’t want to admit it to herself. Instead, she smiled. “Works for me!” Giving me a quick hug, she then went back over to the desk to pick up the knife, meaning she was facing away from me.

I brushed my fingers against my lips. Had Amy’s kiss been better? Worse? Well, it had been different. And maybe, in the end, that’s what was at the heart of the matter. Did I want new and different, like Amy? Or back to more of the same with Melissa? Not that any of Melissa’s cases could ever truly be called “the same” as another.

“Would you mind holding this until I actually fall asleep, then slipping it into my hand?” Amy requested, turning back and holding the knife out. “I want to minimize the chance that I’ll roll over and accidentally impale myself.”

I latched onto the change of subject. “I wouldn’t mind. But it might be that you have to be holding it when you nod off. I don’t want to be responsible for screwing up the enchantment.”

“Huh. Well, at least hold my hand too, until I’m sleeping then?”

“I… sure,” I agreed after a momentary hesitation. After all, after having kissed, that seemed like a perfectly reasonable request.

Amy got under the covers, with the exception of the arm holding the knife, and I stretched out next to her on top of the sheets, reaching over to clasp the knife along with her, as requested. She then activated it using the trigger word. The knife seemed to glow momentarily.

“Hopefully after tonight, we can put all this supernatural craziness behind us,” the dark haired girl finished with a sigh.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. Because to hear her say that finally helped me realize that I didn’t WANT to put it behind me.

I didn’t want to go through life doing a mundane job with normal people. I wanted life to be a little adventurous, a little crazy, a little… Melissa. And as far as the romance angle went, sure, Melissa only had two settings. Hot and cold. While Amy, she had layers. But with Melissa, you always knew where you stood.

I then wondered whether a mild form of Stockholm Syndrome could have been involved.

I took more time to turn things around in my head again, as Amy slowly nodded off. But ultimately, I arrived at the point where you entered this story. Looking down at my childhood friend, then at the knife, then towards the window, I realized that Melissa Virga was the one for me. Or at least, that she was the one for me at this point in my life.

At last, I had a pathway forwards.

Noting Amy’s regular breathing, I carefully pulled my hand away from the knife, pulled my phone from my pocket, and texted Melissa that Amy was asleep.

About two seconds later, the motel room door flew open, revealing a freckled redhead, sporting two twintails. She was dressed in a sleeveless collared shirt, which was grey with blue highlights, along with a short skirt and matching stockings. The outfit screamed “schoolgirl”, but while she looked sixteen, I found out later that she wasn’t much younger than I was.

The first words she hissed at me were, “Don’t send Melissa a message.”

***

The redheaded teenager’s voice clicked right away. I realized we’d spoken on the phone once before. “Trixie?” I said uncertainly, and quietly, so as to not wake Amy.

“Duh,” Trixie retorted, her voice similarly muted. “Oh, wait, let me guess, my cousin didn’t mention that the two of us had taken a room at the motel too?”

“No,” I admitted, rising gingerly from the bed to approach. I glanced at our motel room door. “Also, I was sure I’d locked that.”

Trixie made a show of waving her palm in a large arc in front of her. “Hiiiii. Witch. Locked motel door, not a problem, they open for anyone with a ‘key’.”

She paused, then canted her head to the side in a way that I can only describe as being remarkably cute. “So, you’re James. Wow, you’re a LOT more drab in person. Missy is actually terrible at disseminating information. Why did you leave her, exactly?”

“Hey!” I protested. “I didn’t… leave her. Not really. I just needed some time away.”

“Psssh. You don’t hire your cousin to handle your technology if you think your ex-boyfriend is coming back. Not that I care about your relationship, you realize. I simply wish Missy could’ve shut up about you for longer than five minutes.”

That remark caught me off guard. “Mel used to mention me?”

“Duh, she sure did. It’s partly why I was interested in meeting…” Trixie’s voice trailed off and her eyes narrowed. “Are you having second thoughts about her? Oh lordy, you are. C’mon, you’re not THAT plain. You could do SO much better than Missy. Even within the magick community. You know that, right?”

“What?”

“There are witches who do tech, y’know. For example, there’s me! A witch who’s nearly twenty, and who can actually carry on an intelligible conversation on Skype.” She smiled and clasped her hands behind her back, leaning forwards alluringly. “I dress better than Missy too, hmmmm? You like?”

“Uh, yes. I mean, no. I mean, you dress different, but why are you even dressed that way?”

I was a little troubled in the way my eyes responded to her lean by slipping away from her face. I registered only that Trixie probably had the ability to do bikini modelling the way Melissa could model jeans, before forcing my gaze back up. In my defence, I was tired.

“I like keeping people off balance,” Trixie answered, flashing a smile. “Also, if someone’s talking to my chest, they’re not noticing the evil look in my eye.”

I felt like this conversation was going off the rails. “Look, Trixie, why exactly should I not have sent that text to Melissa?” I questioned.

Her eyes widened. “Sent? Past tense sent, as in she’s about to attack the vampyre, sent?”

“Yeah, uh… vampire?”

Trixie strode forwards and smacked the back of my head. “Idiot, when I tell you not to send a message, don’t let me flirt, tell me right AWAY that it’s too late,” she muttered.

She then pulled a small device out of a pocket in her top. It looked sort of like a cellphone with built-in keyboard, as in an old style Blackberry, but it seemed to have a glowing red crystal embedded in it. Trixie began to poke at the buttons with her thumbs.

“Sh-Should I wake Amy up?”

“No, idiot, that just means Missy wouldn’t know what object to destroy. Assuming she even can, given how she’s not expecting to have to fight a vampyre to get to it… you know, maybe I CAN see why you ended up stuck with Melissa for four years. What’s going on in your head, James?”

“Trixie, please back up, when exactly did vampires enter the picture?”

“Vampyres, elongate the i. And they came in about five minutes ago, when I finally clued in as to the nature of the phrase Charlie Halko uses in his .signature file.”

“Okay, so, Charlie’s a vampyre…?”

The redhead continued to tap away. “No, but he’s gained the ability to emulate one. Which is surprisingly unhelpful given the twelve dozen or so vampyre variations there are out there. I’m trying to narrow it down.” She turned her screen briefly to allow me to see it. “See? TV Tropes, Our Vampires Are Different.”

The screen of her device was faintly glowing red, as opposed to blue. My best guess was that the red crystal was giving Trixie internet access via a nearby wifi. Whether she had a password or not.

“I’d better text Melissa again,” I realized.

“Oh sure, because Missy’ll drop everything to read a TEXT,” Trixie said, rolling her eyes in a good imitation of her cousin. She was immediately back to her web surfing. “For that matter, why not just PHONE Missy, alert EVERYONE to how she’s breaking and entering? Man, just when I thought you couldn’t be even more of an idiot.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I demanded, starting to feel panicky but still wanting to keep my voice down. Behind us, Amy let out a little moan and twisted a little in the sheets.

That’s when things got really crazy.

END ACT 1

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Virga: Act 1E

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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.

***

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“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.”

“James…”

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?”

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 1D

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1d: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

Melissa merely smiled back at me, with one of her quiet, yet knowing smiles. “Get some rest first,” she suggested. “You have a big day tomorrow, and it’s already…” She glanced at her wrist, realized she wasn’t wearing a watch, then looked towards the clock in the room. It had stopped working some months ago for lack of fresh batteries. “It’s 2am?”

“Mel…”

Her fingers snapped. “Oh, right, we’ve had this conversation before. Honestly, we should just take that clock down and be done with it.”

“It’s 8pm,” I said, holding up my wrist and pointing to my own watch.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“There you go then,” Melissa concluded. “Bedtime. I’ll join you. Not in the physical sense, admittedly.” With a quick wink, she grabbed a file folder of sheets off her desk and retreated into her bedroom.

“It’s hardly joining me if you stay up in your own bed working,” I called out to the closed door.

She didn’t respond. I hadn’t really expected her to.

Giving up, I had some dinner and made my own preparations for an early bedtime, but I ended up staring at the ceiling for a good hour. Trying to determine what I was supposed to be doing with the rest of my life. There wasn’t much time left to decide on a direction.

***

At this point, some of you might be wondering how I could have fallen for someone like Melissa. Given how that attitude was pretty typical behaviour for her, while I aim to be non-confrontational. Two things to bear in mind here.

First, it ramped up over the space of several years of living together, during which I got to know certain things. Like how, deep down, Melissa did care about the people around her… she simply couldn’t be bothered to conform to society’s expectations of how a person should act, and preferred to distance herself from the unpredictable. And second, I admit it, from the beginning I was physically attracted.

Could I have looked elsewhere for such companionship? Maybe. I did have a fling with a girl when we were both in second year, but she started moving way too fast, wanting me to move out of the place with Melissa after less than two months of dating. That wasn’t in the cards.

I think part of me also became accustomed to Melissa’s weird quirks and mannerisms over time, things that made others give the self-proclaimed witch a wider berth. To the point where I worried I would miss them.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there was a time when I was put off by the fact that witches are something of a target for the supernatural. But around the same time I realized that rooming with Melissa made me a target even if we weren’t going out, she realized that I was of assistance with the human side of the equation. Also, she’s even said she finds me attractive… though I think it’s a spiritual attractiveness. I’m not the kind of guy who stands out in a crowd.

At any rate, at this point I could walk us through the graduation ceremony, but we all know how unbelievably boring those things are – minus the thirty seconds or so during which the person you know is actually receiving their congratulations. So I’ll hit the highlights:

1) I got my degree, and my parents got photos.

2) Melissa came, and wore a shimmery green dress with strappy sandals that had my jaw drop. (She really is more of a jeans and T-shirts girl, even wearing them to her own graduation. So it was nice that she made an effort on my behalf.)

3) Amy came, and returned the pendant to Melissa. Her dress was blue. We agreed to meet again the next morning before she left town, to discuss the results.

Then the five of us all went out for a late lunch, and while I doubt my mom and Melissa said more than five words to each other, no conflicts erupted. Later, there was an evening of just people from my faculty, with Melissa as my date. But we don’t generally do public displays of affection, so maybe the others thought she was there in more of a professional capacity. Who knows.

Either way, we finally got home sometime close to midnight. Melissa immediately went to check on Amy’s pendant, which she’d dropped into a glass of water earlier that afternoon.

***

“Somnibulus demon,” Melissa concluded, turning and holding out the glass so I could see it. The water inside was cloudy, as she reached in to pull out the pendant and dry it off on a corner of her gown.

I collapsed onto the couch, and tilted my head back so I could still see her at the desk. “Is that bad then?”

“Depends,” Melissa said, rather indelicately hopping up to sit on said desk as she looked at the pendant again. “They feed on dream energy. Usually no, not a problem, in fact one can even be beneficial when they take away a particularly bad dream. Those are the times when you can’t remember why you’re freaking out in the morning. Of course, it works both ways, sometimes they take good dreams too.”

“Mmm. How do they fit in with the idea of supernatural balance?” I asked.

For the record, this balance is actually one of the key truths in magick – spells cannot be performed on the unwilling, not without severe karmic backlash. That’s part of the reason wizards wouldn’t be terribly useful in a war… toss a fireball at someone not willing to be torched, and while they may be singed, it’s the caster who would, on balance, end up worse off.

The loophole for success is passive acceptance – if said victim had thought they were capable of simply shrugging off the fireball or something, they could not truly be classified as unwilling. It’s one of the main reasons why powerful magick users haven’t tried to fix humanity or take over the world or anything like that.

At least, that’s the way things are supposed to work, according to Melissa. Over the last several hundred years though, the karmic backlash has not been occurring as it should. Which, you might imagine, means those witches and wizards who are keeping to their principles, and requiring permission to magick someone, have it rather more difficult. Seeing as their rivals, be they other witches or actual demons from a neighbouring realm, aren’t seeing the usual repercussions from not playing fair.

“There’s often a tacit acceptance on the part of a person to not remember certain dreams,” Melissa explained, idly swinging her legs. “Where things get murky is if the demon keeps returning to the same person over and over. Said person then tends to have persistent trouble sleeping and/or recurring dreams. Somnibuli generally don’t risk that kind of action without some tangible benefit, which implies the presence of a third party.”

“A third party… is that why you asked about Amy’s celebrity status?”

“Precisely,” Melissa said, tossing the pendant into the air and catching it in her palm. She jumped off the desk again. “Something – or someone – has hired the demon in order to peer into, possibly even direct, Amy’s dreams. Why? I don’t know. But given that it needed to be someone with knowledge of magick, I wagered it wasn’t anyone in Amy’s immediate circle of friends, ergo, a deranged fan.”

“Lovely,” I said dryly. “What do we do about it?”

“Well, there isn’t much we CAN do, unless we know who’s behind it,” Melissa said, a hint of irritation creeping into her tone as she returned the pendant to storage. “And since you said Amy publishes on the internet, for all we know it’s someone in outer Mongolia. Honestly, WHY does everyone refuse to recognize the ‘world wide web’ for the pain in the ass it truly is?”

I smiled despite myself. “The internet’s not as bad as all that.”

“So you keep telling me.”

“Okay Mel, look at it this way. If this fan is going to the extent of hiring demons, they’re probably not managing to stay completely anonymous,” I pointed out. “We can search through the comments on Amy’s website, as well as her email, for anyone with a supernatural or dream fixation.”

“Pain in the ass,” Melissa insisted with a grumble, crossing her arms. “This person still might be in outer Mongolia, and I don’t do trans-pacific flights.”

“You know teleportation spells,” I reminded. “And surely there’s other witches willing to help out who live out there.”

“Could be, but I don’t speak outer Mongolian.”

“Half the time you witches talk in latin anyway.”

Melissa threw her hands up. “James, why do you always make it so difficult for me to stay annoyed with technology??”

“Because it’s weird when you start to lose your cool like that. Besides, you and that dress doesn’t equal angry. You and that dress equals sexy.”

A hint of colour came into Melissa’s cheeks. “Which is precisely why I don’t wear them. Also, I know where you’re going with that thought, but you’ve been drinking. You’re not thinking clearly.”

I sat up straight. “Hey, how do you know where I’m thinking?”

“It comes with the job.” She smirked a little. “Plus, in the last twenty eight hours, you’ve been presented with the options of staying with me, or hooking up with an old flame. I’m fairly certain I know what one point of comparison is going to be.”

“Having said that,” she continued, “it is important for you to recognize that, with each of us having had our first sexual experiences with the other, any judgment is liable to be impaired. Furthermore, you must know that the stance I have taken on remaining here with my agency is not going to be swayed by the two of us having one additional mmmmlph–”

Her trailing off would be due to me standing up as she spoke, walking over, tilting her chin up, and kissing her. After a moment, I pulled back. “Talk about sex in a detached way all you like, it won’t change my feelings for you,” I said, quietly.

Melissa looked back up at me, colour now fully in her cheeks as her breathing came a little faster. “Promise me you won’t regret anything in the morning when you’re sober?”

“I’m hardly drunk on two glasses of wine.”

“Promise anyway.”

I leaned in again to kiss her cheek. “I promise.”

“Also, still calling the top,” she asserted.

I smiled. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

***

Uh, okay, I deleted a couple paragraphs there. Maybe I still left in too much, but I think it helps with our characterization?

Of course, I’m now wondering if I’ve managed to alienate everyone who came here looking for a supernatural thriller… which would be bad, since I’m now about to alienate those who were keen on this tale turning into some kind of love triangle. (Or maybe I’m just rewarding those who sat through the context? I don’t even know. Note to me, I need to fix this in editing.)

My point being, we were able to track the fan who sicced the Somnibulus demon on Amy.

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 1C

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1c: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

Where were things headed, with me and Melissa? Towards a couple of lovers, partners even, who fought magical spirits by chanting in latin? Or were we always meant to go our separate ways?

“You need time to think too, huh?” Amy said ruefully, obviously reading something in my expression. “That’s fine. Just keep me as an option then, I suppose? Along with the job thing? I’ll do the same, because that trick with the card was pretty cool. I’d be game to see more of that.”

I smiled wanly. “Yeah, hey, maybe we can make it such that you wouldn’t need wigs for your show,” I joked. Amy simply stared. “Alright, that was pretty lame, sorry.”

“No, hey, it’s fine. You have seen the show then,” Amy remarked. “Cool.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, well, maybe I’ve looked up a few people from those days. Once or twice. I don’t know if I ever watched a full episode.”

“It’s fine. It’s something.” Amy smiled. “Hey, you ever look up what became of Kyle, that annoying trumpet player who sat behind us?”

I shook my head. “Nope.”

“Plays tuba now. It amuses me to think of him lugging that thing around in a marching band.”

“Hah. I guess you never know where life will take you.”

“I guess you don’t,” Amy said.

She stared at me for another moment, then glanced upwards once more. For a short time, we both simply looked at the ceiling.

“So, is it safe to leave Melissa with your parents for a prolonged period of time?” Amy said at last. “Your mom in particular didn’t seem that fond of her, both when we spoke at home, and in person up there.”

I quickly looked at my watch. “Heck! Yeah, we’d better get back up there.” I stood. “You going to be okay?”

The young internet celebrity nodded, extending a hand to allow me to help her up. “Oh, sure. I get flustered when things don’t go the way I expect, that’s all. It’s why I script religiously and avoid live shows.

She smiled, I smiled back, and we hurried upstairs.

I was glad to see that nothing had really changed. My parents were still sitting on the couch, and when I peered into the kitchen, Melissa was still there. More specifically, leaning back against the fridge with one leg slightly bent, a glass of water sitting on the counter next to her.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

She turned to look at me. “Safe yet?” she questioned, by this point looking rather contrite. “I can stay here until they’re all gone, if that’s easier.”

“You should probably at least apologize to Amy before she goes,” I remarked.

Melissa rubbed her nose. “Right. I guess she wasn’t in on it? Damn. And me still trying to get the hang of apologies, seeing as I’m so rarely wrong.”

“Melissa…”

Her hand flew out in a vague gesture. “Oh, yes, yes, I know, whenever I have a ten out of ten for accuracy, I get zero points for style.” Her tone became a little gentler. “I really am sorry, James. This day’s been a little stressful for me, but that’s no excuse to have blurted out to your mother about… us.”

“Yeah, well… let’s defer that conversation until we’re alone,” I suggested.

“Okay.” She reached up with her hands and raked them back through her hair, long locks of it flowing about her shoulders like water over a waterfall. (I swear, I like her for her mind too.) “Apology first then?”

I nodded. Melissa followed me out of the kitchen, bringing the glass of water to my dad. She then looked towards Amy.

“Sorry about earlier,” Melissa said. “Shouldn’t have dragged you into my conflict with the Conways. Let me know if you want a peace offering. I could get you some water too, or even a broccoli scone with chestnuts.”

“Um, no thanks,” Amy responded, shaking her head. “At this point I think I’ll just kind of hang back until it’s time to head out.”

“Which we’ll probably want to do very soon,” my father observed, lifting the water glass.

My mother looked up at me. I could now read her expression as resigned. She took in a long breath. “You use protection, yes?”

“Buh?” Amy said, her eyebrows going up.

“Mom! Not the time to be jumping to conclusions about how far we’ve, uh…”

“All right, all right,” Helen Conway sighed, raising her hands. “Just, James, don’t run off and elope, okay? We do want you to be happy, and if you’re happy with… with Melissa here… well, then we can get on board with that. Given enough time.”

As much as I might have wanted to get on mom’s case about eloping immediately after I’d said not to jump to conclusions, I had to grant that she was making an effort to bridge the gap. As was Melissa, who I could tell was visibly holding her tongue despite having been referred to like some woman I’d found on the street.

I forced out a smile. “I’m not about to elope,” I said, honestly.

“Right then, we’ll see you tomorrow?” my dad concluded, putting his empty glass down on the end table. He can drink fast when he wants to; it’s probably good that it wasn’t anything alcoholic.

“Right,” I concurred, moving towards the door in mild relief. This lasted all of half a second, until I saw Melissa peering much more closely at Amy, who was trying not to look uncomfortable at the other girl’s sudden scrutiny.

“Uh, Melissa…” I cautioned.

My diminutive roommate turned to look at me briefly, before shifting her gaze back to Amy. “You’re having trouble sleeping,” she diagnosed. “Slight bags under the eyes, which is not itself an issue, and yet – are you having recurring dreams?”

“Well, sometimes?” Amy said, caught off guard by the question.

Melissa turned to look at me. “Is Amy some sort of local celebrity?”

“She does reviews on the internet?” I answered, trying to figure out what Melissa had seen.

Melissa walked a quick circle around Amy. “Wow, I’m an idiot for missing this on my first pass,” she concluded. “Your hair is faintly tinted blue. I think your dreams are being hijacked by a demon. Would you consent to sleeping with me?”

“Excuse me??” chorused, well, possibly all of us in the room.

“Ah!” Melissa held up a finger. “That came out wrong. What I mean is, would you consent to letting me watch you while you sleep? Hm, still not great… oh! How about this.” She walked over towards her desk as she spoke. “Take a charm with you, sleep with it instead, and let me read it tomorrow. You’re still coming to James’ graduation, right?”

“I… I’m not sure anymore.”

“You should,” Melissa assured. “You may need our help. His help,” she amended, perhaps realizing that she was (again) not making the best impression.

She pulled open the lower drawer, where I had organized a number of her mystical trinkets, and pulled out a small pendant. “We can offer a reduced rate too, since you’re a friend of the family. Or, hm, possibly we even do this one gratis,” she amended, seeing the incredulous looks that my parents were now giving her. “As a show of good faith.”

Melissa walked back over to Amy, and held the pendant out.

Amy turned to look at me, the expression on her face implying she wanted some guidance as to whether Melissa had just lost it. Or perhaps she was buying into the supernatural aspect, and was concerned that this pendant might not change colour, but rather come alive and throttle her in her sleep?

“It’s fine,” I assured my former schoolmate. Even though I had no idea what that particular pendant was for, I trusted Melissa. “Treat it like another aspect of those things in life we’re not generally aware of.”

Amy nodded slowly, finally taking hold of the pendant. She looked at it closely before slipping it around her neck.

“If you’re quite through with your supernatural theatrics, Melissa, we’ll be on our way,” my mother said, trying and failing to to keep irritation out of her tone. She looked towards me. “See you tomorrow, okay dear?”

“Yeah. For sure,” I agreed.

I ushered our guests to the door, standing there until they were out of sight a few floors down. I then closed the door and leaned back against it, rolling my eyes to the ceiling. “Oh God, could that have gone worse?” I said, mostly to myself.

“Well, sure,” Melissa remarked. “After all, I didn’t actually mention to your parents that we’d been having sex. I kind of wonder about whether your mother was guessing, or trying to catch me off guard.”

This time I did facepalm. “Melissa, Mel, sweetness, please, don’t make me think about sex with you right now. I’m feeling rather emotionally mixed up at the moment.”

“Angry with me?” she asked.

“Yes. No. I’m not sure,” I said, pulling my palm away from my face and looking towards my… roommate? Co-worker? Lover? All of the above. Damnit, why did she have to be so infuriatingly amazing?

Melissa met my gaze. “You know, you can run off with Amy if you like,” she offered. “The day things escalated between us, we did agree no strings attached. In fact, you leaving with your degree was always one of the possible outcomes I’d considered for the end of the month.”

My mouth opened and closed for a moment as I tried to find the words. “H-How can you just stand there and say that?”

My roommate (because using “lover” in this narrative feels wrong) merely shrugged. “I could say it from the other side of my desk, but I might have to say it a little louder to be heard.”

“You know what I mean. You’re acting so… so… calm and rational!”

It’s hard to describe the look Melissa gave me at that comment. It basically conveyed the fact that I’d just said the most obvious, and by extension, stupidest thing ever. Her words, at least, were an attempt to be comforting.

“James, you’ve known me for four years now. Calm and rational is how I operate. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to have to adjust to your absence the same way I adjusted to your presence. But whether you decide to stay or not, life goes on. Supernatural balance must be maintained.”

I threw my arms out to the sides. “Then our whole relationship, it’s meant nothing to you?”

Melissa pursed her lips. “Is that what you’re getting from this? If it is, it’s not what I meant. What I mean is, I care too much for you to keep you here against your will.” She gestured back at her office area. “This is where I belong. It comes first. I’d love to continue to share it – and my bed – with you, but let’s face it, my life is not your life.”

She sounded so sincere. It was tough to stay angry with her. Which kind of made me angry. Though at this point I was just directing my anger at the world. “Well, it’s not like I can just go back to how I was living my life before, not after everything you and your agency have shown me,” I complained.

“You say that merely because you haven’t tried,” Melissa suggested. “Perhaps you should take a vacation away from all this. Spend some time with Amy. Who, admittedly, might be the unwitting victim of a Somnibulus demon, but if we get past that, she seems nice and normal. Maybe normal is something you need.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I’ll just go do that then,” I shot back at Melissa. Was I was trying to make a veiled threat? If so, it was a poor threat, given that I was simultaneously agreeing with her.

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 1B

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1b: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

Melissa walked into our apartment with purpose, carrying her witch’s broom. She does indeed ride one at times, but not by flying. She stands on the bristles and rides it like a segway. My roommate regarded our little group briefly before putting it away in the closet.

You should know that the first thing that strikes most people about Melissa is her height. She clocks in at only about five foot one, yet at the same time she manages to have quite a commanding presence when she chooses. Of particular note, her eyes are a piercing green, while her hair is a long, wavy, chestnut brown that nearly reaches her waist.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Without getting too detailed, while she’s not exactly someone who could make it as a model (outside of jeans, maybe… she can fill a pair nicely), by the standards of modern society these days, her appearance can turn heads. Many would even classify her as beautiful. She doesn’t try to play that up though, if anything doing the opposite, tending to go without makeup, and wearing slightly oversized shirts.

I stood up, preparing to do introductions. “Hi Melissa! My parents you already know, and this is…”

“Your mother’s replacement for me?” my roommate interrupted, closing the closet door before sizing Amy up more closely.

“Uh, Amy Lamkins,” I finished. “Friend of the family.”

“H-Hi,” Amy said, also rising, much more tentatively. She seemed unsure as to whether to extend a hand to shake or not.

“Old high school friend, in fact,” Melissa deduced. “Here with your parents, so no doubt also coming to your graduation tomorrow, and looking a bit out of place in those conservative clothes, but trying to make a good impression.”

There’s a reason Melissa can make a living as an investigator. She shifted her attention to my mother. “I suppose you could have picked a worse companion for your son. Were they also prom dates four years ago?”

“Melissa!” I yelped. For the record, Amy and I had, in fact, gone to high school prom together. But I didn’t see how that was relevant.

Melissa turned to look at me at my exclamation. “What?” she said, her tone very matter-of-fact. “You didn’t realize? Surely you saw something like this coming, James. Your parents have never really approved of our association.”

“Well…” Sometimes I hate it when Melissa’s right. Still, did we need to discuss this with my parents in the room? “Let’s at least keep things professional,” I said. “Amy’s here only because she has a job prospect.”

I heard my dad sigh.

“Oh, she’s here for more than that,” Melissa said, gesturing with one arm. “That’s why your dad is staring at the floor while Amy is looking sidelong at your mother and starting to blush.”

“Oh… oh, th-this was a bad idea,” Amy said, starting to stammer. “I didn’t mean… that is… okay, I need some air.” She quickly moved to push past Melissa and get to the door, calling back over her shoulder, “I’ll just be out front, it’s fine!”

My mother stood as Amy left, glowering at Melissa. The brunette witch was completely unfazed by this, and despite having to look up to see Helen in the eyes, seemed to have claimed the position of power in the room. It’s a skill that comes in handy with clients.

My mother, however, was not our client.

“Melissa Virga, I don’t know how you were raised, but by my standards that was incredibly rude and insensitive,” Helen snapped.

“I was cutting to the chase,” Melissa shot back. “Insensitive is needlessly playing with someone’s emotions, as you were with Amy’s.”

“Whoa! Wait,” I said, sometimes slow to catch on. Yes, I’d just been blindsided by the romantic angle. “You mean Amy has more than a professional interest here?”

My mother pressed two fingers to a temple. “See, this, this is exactly why you need to make more friends outside of your agency work, James. People in the real world, they’re not like Melissa. Some even have interests that extend beyond their jobs.”

Melissa sniffed. “Please. You speak as if I don’t find your son attractive. I do, and we’ve made out on several occasions.”

My mother’s eyes went wide, and there was a moment of silence. A moment during which I kind of wished invisibility cloaks were a real thing.

Melissa turned to look at me then. “I just gave them too much information, didn’t I,” she said, having the decency to sound a bit troubled for the first time in the conversation.

“I always thought this detective nonsense wasn’t strictly professional,” my father remarked, crossing his arms where he still sat on the couch.

“Okay, my God, time out!” I called out at this point, tapping my hands together desperately in the T-formation.

Exactly where was I supposed to start fixing this mess?

“Firstly, the nature of my relationship with Melissa is nobody’s business but ours. Okay? Secondly, Melissa, we’ve talked about tact? This is one of those times! And thirdly… thirdly, I think I need some air too, so I’m going to go and check on Amy. Can I trust you all not to kill each other for five minutes while I do that??”

My parents and Melissa exchanged glances. Melissa cleared her throat. “Thanks for visiting. Can I get anyone a drink, or just a glass of water?”

It sounded so rehearsed that I nearly facepalmed, though my dad stepped in again with, “A glass of water and a five minute mental break sounds like a solid plan.”

“I’ll be out of the kitchen in five minutes then,” Melissa concluded, heading for the adjacent room. She glanced back over her shoulder at me. “Oh, though speaking of parents, James, remind me that we need to talk along those lines at some point this weekend.”

“Yeeeeah,” I said slowly, watching as my mother sat herself back down on the couch. Her expression was becoming difficult to read.

It didn’t seem like anything was going to immediately explode here though, and truth be told, I was a little worried about the speed of Amy’s departure. So I headed out to look for her.

She had gone down as far as the fourth floor landing, where she was sitting on the stairs. She turned her head as she saw me approach, and smiled a wan, rather sad smile. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “The idea of me and you seeing each other again… that all went so differently in my head.”

“Yeah, well, Melissa’s a bit of an unpredictable wild card,” I offered. “She’s nice though. Really. Just very… focused.” I sat down next to Amy.

“I’m sure,” Amy affirmed. She leaned back on her palms, arcing her back slightly as she stared upwards. “So, have you ever thought back to those days? When we went to prom together? Or is it just me?”

“Truthfully? I haven’t thought about it,” I admitted, figuring it was best to be honest. (Granted, it could also be that some of Melissa’s attitude has rubbed off on me.) “I mean, for the prom, it was a matter of neither of us had dates, we were both in the band, and we wanted to fit in with the rest of the crowd. At least, that’s how I remember it.”

“Huh. I suppose that’s true,” Amy yielded. “And at the time, I admit I was more focused on simply being there, rather than on who I was with. But you were really nice, James – something I took for granted then, but have been forced to consider more and more now that I’m an minor internet celebrity.” She paused. “There’s a lot of weirdoes out there. Like, a LOT.”

“People who like you more for your internet persona than who you really are?” I guessed.

“That’s part of it,” she said, nodding. “So, I don’t know, maybe I’m looking for a return to the simpler days. Maybe I’m looking for something to help keep me grounded in the reality of the present. Or… maybe I’m looking to start a new chapter in my life, and feel like you could be a part of it.” She straightened her back again and turned to look at me. “Does any of that make sense?”

“Sort of,” I said. I mean, it didn’t make much sense to me personally, but I could empathize with the aspect of past, present and future colliding at a moment in time. “Thing is, I’ve changed. I’m not like I was back in high school.”

Amy grinned. “Could it be you’re less naïve?” she suggested.

I coughed. “That’s part of it,” I said, borrowing her phrase. “I hope. But more than that, I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of things in life that we’re… not generally aware of.”

“Related to that illuminati symbol on your apartment door?”

“Yeah. You know about that sort of thing?”

Amy shook her head. “Nope. Your dad said it was some new interest of yours, that’s all I know.”

I nodded. “Well, here, let me show you.” I fumbled in my pocket for my wallet, pulling out a small square of cardboard. “What colour is this?”

My old school friend shrugged. “Green.”

I nodded, then closed my hand around it. I concentrated, trying to remember the exact process that Melissa had taught to me, probably mumbling under my breath as I did so. I reopened my hand. “Now?”

“It’s yellow!” Amy said in shock. She then smirked and reached out, snatching it from my hand. “Dope, it’s green on one side and yellow on the…” Her voice trailed off as she flipped the card back and forth. “It’s… green on both sides. Wait, what? I thought it was…”

“Simple illusion,” I explained. “Which you disrupted by grabbing it from me. I don’t have Melissa’s control.”

“So you… made it appear yellow?” she said slowly, dubiously.

“Pretty much. Has to do with distorting the reflected light before you can perceive it. I don’t know all the details, science and magick are at odds with each other almost as much as they complement themselves.”

“Magic,” Amy repeated, obviously still unsure.

I took the card back and replaced it in my wallet. “Magick, hard ‘c’,” I corrected. “And you look about the same as I did four years ago. But being with Melissa forces one to come to terms with this sort of thing.”

She stared at me for a long moment. “Is being with Melissa something you’ve come to terms with then?” she asked at last.

I blinked back. “What?”

“Like, is she the one then?” Amy pressed. “Do you and her have magical adventures planned after your graduation? Because I’ll back right off, if that’s the case. I’m starting to realize I got a really distorted view of your life situation from your parents.”

“Ah. Well, uh…”

Again, there it was. What was I doing with my life, both professionally and personally? I mean, there was obviously something between Melissa and I, but what was it? Was it a professional relationship that had taken a few steps too far over the edge? Was it a whirlwind university romance, supplemented by a common interest in helping others, that ultimately couldn’t stand up to the test of time?

Or was there something more to it?

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