Author: mathtans

Writer and high school mathematics teacher.

Virga: Entry 2c

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2c

According to Melissa, this is the point when Frank Granges sighed and slumped back into a chair. “This guy you’re alluding to, the one after Annie who’s pretending to be a wizard… he somehow got the file, did he?” Frank theorized. “Damn. I thought it had been deleted.”

“Less wizard talk, more file talk,” Melissa insisted. “What was in it?”

Frank ran his fingers back through his hair. “Fine. It bugged me as to where I screwed up so seriously as to make Annie completely cut me out of her life. So I ran an analysis. Coded into my computer some stuff I knew about her, the main details of our relationship, and I tried to run an analysis. I hoped to identify the key moment, which would finally give me closure.”

Melissa nodded, all the pieces now falling into place for her. Apparently. (I gave her a look, which she ignored.) “So what happened to the file?” she asked Frank.

“My program ran for the better part of a day, then crashed,” Frank answered, shrugging. “The file itself had become corrupt or something. I figured it was because I was running a torrent at the same time, decided that it was a sign that I’d asked the computer for too much, and tried to trash the thing. Only to find it had already been placed into my recycling folder. Or I THOUGHT it had been… maybe it was a copy? I never gave that file much thought again until now,” Frank admitted.

“Your computer was hooked up to the internet at the time you ran the program then?” Melissa chastised.

“Um, duh?” Annie’s ex replied. He cleared his throat, looking guilty. “Look, I honestly thought her file had been erased. I’m sorry if some personal information got out. That was never my intent. Annie… she’s not going to die on account of my program, is she?”

“Not if I can help it,” Melissa concluded.

Having learned everything from Frank that she needed, the supernatural detective spun on her heel and marched back out of his apartment. She was already working out the best way to solve the problem. Frank quietly watched her go.

*-*

“Or at least, if he said anything else, I wasn’t paying attention,” Melissa admitted.

“All right,” I said, parsing her conversation. “So what you’re saying is, Annie’s ex-boyfriend created a computer file on her, which gained sentience, became evil and is now trying to kill her?”

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“More or less. The sentience thing was no doubt due to an external entity melding with it at just the wrong – or the right – time. Anyway, the male perspective thing I wanted to know from you–”

“Wait,” I protested. I rubbed my eyes, not that it helped me to process the situation any better, but it gave me more time to assimilate things. “Okay,” I continued at last. “So this ‘entity’ – is now being controlled by an an actual evil wizard running around campus?”

“Of course not,” Melissa scoffed. “James, keep up. For one thing, the issue here is that Annie’s a witch. Naturally.”

I’m not sure what bothered me more, the fact that Melissa said it so matter-of-factly, or the fact that I hadn’t been anywhere near reaching that conclusion yet. Had I missed the clues once more? I leaned in a little closer, finding it hard to read Melissa’s expression in the absence of proper lighting. “A witch. Like you,” I said, dumbfounded.

Melissa shrugged. “Well, Annie’s taller.”

I gave my roommate a look that said I wanted more, and she seemed to pick up on that after a half a minute or so. She reached back for the piece of paper she’d been staring at when I entered. “I got Annie’s permission to do a quick lineage spell before she went to lie down,” Melissa said. She pointed to a branch of the family tree pictured. “I think it comes from two generations back on Annie’s mother’s side.”

Apparently, I was still going to have to ask the obvious question. “Okay… and you realized this about Annie because, what, you witches can sense each other, like immortals in those TV shows?”

“Oh James, please don’t make this silly,” Melissa sighed, putting the paper down. “While it’s true that witch magick can leave a scent on others, as a general rule, we don’t send up beacons for other witches to trace. It would paint a target on us for less friendly supernatural beings to spot.”

Something finally clicked for me. “But that computer file. It could have been a beacon.”

“It was,” Melissa agreed. “And from what Frank said, I gather it was entangled with elements of Annie’s personality and her magick power, creating our problem. His program might have even worked out the truth. Pity Frank never got the results, now it will be up to me to explain about being a witch to Annie.”

At last, things began to make sense. “Because Annie doesn’t know. About the computer file, or even about her witch abilities.”

“No, and not consciously.”

“So Annie wasn’t here consulting you as one witch to another.”

“Oh, heck no,” Melissa said, with a delightful laugh. “Did you think that? In fact, I wouldn’t have even suspected her inherent ability, had Annie not told me that her cat had been hissing at the computer. After all, certain animals are often more drawn towards those with magick potential, to the point of becoming protective of them. So when Annie replied to my question about cats by saying they’d always been around her family, it added credence to the theory.”

“And the supernatural books at her house…”

“Glad you saw those. Yes, on some level, Annie may be aware. Maybe that’s why, like me, she isn’t keen on technology? Either way, it told me that I’d need to ask her friends about any magick links. Leading to the herbal remedies in her family history, mentioned by a couple people. A red flag, as sometimes magick users use those to disguise what’s really going on.”

“Which is why you didn’t want me with you as you asked your questions,” I realized. “I might blurt out something awkward, like I did with the nail polish.”

Melissa patted my shoulder. “Yes, well, you do tend to react visibly, James, and I didn’t want to waste time on explanations. Though I really did need that orb you got me too.”

I pondered things. Something still didn’t quite add up. “Does anyone know about Annie being a witch?”

“I doubt it,” Melissa said. “Seems like a recent awakening.”

“Okay, so if Annie’s a witch, and there’s no one acting against her, why not simply teach her a spell she can use for protection against the entity?”

“Well, why can’t you simply make a green ball appear yellow?” Melissa fired back levelly. “Remember I said that’s simple illusion – anyone can do it, magick background or not.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it again. “Okay,” I yielded. “So doing the necessary spell isn’t simply a matter of rote repetition. It takes a lot of practice?”

“More than that,” Melissa said. “You have to be open to the very possibility. Supernatural balance. And Annie hasn’t seemed thrilled with what her subconscious has been trying to tell her. Of course, she’s STILL going to have to participate in our final spell so that she knows how to properly protect herself in the future… but even THAT is not my major problem right now.”

I rubbed my neck. “What’s the major problem then?”

“Oh, you mean I can finally get around to asking you what it is I wanted to know five minutes ago?” Melissa retorted.

Her tone wasn’t irritated exactly, but it wasn’t exactly calm, it was more dry and… the realization that she was attempting to be sarcastic hit me before I could get around to replying. As such, I didn’t say anything, because my mind became busy trying to remember if Melissa had ever used that particular tone with anyone else while I was around. Did she even know what sentiment the tone conveyed?

“I assume that’s a yes then,” Melissa decided, switching back to her more level tone. Wait, and was she blushing, or were the shadows of the room playing tricks on me? She turned to look out the window, so I couldn’t tell. Outside, the rain continued to fall.

“James, my problem is, I can’t think of a way to personally get rid of this entity in the time left to us. I’ll need Annie’s help, and to this point, my only viable plan also involves Frank, the unwitting originator of the base program.” She faced me again. “So I need you to tell me if his relationship with Annie is sufficiently ‘Odi et amo’ for my idea to work.”

I blinked. “Odie ate ammo?”

“I hate and I love,” Melissa translated. “Remind me to give you a latin phrasebook. See, we’ll need to get the entity inside of Frank, because once it has a physical form, me and Annie can use the orb of hex to wipe it out. However, for that plan to work, Frank can’t still be in love with Annie, or the entity will reject the merging. Yet he can’t outright hate her, or the entity will take over his persona completely.”

I tried not to boggle at my roommate. “This plan seems incredibly risky.”

“Yes. It’s always risky with emotions, they’re such a pain.”

“Not quite what I meant. Could Frank die? Or Annie?”

“Obviously,” Melissa snapped. She winced then, and marched over to her desk and leaned on it, staring towards my bedroom area.

“Sorry. I blame myself for this,” she stated, visibly tense. “I didn’t realize the evil would be able to adapt to life outside of a computer so quickly. But it must have had contact with Annie this morning for long enough to snare a piece of her magical essence. I suspect that’s how it’s been able to survive as an independent force for this long as well… taking in other magicks to sustain itself, and to grow, in pursuit of its ultimate goal. That being to gain control over a fledgling witch.” She shook her head. “If only the balance were properly in place, this would never have been possible.”

I moved closer to Melissa and reached up my hand, preparing to put it on her shoulder in a comforting way. I changed my mind at the last moment and used it to rub my chin. “Well, Frank sounds like he’s over their relationship. You’re sure he wasn’t feigning ignorance about knowing what his program was doing? Maybe he’s been behind things all along.”

Melissa shook her head, a shaft of light from a passing car briefly reflecting through the window and illuminating her long, chestnut brown hair in an inexplicably alluring way. “I can’t be certain, but I’m almost positive Frank never intended any harm. Thing is, that’s not enough to ensure he’d survive a connection to an evil electronic entity.” She glanced back my way. “James, tell me. Is involving him with Annie again the right thing to do?”

I turned that question around in my head a couple of times. The natural direction my thoughts took involved putting myself in the situation of being called in to help, were it Melissa in trouble. Given the witch parallel. But at this point any ‘love’ I was feeling for my roommate was probably only physical, and the ‘hate’ I felt at how she could do things like give up my living space without even asking permission didn’t exactly balance the scale. Also, we hadn’t yet spent a year dating.

For that matter, not knowing the details of Annie and Frank’s relationship, how could I properly compare my situation to theirs? I finally said the only thing that seemed to make sense, namely, “Why don’t you let Frank make that decision himself?”

Melissa blinked at me. “Mmmm. Just tell him Annie’s a witch, you mean?”

I coughed. “Maybe play up the ‘Annie is in trouble’ angle and downplay the ‘evil digital entity’ side of things. Thing is, if he really doesn’t want harm to come to her, he’ll help.”

“Mmmm,” she repeated. She then reached past me, opening the lower drawer of her desk and pulling out a phone. “I suppose that makes sense,” she decided. “Though I confess part of me hopes he’ll say no, as this outcome is becoming so hard to predict.” She untwisted the phone’s cable, plugging it into the wall. “Fortunately, the fact that this phone’s rotary should confound our evil incarnate, at least for as long as it takes me to phone Frank.”

I nodded. “And do we have a backup plan if Frank does say no?” I wondered.

Melissa grimaced. “Sure. We evacuate the building, I lure the entity in here, and then I destroy the whole apartment complex.”

“Ahh. Which kind of works better as a backup to a backup plan…”

“I know. I’m not keen on changing all my business cards,” Melissa remarked. “But it’s all I’ve got.” She finished dialling. Outside, there was a brief flash of lightning, then thunder rumbled again.

*-*

The four of us stood in the apartment building, aka Melissa’s office, a little later. All of us trying not to stare at each other. Which wasn’t too difficult, since it was still very dark.

“Well??” Melissa said at last, turning a glare first upon Annie, then Frank. “I explained the situation to you both individually, and you both agreed, however hesitantly, to go through with this. So, are you going to start talking to each other or not?”

I winced at Melissa’s blunt attitude, but she did have a point about needing to do something sooner rather than later. Even so, there was still a pause, broken only by another rumble of thunder – the rain was coming down harder now, tapping against the window.

“Is talking required then?” Frank said. “Because it’s obvious Annie’s no longer keen on speaking with me.”

“I speak to you,” Annie shot back.

“When there’s other people around,” Frank retorted. “You never called me back last month, or replied to those few emails I sent.”

“It was one phone call, I was busy that week. As to email, you know I’m not keen on computers.” Annie shuddered. “Hell, I’ll probably be even less thrilled with them after this nightmare is over.”

“Eh, okay, valid point,” Frank conceded. “Sorry for apparently about being the cause of this, by the way. I never should have made that program.”

Annie pursed her lips, but otherwise didn’t respond. Again, there was silence. Except for somewhere else in the building, I could just make out the sound of an Avril Lavigne song playing.

Melissa let out an exasperated sigh. “Look. If I let this entity in and you’re just staring morosely at each other, it’s going to go for Annie’s throat. It gains more power if it merges with you, Frank, but you’ve got to generate a more hospitable environment for evil inside you. So shout at her, or something.”

Frank turned to gave Melissa a dubious look.

“Perhaps if you explained to Annie why you created your program in the first place?” I jumped in, trying to help.

Frank now glanced in my direction before turning back to Annie. “Well, ah… basically, I was trying to work out why you broke up with me.”

Annie blinked back at him. “Wasn’t that obvious?”

Frank frowned. “Well, no, not really, that’s the whole point… you refused to talk to me about it, yeah?”

“I said we had differences. And I did answer your questions.”

“When I asked some, sure,” Frank granted. “But that was ME asking, you never showed initiative. So in order to avoid constantly berating you, I was left wondering to myself: Was it our different tastes in music? The fact that you enjoy cottage life more than I do? Was I not spending enough time with you? Was I that lousy in bed? I mean what, exactly, was the thing that caused you to cast me aside so easily?”

Annie flinched. “Easily? You think it was easy?!”

“I don’t KNOW!” Frank said in exasperation. “Anyway, don’t change the subject. Which of those things was it??”

“It… it wasn’t any one thing,” she stammered back. “It was all those things taken together which made me realize our relationship wasn’t going to go anywhere. In particular your inability to notice certain things that were happening.”

“In that case, why didn’t you TALK to me about these things?!” Frank said in exasperation. “Hell, you’re still avoiding me months later. What’s up with that?”

“Look, Frank, my concerns were pretty obvious,” Annie retorted, pointing at him. “And distancing myself from you, that seemed to me the best way for the both of us to get on with our lives.”

“Thank you, much better,” Melissa muttered off to my right. With one finger, she reached out and flipped the light switch while saying, “alea iacta est…”.

At this point, I suppose it would be fitting to say that there was a great crash of thunder, or a flash of lightning, marking the appearance of the evil net entity inside of the room. But while it might be fitting, it would be inaccurate – all that occurred was a bright light flooding the area, the filament in the bulb popping, and all of us being cast back into darkness. I had to rub my eyes at the afterimages, and as I did so I heard Frank speaking as if nothing had happened.

“Get on with our lives?” he was saying incredulously. “How could I get on with my so-called life when I wasn’t sure how to handle the relationship aspect of it any more? Damn it, Annie, did you forget that I can be a depressive? I was in a state of self-doubt for weeks!”

Annie pressed a hand to her forehead. “I didn’t forget. But telling you the truth, you would have thought I was making up stories. I was sure that would only make things even worse!”

“Oh, so you just decided for both us us then,” he fired back. “Being sure and all. Then you took the easy route, ignoring me whenever you got the chance.”

“Easy?! There you go again with that!”

I sidled over next to Melissa. “So, do we need to turn on another light or plug in another–”

She waved me off. “It’s there,” she said, the hushed tone of her voice managing to creep me out more than anything. “Look at his hair.”

I did. Frank’s hair was starting to stand on end, as if there was an excess of static electricity in the air. Then, when the lightning outside finally flashed in a suitably atmospheric way, I saw a spot of blue energy over Frank’s head. The image was only there for a moment, less than a second really, but I somehow I knew this thing was – and I know it sounds crazy – it was baring FANGS at Annie.

I think the only reason I didn’t run out of the room screaming was that I didn’t want to move, for fear of attracting the thing’s attention.

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

ASIDE: So, we’ve now had the dramatic revelation, more or less… still one piece missing. Can you predict how the case will wrap up?

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Virga: Entry 2b

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2b (really)

Melissa marched right into Annie’s apartment as soon as she’d unlocked the door. A cat, which I can only presume was Tabby, peered up from the leather couch at us. The animal fired off a look that either said ‘don’t mess with anything’ or ‘are you here to feed me?’. Melissa paid no attention to him, locating the computer in a corner of the living room and fishing a couple of items out of her purse.

“James, can you look around back of that thing and disconnect any wires or cables that might be hooking it up directly to the net or a network or whatever the heck it is these computers hook into?” she requested as she got set up. “Saves me just pulling out everything.”

“Um, sure,” I replied. I approached the machine a bit nervously, wondering if the blank monitor wasn’t somehow staring at me.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Observing my unease, Melissa made a ‘tch tch’ noise. “It’s perfectly safe as long as there’s no power to the thing,” she pointed out. “Unless it’s some whole new breed of entity, that is.”

“Oh, VERY reassuring,” I said sarcastically, before remembering that Melissa never seemed to recognize sarcasm.

With a sigh, I peered around the back of the tower. The only external connection that Annie’s computer seemed to have was an ethernet cable, so I disconnected that, tossing the end some distance away. So far, so good. I decided to unhook the webcam while I was back there too; there were a series of scorch marks on the casing beside it.

I then looked around the room for evidence of wireless fidelity. In the process, I found there were some books on the supernatural stacked on Annie’s coffee table. I guessed she had gone to the library before consulting with Melissa.

“Are we in trouble if the computer connects to the internet as soon as you log in?” I asked, after not spotting anything right away.

“Hmm. I suppose it could allow the entity to do a web search on how to escape from my clutches,” Melissa mused. “But no, it won’t leave via wifi. It’s the hard line that I was worried about.”

I gave up my search. “Okay, then you’re good to… ah, go.” I was momentarily taken aback by the sight of Melissa pouring what seemed to be a small ring of flour onto the floor.

Part of me wished she hadn’t worn those tight jeans today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to tell a woman how to dress, I know the problem is me, but it makes me think that helping Melissa more often might cause my mind to wander more often to the wrong places. I suppose that makes me shallow.

Melissa stood then, and turned. “Good,” she stated, ignoring any expression that might have been on my face. She moved to the computer, stuck a finger into a jar of what seemed to be face cream, traced a symbol on the monitor, and took a step back to admire her handiwork.

“Will that banish the entity?” I asked timidly, after a moment.

“No,” Melissa said absently. “It’s more to protect me.” She put the cream back into her purse. “Truth be told, I suspect the evil has already flown the coop, but if it IS still here, that makes this job easier. Might even mean you even get to sleep in your own bed tonight, instead of the couch.”

Oh, right. “Um, actually, about that…”

“Hm? What about it?” Melissa wondered, looking back my way. “Come now James, you didn’t expect Annie to crawl into bed with ME tonight, did you?”

“Ah, no, ah, rrrgl…” The way she wiggled her eyebrows at me brought to mind an image of the two ladies cuddling, successfully trampling right over any other coherent thoughts I was having. It’s only in typing this up that I have to ask whether some of Melissa’s antics are done deliberately. To keep me off balance? Because of some subconscious interest in me? Well, I shouldn’t speculate.

At any rate, in the moment, I could no longer vocalize the protest that had been on my lips moments before. Melissa, as always, appeared to ignore any effect caused by her remarks, or was very politely choosing not to remark on my jaw dropping open.

“Okay James, stand back,” Melissa said, pulling out a candle and a lighter. “I’m about to do something here that’s a little more daring than changing the colour of our doorknob.”

She lit the candle and moved into the small circle of flour (circle of power?). I noticed that she also held Annie’s key in the palm of her hand.

I backed off towards the couch, exchanging a quick glance with Annie’s cat. Tabby seemed to have decided that our actions were more a source of amusement than any kind of threat, and had curled back up, observing us with half an eye.

As I watched, Melissa closed her eyes, murmured a few words I couldn’t hear, reopened her eyes and stated more loudly, “Mutatio!”. (Which is, as always, from the latin – it means a change or transformation.)

It wasn’t like what you’d see in the cartoons, with lots of flashing lights or Melissa spinning around on one foot, her long brown hair flying about her. Reality just seemed to stretch a bit, as if it were an elastic, and when it snapped back into place a half second later, Annie was standing in the living room instead of Melissa.

Annie looked almost exactly as she had in Melissa’s office not half an hour ago. Shirt, jeans, ankle boots, the whole deal. Only the red hair barrette was missing. Without hesitation, Annie blew out her candle, marched forwards to the computer, sat down and switched it on.

“Whoa, wait, what?” I protested, finally finding my voice and taking a step forwards.

Without turning, Annie raised a hand to motion me back. I paused, glancing again over at Tabby. The cat had gone to the effort of standing up, and was looking towards Annie in what seemed to be surprise. However, after a moment he curled his legs back under himself and settled for peering suspiciously.

Illusion, I realized. That was still Melissa over there in the chair, not Annie at all. She must have done something similar to appear as a janitor during her prior case, when visiting Dan/Danielle.

The computer completed the boot up process, and I watched as Melissa/Annie dragged the mouse around the screen, clicking randomly in a few places, even opening a file. Finally, my roommate shook her head and reached out to hit the power button. However, pushing the button had no effect.

“You have to hold it longer. Or select ‘Shut Down’ from the ‘Start’ menu,” I offered helpfully.

“Agh. Windows!” came Melissa’s exasperated voice from Annie’s body.

She shut the computer down properly, picked up a small device I hadn’t noticed next to the keyboard, then spun around in the chair, scrutinizing the thing. “Well, that should have garnered some response, if there was a response to garner,” my roommate stated. “Nothing registered, so as I surmised, the entity must have escaped earlier.”

Melissa/Annie pocketed her device, then sighed. “Guess I’ll have to start interviewing Annie’s friends and professors then. Damn it, I hate campus interviews, people never take me seriously.”

I shrugged. “Looking like that, they might react differently,” I pointed out.

Melissa/Annie smirked. “Until I speak. Which is all I’d be doing over the phone. Anyway, I don’t want to get Annie into more trouble, and illusion is one of the annoying spells. You have to constantly maintain it on some level. Even in person, it’s not worth it.” As if to confirm that fact, after the next time I blinked, I saw the more diminutive Melissa was sitting in front of me again.

“Okay, well, I could help you, if you like,” I found myself saying. I couldn’t tell if I’d spoken out of a desire to help Melissa, help Annie, or simply learn more about what was really going on.

Melissa fired off a smile. “You wouldn’t know the right questions to ask, and I suspect you’d want me to explain them to you if you heard me ask them. However, if you are keen on helping… I suspect I’ll be needing a orb of hex by morning. If I give you the address, could you pick that up for me? The store is my regular supplier, tell the owner to put it on my tab. Is that all right?”

I agreed. It didn’t seem like it would be that much of a problem.

*-*

At this point, I could go into certain details. I could explain how much difficulty I had in finding the shop in question, half hidden as it was atop a bookstore. I could tell you about all the very strange objects that I saw inside said shop, as if that school in ‘Harry Potter’ had decided to have a yard sale. I could even remark on the odd appearance of the white haired owner named Alicia, or go in detail about the little lecture she gave me about Melissa needing to pay her bills on time, before she handed over the orb of hex. Which, incidentally, she said has some connection to hexadecimal numbers.

But I believe I shall postpone on saying any more than I have already. After all, it’s not immediately relevant to this case, and I suspect I’ll end up back in that store at some point in the future.

Arriving back at our apartment after that trip, and not finding Melissa, I left her orb on the desk and took my laptop over to Adam’s place. He’s another first year student like me, who was in a couple of my classes. He didn’t have a problem with me leaving the computer there. In fact, we’d originally planned to get together to do a bit of homework, and we ended up going out for a bite to eat afterwards, so it wasn’t until well after 9 o’clock that I made it back home.

There was a gentle rain falling outside. The room itself was dark when I opened the door, so I reached out for the light switch.

“FREEZE!” came Melissa’s voice from the darkness.

I froze. It seemed the prudent course of action, given her tone. In other words, the one that makes you obey without thinking.

The front door swung shut behind me, and all was darkness.

“No lights,” came Melissa’s voice yet again. My eyes began to adjust, but I couldn’t see exactly where she was.

“What’s going on?” I asked, lowering my hand from the switch. I realized I was whispering.

“It’s outside,” Melissa muttered. Her voice seemed to be coming from behind her desk, so I headed in that direction.

“What is?” I murmured back. I managed to avoid bumping into anything as I rounded the desk, which was when a brief flash of lightning outside reminded me of the events of earlier today. Electronic entities. “You mean the thing tracking Annie?”

“Mmmm,” Melissa said as a form of agreement. I finally spotted her, sitting cross legged on the floor, staring down at a sheet of paper. “Didn’t you notice the streetlights had shorted out on our side of the street?” she added.

I blinked. “I thought that was just part of the rainstorm,” I said sheepishly.

Melissa looked up. “Much like the campus had a small earthquake earlier this month. No, this entity’s definitely after Annie – she’s in your room resting, by the way. The woman had every phone within a block radius suddenly ringing not two hours ago. Then a soda machine fired cans at her, a traffic light switched over while she was in the intersection, and finally there were electrical discharges from light fixtures pursuing her all the way here. Shorting out the streetlights.”

“Oh. Oh my,” I said, moving to glance nervously out the window. At present, it looked like all the houses on our street still had power, despite the problem with the streetlights. That probably should have tipped me off. I wondered where the thing was lurking. “How is Annie coping?”

“Resting, as I said,” Melissa replied distractedly, her tone suggesting to me that the mental state of our house guest had probably never entered her mind. She’d probably hustled Annie into my room and then started doing her pencil scribblings out here. Shaking my head, I switched gears.

“Okay, so, ringing phones – it can get into those now?”

“Apparently. It’s strength is growing exponentially.”

“Great. Is there any chance it has the power to destroy this building to get at Annie indirectly?”

“No. Not yet, anyway,” Melissa murmured. “See, I’ve isolated our apartment by unplugging every type of electrical device and setting up a ward. In return, our entity is being patient, reasoning that eventually Annie’ll have to leave here or plug in a hairdryer or something. I figure I have a couple of hours before it decides to escalate, and it will likely try to gain access through one of the neighbouring apartments first.”

“Perfect.” A thought struck me. “Did you unplug our fridge?”

“I unplugged everything.”

“I had ice cream in the freezer…”

Melissa rose. “Actually James, it’s a good thing you’re here. I’m stuck on something and could use a male opinion.”

I furrowed my brow. “Oh yes? About what, that family tree thing you’ve been looking at?” I gestured at the paper on the floor, my eyes having adjusted to the darkness by now.

“No, about an interview from this afternoon.” Melissa began pacing back and forth. “It was with an ex-boyfriend of Annie’s. Interestingly, she didn’t have him on her original list, I got the name from a mutual friend.”

“An ex… then you think he’s the one behind the attacks!”

Her head shook. “Not directly.”

I tried coming at the situation from the other side. “Then could Annie be evil, like Dan was, and setting this guy up? Hoping he’ll get in trouble for hurting her??”

There was a pause, as Melissa stopped pacing two steps away, then slowly turned around. Even in the dark, I could tell she was smiling at me.

“You know,” she said in amusement, “it might work better if I describe to you my conversation with this gentleman, before you theorize?”

I pulled at the collar of my shirt. “Uhm, yeah,” I agreed. “Go for it.”

*-*

His name was Frank Granges. He was in third year, like Annie, and Melissa had learned from this mutual friend of theirs (someone on Annie’s list) that they’d met back in first year. They’d dated for over twelve months, broken things off rather abruptly last May, and hadn’t spoken much in the four months since. Upon reflection, Melissa had elected to go see him in person, rather than simply call him on the phone.

“Yes?” Frank said warily, eyeing Melissa from behind his half closed door.

“Hello!” Melissa replied, smiling. “I’ve come to talk to you about Annie. Annie Potts,” she clarified, off his look of confusion.

“About…” His face clouded. “There’s not much I can tell you. We run into each other once a week because we attend the same class, outside of that we don’t speak these days. Why, what’s the problem?”

“Someone’s trying to kill her,” Melissa said bluntly.

She watched as expressions of shock, amusement and concern all fought for control of Frank’s features. Concern quickly won out. “All right, come in,” he decided, pulling the door open completely. Melissa walked in.

Frank’s off-campus place itself wasn’t very large – reminiscent of a suite in a hotel, minus the minibar, Melissa said in an attempt to describe it. She also said that the bedroom door was slightly ajar, and that in the bedroom she could see a computer had been set up. Frank himself was of average build and height, brown hair, glasses, wearing a T-shirt and dress pants.

“So,” Melissa began, glancing idly around the apartment. “You broke up with Annie last May?”

He hesitated. “Well, it might be more accurate to say she broke things off with me in April, then waited around until May to officially end the relationship,” Frank corrected. “But then, she’s a non-confrontational type. I don’t hate her, and I wouldn’t try to kill her. So cross me off your list of suspects.”

“If not you, any idea who would?” Melissa questioned.

Frank hesitated longer, moving to look out the window. “Not really,” he said at last. “She could be dating again for all I know… have you checked with any current boyfriends? They’d know more than me.” He turned back. “For that matter, who are you anyway? Are you with the police?”

“No.”

“I thought not. The blouse didn’t look regulation. Annie has a new circle of friends?”

“Hardly relevant. Tell me, how long has Annie been interested in the supernatural?”

Frank frowned. “She hasn’t been. I mean, aside from herbal remedies and the like, which I think is a family thing. Is Annie into the supernatural now?”

“What about computers, how long has Annie been into those?”

“She’s not into them, in fact she doesn’t like technology. She doesn’t avoid it though, everyone has to be at least a bit tech savvy these days. But she’s majoring in biology, like me… hey, surely if you know her, you know all this?” He glared. “Are you actually serious? About Annie’s life being in danger?”

“I wish people would stop asking me if I’m serious about things,” Melissa sighed, folding her arms across her chest. “Why would I bother making this sort of thing up?”

“I don’t know. But cruel pranks are popular on campus these days,” Frank pointed out. “Also, based on what you’ve asked so far, I’m half expecting you to tell me that the person trying to kill Annie is acting like an evil spell caster from a computer game.”

“Something like that, yes,” Melissa agreed. (Have I mentioned she doesn’t always recognize sarcasm?) “Do you do much computer programming yourself?”

Frank was, I believe, too dumbfounded to do anything but answer. “Er, it’s a hobby… has anyone ever told you that you need to work on your people skills?”

“Have you ever done computer programming for Annie?” Melissa pressed.

“No. You’re losing me here,” Frank added, exasperation creeping into his tone.

“Fine. The problem is that there’s a computer file out there that knows a lot of personal details about Annie,” Melissa stated. “The sort of file that someone in a relationship with her might know of. I’m tracking it’s origins.”

“You’re tracking a computer file on… oh. I see,” Frank replied, suddenly going quiet. He also, Melissa told me, looked uncomfortable.

“Would you happen to know of such a file then?” Melissa asked pointedly.

“Oh, well… I might’ve known of one?” Frank said uncertainly.

“Aha! So, you keep computer files on all your former girlfriends then,” Melissa decided. “Pictures too?”

“What?? Whoa, wait, back the pumpkin up!” Frank protested. “First of all, I am NOT some crazy stalker person who keeps computer files on girlfriends. Or any other kind of person! I mean, sure, I have this nasty habit of archiving all my email, but who doesn’t? Second of all, Annie was only my third girlfriend! And thirdly, well… thirdly, there wouldn’t be a file on Annie at all if I’d only had a clue as to why we broke up in the first place,” he grumbled.

There was a brief pause. Melissa folded her arms again. “Oh yes?” she said at last, deciding Frank needed a little more prodding.

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ASIDE: If you’re reading this after April 2018, you likely missed Rev Fitz’s April Fool entry, which is amusing, along with my appreciation to “Serial Fiction Digest” for featuring ‘University Witch’ at the start of the month. So consider taking a look. ^.^ Thanks for reading.

Virga – Entry 2b

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A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2b

Most of what Melissa did and does is a mystery to me. It is not just her ability to bend the laws of physics to her will, or her Sherlock Holmes-like lifestyle, nor even the time she finds to be able to pass her University classes in between all of that. No, the thing that mystifies me the most is Melissa’s near nonsensical decision making.

I know now that much of her doings while on a case seem fickle (even whimsical) at the moment, but that they usually have a longer game in mind. She is apt not to divulge her full set of thinkings to me (be they mystery or magical) and thus they can appear to be random decisions.

…Unless of course, they are random decisions.

I will leave it up to the judgment of the reader as to whether or not the following occurrence was the former or the later.

With Annie’s keys still in hand, Melissa and I marched quickly to our destination. Conversation faltered, not because of awkwardness, but from Melissa’s sudden disinterest in it. The petite brunette seemed suddenly deep in thought, possibly about the malfeasant machinations ahead of us. For an entire block or two of walking, it seemed to me that she had forgotten that I existed. We trekked on.

…And then on still.

It was only September then, and admittedly I was still getting my bearings straight on campus. I had been so busy with my own studies, not to mention dealing with the surprises that living with Melissa brought, that I had simply not had time to explore my surroundings to the extent that I would have liked. It was for this reason that I did not exactly know which part Annie could have possibly come from. This is why no red flags were initially raised.

We took a path I was unfamiliar with, and though my surroundings were new I thought nothing of it. Then we kept walking… and kept walking. Distracted by Melissa’s beauty I did not fully realize that we had left the campus until we were a good block away. We weren’t going to Annie’s room at all. Melissa had other things in mind.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“Where does Annie live?” I asked while the small framed brunette kept a faster pace than me.

“There is someplace we must stop first,” she said, “It’s important to the case, I’ll need your capable memory for this one James.”

I’ll admit that I did not mind the compliment.

So, we continued on, and as the old stonework of the university faded out into the more modern concrete walls of its neighbors the sun began to bleed out as it gave way to sunset.

Our silence was companionable, though I still had many questions for Melissa. How was magic produced through wire? Could evil travel by WIFI? I even dared to joke about a firmware update for evil intruders, but by the time I had gathered the courage to say something we were at our destination.

The coffee shop that we had come to was like a pimple on an otherwise pristine face. The shops surrounding it were chic, modern and new. Their full glass storefronts were lit by LED fixtures and were very inviting. The cafe, however, seemed somehow older than our very own university. Its brick structure was covered in soot as if the streets were still full of steam-powered locomotion. The windows were of a thick green glass seemed more fit for a pirate ship. If I did not see the large neon sign outside of it that read “cafe”, I would have mistaken it for a seedy Victorian era pub.

Melissa paused before the door and turned to me, her green eyes wide and serious. “James,” she said, “it is very important this man we are about to speak to does not know of our dealings with Annie.” She put Annie’s keys into her back pocket then. “Under no circumstances must he know that his case is related.” I nodded my understanding, and she breached the door.

The interior of the cafe was no less old than the outside. The newest electrical fixture, save for maybe the barista’s cash register, was an Edison bulb that may very well have been actually made by Edison. A handwritten sign posted to the back of the wall read:

sorry, no WIFI 😦

I understood then why Melissa had chosen this location to meet her other client.

In the very back of the cafe was a man at least a decade older than Melissa and I. My first impression of him was that there was nothing remarkable about him. My impression of him after the meeting was the same. He was average looking, wearing an unassuming collard shirt, and had nothing about himself that would cause him to stand out amongst a crowd. Before we could sit down at his table, a barista placed a large mug of coffee and a shaker filled with cinnamon opposite side of the man, near an empty spot on the table. Melissa sat there and thanked the barista. She must have known that we were coming. Was Melissa a regular here?

The man stood up as Melissa sat, preparing to introduce himself, then awkwardly sat back down. “Um, Hello,” said the man, “My name is Malcolm Steadman,” said Malcolm.

“What can I help you with Malcolm?” Melissa responded.

“Well,” continued Malcolm, “I have this toaster.”

Melissa began pouring cinnamon into her large mug of coffee, “Get this down James,” she said as the red powder fell from its shaker.

“I have this toaster,” Malcolm repeated, “I quite like it, it was a gift that was given to me when I was uh, your age and I have been using it diligently for the past decade…”

Melissa nodded, her green eyes fixed on his. The cinnamon kept pouring.

“…Well ah, this Toaster of mine, I used it the other day when something peculiar happened.”

I wanted to quip about the toaster becoming alive when I suddenly remembered my previous attempts at joking with Annie about her own problems failing. I kept quiet. Melissa seemed undaunted by the sheer amount of cinnamon still being poured into her mug.

Malcolm cleared his throat, then continued on. “…Something peculiar happened. I popped in some toast while getting ready for work when it stopped working.”

No!” Melissa said with genuine concern. “James! Get this down!” There was now an obscene amount of cinnamon in her coffee.

“Yes!” Malcolm cried, “The toaster stopped working! It was no big deal, at that moment but it got me thinking… It got me thinking about entropy.”

Melissa shifted her weight at that last word. Confused as I was, I could at least infer that the last bit was important. There seemed to be no end to the amount of cinnamon Melissa was using.

“So it got me thinking about entropy,” Malcolm stated, “and how everything in this universe, everything has its end. EVEN THE UNIVERSE! Can you imagine that? Can you fully comprehend the weight of everything ending? The slow march of time eating away everything beautiful and pleasant, eating away at all of mankind’s accomplishments and trials, leaving nothing in its wake? Can you fully picture that not even our great pyramids will survive the heat death of the universe? Far far before even our own world burns out there will be not a speck left to commemorate the human race. This will all be for naught. At that moment, in that single moment when my toaster did not pop I saw the whole of creation slowly eaten away by entropy, a monster made of indifference. Not even cruelty or evil or malice. Indifference.”

Malcolm seemed drained then. His hands were sweaty, his eyes pin holed. He looked like a man that had just survive the entirety of the Vietnam war in seconds.

…It was ridiculous.

Melissa stirred her coffee then, a mixture I am sure was more mud than liquid. “How terrible!” she said.

“Yes,” Malcolm agreed, “It ruined my day. I was caught in a nihilistic fervor with a side of existential terror and all I could think about for the rest of that day was how everyone and everything around me was not just temporary, but infinitesimally unimportant and fleeting.”

Melissa placed her head between both of her hands as she leaned in closer. “Then what happened?” she asked.

“Oh, well then I got home and discovered that my toaster was unplugged,” said Malcolm. “It wasn’t even broken, just unplugged. I had made a big deal out of nothing.”

“I see…” said Melissa. “Was this the only time toast gave you any problems?”

I will admit that by that point I was incredulous to Melissa’s question. There was no way that this was important. But judging by Melissa’s body language and the genuine terror that leapt from Malcolm’s eyes, I kept my protestations to myself.

Malcolm’s voice became small, “No,” he said in a near whisper before finding his courage. “I didn’t even tell you about the time I burnt some.”

Melissa turned to me then, “Are you getting this down James?” and set her attention back to Malcolm before I could answer. She drank her “coffee”.

“How is this important?!” I blurted, now at the end of my patience.

“How is this important?” Melissa parroted, “We are talking about entropy James! The very killer of all things! The great equalizer that not even reality can escape! WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ENTROPY?!!” Her’s was a naked rage. I mumbled an apology.

Just as quickly as her mood turned to fusion, it changed back to pleasant. “Please, go on Malcolm,” she said.

Malcolm nodded. “I burnt my toast once. It was covered in black soot… No, it was covered in carbon. Carbon! Do you know how many billion years it took our raging dead stars to chug out carbon? Do you know how many countless stars it took to live and die in an uncaring universe for carbon to be spat out from their corpses?”

“Did you panic?” Melissa asked.

“Boy howdy did I!” Malcolm responded. “But it wasn’t the length of time that got me terrified, it was what we do with that potential that stunned me into silence. Do you know that broadcasts of Reality TV will outlast even our solar system? I was like… whoah.”

“Then what happened?”

“I ate my toast.”

Melissa stood then. “I’m sorry Mr. Steadman, but I’m afraid that I can be of no service to you.” She said with a hint of sorrow. “These eldritch horrors you speak of are far grander than even I can handle. I deal with the balance of the universe, but even I cannot fight off the unraveling of it. The universe uncoils even as I speak, and no amount of effort will stop it. The sad truth is that the good fight that I wage is not only an uphill one but a Sysephean task that can never be finished. Entropy will win out.”

She turned her back then and marched toward the door. I was easily ten steps behind her. Before she opened the door she looked at Malcolm and said: “You still owe me for the consultation.” And just like that, we were gone.

She was too far ahead of me now that we were outside. I ran back to her side. Before I could ask about our meeting Melissa stopped in her tracks.

“We have to find a hospital,” she said. “I’m allergic to cinnamon.”

 

.

 

^.^ APRIL FOOL ^.^

The entry you’ve just read is part of the Serial Fiction April Fool’s Day Swap, 2018 Edition. (After 4 years, surely you’re getting used to these… but maybe you thought it was real, as it’s a publishing day?) This non-canon post was created by Michael Fitzgerald (aka Rev Fitz) who writes the serial “Existential Terror and Breakfast“.

To see more of the character Malcolm’s existential issues, you should definitely check out that site. (And funny enough, Rev Fitz also wrote the Time & Tied Apr 1 update last year, for more of his writing.) To see the entry that Gregory Taylor wrote, visit the serial Shatterbrain, where in 2043, Sophie is learning things about her uncle the hard way. What new take will you find there?

For a full list of all the Swappers and their stories, check out the Web Fiction Guide Forums and/or the Serial Novel Advocacy Group at The Leaking Pen. Thanks for reading, and remember, the best way to support your favourite serial novelist is to tell all your friends about them!

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ASIDE: I’ll post the real Entry 2b next Sunday, followed by 2c on schedule, meaning three straight weeks of updates. Yay! Also, shout-out to “Serial Fiction Digest” for featuring ‘University Witch’ as their Serial this Week. :O 🙂

Virga: Entry 2a

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A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2a

Hello, James Conway, back for a second time – at least, James is the name I will continue to use for the purposes of these chronicles. I’m a first year student at University X (again, no names), who should, perhaps, have been a little more suspicious as to why a piece of prime off campus housing was still available for rent in late August. As you’ll know by now if you read the first case, the reason for that was one Melissa ‘Weird-Gal’ Virga, who is running a supernatural detective agency out of the apartment.

If I don’t pay her on time, she could turn me into a chicken. I don’t think that’s a joke.

Fortunately, for the sake of my humanity, the two of us hit it off not too badly. In other words, I began finding ways of dealing with Melissa’s odd quirks, while she, well… she continued not paying much attention to me. I wondered how long she’d been living alone.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

That’s the thing about Melissa, she prefers to spend her time inside her own private little world – a world which, by the way, allows her to violate some of the laws of physics. Perhaps that’s why she also piques the curiosity. Which leads into why, following the case involving Dan and Danielle, I began wondering just what other cases Melissa might end up working on.

Or what cases she’d taken on in the past.

It turned out that finding an answer by glancing over her papers and files was futile, mainly because any filing system itself seemed to be non-existent. When I scanned the stacks of paper on her desk one morning, a couple pages seemed to involve mathematical calculations, there were a few scrawlings in latin, some news clippings, notes containing mystical symbols, things written in unreadable shorthand, and what I gathered was a philosophy essay for one of her university classes.

There was also what I took at first to be a recipe for biscuits, until I read down to step five which stated “use mixture to lure poltergeist inside bottle”. I decided not to poke around inside her desk drawers, just in case.

Unfortunately, learning about Melissa’s cases by asking her about them directly didn’t seem prudent either. Mainly because I didn’t want Melissa to interpret that request as wanting more involvement. After all, there were still my first year university classes to worry about, and while I feel Melissa’s deeds should be credited, I was hardly going to commit myself towards her “balancing of supernatural forces on earth” crusade. Not at this point, anyway. In fact, twice in the evenings I saw our doorknob was fuchsia, and on those occasions, I didn’t enter the apartment.

Still… I was curious. To the point where there were days I started wondering if more involvement with someone as pretty as Melissa would really be such a bad thing, supernatural or otherwise. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

As such, when a female student came by the apartment late one afternoon (around the third week of September), looking for Melissa, I invited her in to wait. I even offered to make our visitor some tea, something which she took me up on. I wasn’t trying to flirt or anything (she looked like a senior), it’s more that, on some level, I sensed that she wanted to talk to someone. With the fringe benefit to me being my learning more about Melissa’s cases.

As we drank, I asked a few questions and learned the following: Her name was Annie Potts, she was in third year, she had consulted with Melissa already last week, and someone was trying to kill her.

This last point caught me off guard. I mean, as far as first impressions go, Annie didn’t seem like the sort of woman against whom you’d ever bear that much of a grudge.

A brief description is probably in order at this point, so I’ll say that Annie was tall (about six feet while in the heeled ankle boots she wore), had dark hair down to her shoulders, and that while she was not overly athletic looking, she certainly seemed well built. Her choice of attire was jeans and a T-shirt, her only notable accessory a red barrette holding back her bangs.

I also got the impression from looking into her eyes that it would be very unwise to ever get on her bad side, though as far as our conversation went she was pretty soft spoken.

“The thing is,” Annie explained to me, “there’s been a massive increase in the severity of the attacks. It’s gone beyond interfering in my schoolwork to downright creeping me out.”

“So why come to Melissa rather than go to the police?” I wondered.

Annie hesitated, uncrossed her legs, then recrossed them again the other way. “Well,” she admitted after a moment, “it’s that these attempts on my life, they’ve all been done… electronically.”

I frowned, putting my teacup back on the kitchen table. “You mean someone’s writing threatening email? Or is it that someone’s trying to electrocute you?”

“Neither,” Annie said, uneasily. “Or not exactly. For instance, when I turned on my home computer this morning, an incorporeal hand came out of the monitor and tried to pull me inside. Which sounds stupid, I know!” she went on quickly. “But it really happened. If I hadn’t managed to kick the power bar off with my foot, I’m not sure I’d even be here talking with you right now. And that’s not something I can tell the police.”

“Oh,” I answered, taking a moment to turn that around in my mind. Evil computers – not exactly the same thing as the Danielle case, so was it more typical of the things Melissa dealt with, or less so? “Well, I… I hope my roommate can help you,” I finished lamely. Where does one go after a story like that anyway?

An uncomfortable silence followed, during which time the two of us drank our tea.

“Look,” Annie said, rising at last. “If you can simply pass that message on to Melissa, I’ll come back later and–”

“Did someone mention my name?” Melissa said absently as she strolled into the apartment.

We both emerged from the kitchen. Melissa was holding a broom in one hand and scanning through the pages of a book in another. The book itself seemed normal, like something you’d read for an English class; the broom was the one Melissa normally kept in the closet. In fact, she put it back there and traveled around to the far side of her desk before looking up from her book quizzically.

“Er, we spoke last week,” Annie ventured. “Remember?” She appeared uncomfortable, either about her situation or Melissa’s demeanor, it was hard to tell.

Melissa, barely topping five feet, squinted up at Annie. “Yes. You were getting electrical shocks from all the computers on campus or something,” she replied. “Jolted you into a wall at one point. Hardly your typical static electric shock, hence talking to me.”

Annie let out a quick breath. “Yes,” she repeated back. “Well, you gave me that charm and said to come back if things got worse? It has. Gotten worse, I mean.” She outlined the experience with the hand she’d had earlier today, and added to it the fact that last night, her cat had been hissing at the computer. Which, Annie then recalled, had looked a little burnt around the ports at the back.

Melissa was quickly giving Annie her undivided attention. “Have you been near your computer since the incident?” the supernatural detective questioned, leaning forwards on the desk.

Annie shook her head. “I had to get to class this morning. After that I came right here.”

My roommate nodded. “Excellent. I recommend you don’t go back home then. Give me the key to your apartment. I’ll go, and I can pick you up a few things. Stay here tonight. I’ve got a spare room.” She started to gesture towards my bedroom, paused as she saw me, then snapped her fingers. “Well, I sort of have a spare room. It’s fine, with any luck I’ll get the case wrapped up within twenty-four hours. Annie can return back to her place then.”

Annie looked back and forth between us, taking half a step back. “Oh, er… I don’t want to be a bother. Do you think it’s really that serious? Wait, what about Tabby, my cat, he’s at home, do you think he’s in any danger?”

Melissa shook her head. “Doubt it. You’re obviously the target here, Annie. The problem is that your residence has been traced. Hard to say where the entity will go from there… incidentally, I’ll need a list of anyone in the area who knows you particularly well, for questioning purposes.”

“A-All right,” Annie stammered out. “Should I still keep your charm with me? Will it help?” She fished an oddly shaped piece of metal out of her jeans pocket.

Melissa peered at the item in Annie’s hands, raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt,” she said, now rummaging around in her desk drawer. “Besides, no refunds.”

After a short time looking through two drawers, Melissa glanced back in my direction and mimed writing. Divining her intent, I went to grab a pencil.

“One more thing,” Melissa requested, looking back up at Annie. “Your cat, how long have you had it?”

“Him,” Annie corrected. “And I’ve had Tabby for three years now. My parents got him for me as a going away gift.”

“And have you ever had a cat before then?”

“Well, sure,” Annie said, seemingly unsure where Melissa was going with this. “Our family’s always had a cat or two. It’s why I could never have a place in residence, no pets allowed.”

“Mmmmm,” was Melissa’s only reply. She plucked the pencil from my hand as I approached, grabbed a page with what looked like a grocery list on it and, flipping it over, handed it to Annie. “Names,” she reiterated. “Include the name of any university professor you’ve had more than once, and phone numbers where I can reach everybody, if you have them. Oh, and jot down anything you want me to pick up for you tonight too.”

Annie dutifully began writing on the sheet. “I’m not sure this will really help,” she pointed out. “None of my friends go for this supernatural stuff… I mean, I probably wouldn’t have even come here myself if I weren’t desperate. How could any of them be behind the attacks?”

“Perhaps they were replaced by very lifelike robot duplicates who can now get technology to do their bidding, and they’re testing their skills out on you,” Melissa remarked.

Annie paused in her scribbling, looking up uncertainly.

Melissa rolled her eyes. “Kidding, duh. I do magic, not science fiction.”

“Uh. Right.” Annie resumed writing. “Is bringing my computer here an option? I’m supposed to type up an assignment for next week, and I’ll need a computer for that.”

“I doubt that’ll work,” Melissa said curtly.

“I’m sure your handwriting isn’t that that illegible,” I quipped.

I failed to lighten the mood. Melissa ignored me, while Annie turned and gave me a little glare. Realizing I’d crossed the line with a comment on her penmanship (her list was a bit difficult to decipher, as it turned out), I decided to keep quiet as Annie exchanged final words with Melissa.

Melissa obtained Annie’s apartment key (like us, she lived off campus) and then bid our guest farewell. After watching Annie go, Melissa finally turned back towards me.

“James, you have a computer yourself, don’t you?”

I blinked and nodded. “A laptop, yes, not a tower. I use it for assignments mostly, though I also used it to type up your last case, the one with–”

“Shut it down. Don’t use it over the next couple days. Throw it out even, too risky to have it around here for very long.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it again. “Er, why?” I finally ventured as Melissa began stuffing some objects from her desk into her purse. “It did cost me a lot of money, you know.”

The petite brunette let out a quick sigh. “Because. Electronics, the internet, wires feeding into every home… the world wide web is a world wide nuisance if you ask me. Makes restoring supernatural balance just that much harder. Though, not your fault, of course, so maybe you could simply leave your laptop device with a friend overnight?”

She finished putting things away and reached out for Annie’s key, accidentally knocking it off the front of the desk. In moving around to pick it up, she managed a hip wiggle in the process. I wondered if she was trying to distract me, despite how the move seemed unintentional. She seemed to be wearing her tightest pair of jeans.

“I… I’ll see,” I said, lamely. “I guess witches aren’t keen on computers?” It might explain Melissa’s lack of a filing system.

Melissa spun back around, flicking some hair off her shoulder. “The new fangled techno-witches swear by them, but let’s not get into THAT discussion. Hey, how much do you know about computers anyway?”

I pulled my gaze back to her face. “Oh, um, enough to get by?”

“Then you’re welcome to come along too,” Melissa concluded with a smile. Annie’s key in hand, she marched to our apartment door before turning to meet my gaze again. “After all, I’ve never been too good with the damn things. Plus you should probably know why you’re giving up your bed tonight to a complete stranger. Let’s go.”

“Okay, but I’m hardly majoring in– wait, MY bed? Melissa, what do you… Melissa!”

She was already out of the apartment and I had to run in order to catch up.

*-*

The internet, Melissa explained to me as we walked to Annie Potts’ place, is a fertile breeding ground for evil. “Not just because entities can use it to manipulate the downtrodden, the desperate and the general lowlifes of society either,” the brunette insisted. “The real problem happens when evils that normally only lurk on the fringes of our realm catch sight of it. This whole web thing, it lights the way for them, provides them with a gateway to Earth.”

“A… gateway? You mean, what, evil is constantly entering our world through the internet?”

“Well, sure,” Melissa said airily, gesturing vaguely at me. “Understand that spectres and entities have been trying to hook themselves into our plane of existence for decades. Now the internet makes it a hundred times easier for them to do that. You think all bots or whatever have a human at the other end? Fortunately for us, the evil has to morph itself into a data stream if it wants to directly affect the real world, and most of the time it can’t survive in that form for more than a millisecond. Its bits get all corrupted, which kills it.” She paused in mid-step. “Kind of an irony there, actually.”

I considered asking how techno-witches fit into this, but given Melissa’s earlier attitude, went for what I presumed was the safer question of, “So is this part of the supernatural imbalance that you’re trying to fix?”

Melissa shrugged and continued walking. “Humans create faster ways of communicating, they allow for faster ways of spreading evil. The supernatural balance hasn’t been broken here, it’s just the ten gram weights have been replaced with hundred kilogram ones. Who am I to stand in the way of such stupidi– I mean, progress?”

I frowned. “Okay, but then… if the electronics aren’t what’s causing your problem…”

“They nevertheless make it harder to pinpoint exactly where the unbalancing is occurring,” Melissa stated matter-of-factly. “Instead of searching for a needle in a haystack, you end up searching all of Saskatchewan. Honestly James, do try to keep up.”

“No, yes, I get that,” I breathed, managing to keep pace with her mentally, if not quite as well physically. For a short woman, Melissa can walk fast when she wants to. “It’s just… if the web itself isn’t the problem… where did this thing attacking Annie come from?”

Melissa pursed her lips. “THAT is a good question,” she admitted, stopping abruptly once again. I nearly smacked into her, and took a half step back, only to have to almost jog when I realized she’d immediately started walking again.

“Thing is, any random evil that the net generates for balancing purposes should have been deflected away by that little grounding charm I gave Annie,” Melissa continued. “Yet this entity seems to have become specifically attached to her. It had to have help in order to do that. Presumably by someone who knows, or knew her.”

“Ah! Hence the list of names,” I deduced.

“Right,” Melissa affirmed. “The person wouldn’t even have to know anything about computers, just how to do a basic summoning. Or then again, they may know enough about computers to actually turn themselves into a malevolent digital entity. Or somewhere in between. Either way, I want to deal with this fast, before the thing hooks itself into other appliances and causes innocent people to get hurt in the crossfire.”

“Oh. Uh, you figure that’s possible?” I worried. I fired off a wan smile at a couple of people waiting at a bus stop as we passed. One of them had been raising their eyebrows. Melissa, of course, seemed all but oblivious to anyone else in the area.

“There’s always a chance,” she answered simply.

I guessed that’s why she was worried about my laptop. I considered the greater implications in my head for the rest of our walk, noting with some unease the number of devices in the area that involved electricity in some way. If someone got control of a traffic light, for example, it could cause real trouble!

I hoped the solution to all this would be found at Annie’s place.

To Virga – Entry 2b –>

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

ASIDE: Originally written in 2004, about a year after I’d written the first case. I’ve edited this one more to be less dated with technology, and for other reasons. Any initial thoughts or speculations? Let me know. Next update is Apr 1st.

Virga: Entry 1d

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
The Invisible Girl: Entry 1d

Dan didn’t lunge though. He stared at Melissa for a moment, then he laughed out loud. It wasn’t a very nice laugh.

“So, you figured that much out, did you?” he retorted. “Damn. You’re better at your work than others give you credit for. It was your last question of me on Friday that gave it away, I suppose?”

“It confirmed my suspicions,” Melissa acknowledged. “But even so, there were lots of little things I’d wondered about before. For instance, why such a vague description of Danielle to me that first time? You didn’t even mention her glasses, yet you could provide information about her nail polish when asked. And why would Danielle have a name so close to your own in the first place? It made me question what might be closer to the truth… a reasonably good looking boy creating a shy young girl to have someone to play with… or a shy young GIRL creating a tall, handsome man to help her feel safe.”

I looked from Melissa to Dan to Danielle. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I heard myself say. “You mean Dan is imaginary?”

“Right,” Dan grunted, seemingly more to Melissa than me. “So when you asked about my first bully, and I couldn’t answer…”

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“Yes, well, even setting aside your lacklustre attitude through this case, and the way you seemed to base that answer on what would win me my bet… anyone with a memory for nail polish and blue blankets should have had a better recollection of their first tormentors. Unless, of course, the tormentee hadn’t existed yet, at that point in time. Those blue blankets, they really were Danielle’s, I presume.”

“I… I don’t understand,” Danielle murmured. “What’s she talking about, Dan?”

Dan rolled his eyes. “She means you’re real, dope. I centred in on you a long time ago, not that I’ve ever let you remember.” He smiled nastily. “You were the invisible girl, Danielle. The girl no one ever noticed. After appearing in the guise of your imaginary friend a few times, it was easy enough to switch places with you. My only concern was your parents, but it wasn’t hard to convert their minds. They’d always expected a son, blue blankets and all.”

“Hold on,” I cut in. “Does that mean that if Danielle becomes real again, Dan returns to… where, exactly?”

“The other side,” Melissa remarked. “Supernatural balance. Of course, this exchange shouldn’t have been possible in the first place, not without Danielle’s permission.”

Dan grimaced. “I should have simply eliminated the girl when I had the chance,” he grumbled. “If only her etherial form and childish nature hadn’t been so useful to me… and now I’ve been a human for so long, I can’t do the required magick to take care of things myself. So I gambled on being able to manipulate your agency. Still, I’ll be damned before I let anyone take me down after all this time!”

He lunged for Melissa then, but I think she’d been anticipating that, as she easily dodged to the side. Her size helped to make her a small target. I barely got out of the way myself, before Dan was at the door. I figured on him charging through, maybe locking us in, but instead he grabbed the block of wood Melissa had used to keep the door open. He heaved it back towards one of the upright mirrors.

Of course. If any of the mirrors were shattered, this realism ritual was toast.

“Declino!” Melissa cried out, extending her palm.

There was a small flash of light and the wood spun off course, smashing the overhead lightbulb instead. (Declino meaning essentially ‘deflect’, by the way. Like Melissa’s last name, “Virga”, she draws spells from the latin.) The door, no longer being propped open, now clanged shut.

Then Melissa’s flashlight clicked off, and the room went dark. If there was another light source, I hadn’t seen it. So, Dan was still in there with us. Ready to attack. Except, for right now no one was moving – it was taking all of our eyes a moment to adjust.

“He’s sizing me up,” I heard Melissa whisper during that moment. I jumped. It sounded as if she was leaning in right next to my ear, but when I put my arm out, it encountered nothing but air.

“James, I’m talking to you using a form of ventriloquism, so there’s no point whispering back,” she continued, as if reading my mind. “But listen very carefully to what I say next.”

Melissa began to speak a lot faster, yet still in hushed tones. “I can’t attack Dan directly while he’s in a human form, because I’d be forcing magick on him and would thus suffer consequences myself,” she explained. “There are related issues with casting on myself. So, Plan A, I’d like your permission to give you a quick burst of strength for about 10 seconds. That should allow you to take Dan out. Call out if you accept this!”

I was still trying to process that, when I heard Dan make his move just off to my right. Meaning no time to ask about Plan B. Fine, what the hell, you only live once, right? Besides, it may be that a part of me figured I had to do something to make it feel like the night hadn’t been a total wash.

“I accept,” I called out, jumping to intercept Dan.

“Convalesco!” Melissa shouted just before Dan plowed into me. (Another crude translation for you is ‘to gain strength’… personally, I’m now thinking I should pick up latin as an elective course.)

Anyway, Dan struck me, and more or less rebounded. Stumbling a bit myself, I heard an exclamation of surprise. To Dan’s credit, he not only stayed on his feet, when I next jabbed at him in the face, he must have seen my hand coming up because he was able to dodge back.

The next thing I knew, Dan’s fist connected with my gut, and I doubled over, falling to the ground, the wind knocked out of me. Great, whatever strength I’d received didn’t last long, I thought. But even on the floor I didn’t immediately give up, moving to sweep my leg out, in an attempt to take Dan down.

I put all the force I had into that move, knowing it would probably be my only chance, and to my surprise, when I connected with Dan’s lower legs it was like he’d been whacked with an iron bar. Whereas I hardly felt anything at all. He collapsed to the ground with a shout of surprise and I heard a thwacking noise as his head hit the floor, as he had not had enough time to break his fall.

“I’m still strong,” I blurted out in surprise. And then just like that, I knew I wasn’t, as the dull ache in my gut became an explosion of pain. I’m pretty sure I groaned.

Melissa’s flashlight clicked back on, illuminating both me and Dan’s unconscious form. “Knee jerk reaction of your body to fold when hit,” she observed matter-of-factly. “Just because you have increased strength, doesn’t mean you can disregard your natural instincts. Or your need to breathe. Still, you got the job done, that’s good. Now, can you help me with this mirror?”

“Geez, you’re welcome,” I wheezed back sarcastically, clutching at my sides.

She blinked at me with her gorgeous, yet at that point quite uncompassionate, green eyes. “You’ll be in a lot more pain in 56 seconds if we don’t get this mirror repositioned,” Melissa said after a few more moments of staring.

I blinked at her, then to where she was gesturing, namely where the timer was still counting down on the natural gas pipes. “Oh heck,” I groaned, stumbling to my feet.

“Danielle, where exactly does this need to be?” the brunette detective asked, turning the one mirror away from the wall. The short blonde didn’t respond, and I saw now that she had simply sat herself down on the floor mirror and was staring vacantly into space.

“This was meant to be a surprise… for our mutual birthdays…” Danielle murmured abstractedly. “And now… well, no wonder we have the same birthday…”

“Danielle?” I called out to her, even as I moved to help Melissa.

“Never mind, lost cause,” Melissa sighed. “She’ll get a good chunk of her memory back though, after the transition. Anyway, pretty sure I can figure out where this needs to be…”

“Pretty sure? Melissa, isn’t the fate of the physics building, not to mention our very lives, hanging on the line here?!”

“Panic isn’t helpful, James. Now, help me shift the glass a bit this way, and angle it thusly,” she replied calmly (obliviously??), after training her flashlight beam around the room. She then moved next to the timing device (27… 26… 25…) shining the light onto the mirror in question.

The angle was such that the beam reflected down onto the mirror beneath Danielle, back up to the second upright mirror, and then, seemingly impossibly, back to where the light was striking the first mirror. Like a bizarre never-ending triangle had been created – the glass on one mirror must have been warped in some way.

“Good enough,” Melissa decided. She scooped her purse back up and pulled out a necklace of some sort, which then she pulled over Dan’s head.

“Banishing amulet?” I wondered.

“Exiling spell,” Melissa said. “Cheaper, even if at sixty-three dollars, it still puts me in the red. But what can you do? Now let’s get out.”

The last she said in her firm, no-nonsense tone, so I was backtracking even before I noticed the timing device ticking down past 7 seconds. Melissa was hot on my heels, all the while chanting something in Latin which was pretty incomprehensible – I won’t bother to reproduce it.

I got to the door, we both charged through, and Melissa concluded her spell by spinning back towards the doorway, throwing out her arms in some mystic gesture. At that point I heard clearly, “Die dulci fruere!” (You can look that one up yourself.)

The papers Melissa had placed around the frame lit up with a bright glow just as the explosion went off. The door, which had been swinging closed again, was jarred off it’s hinges by the force of the blast, tongues of flame licking out from around the metal.

A few of Melissa’s paper wards caught fire. In fact, I could feel the whole building shake, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I probably screamed.

Then just like that, it was over.

Scorch marks were visible all around the remains of the doorway, and in fact when the little pieces of paper ceased their glowing, the smoking door itself collapsed right down onto the floor in front of me. As Melissa would have, had I not reacted quickly to catch her.

“Melissa! Are you all right?” I cried out.

She resembled a long distance runner who had just completed the marathon in record time. Her eyes were closed, she was breathing hard and there was a sheen of sweat causing some errant strands of hair to stick to her face in a bizarrely erotic manner. (Again, the sort of thing that would have worked better under different circumstances… I suppose you’ve gathered by now that I seem to have developed a bit of a crush on her.)

Melissa’s eyelids flickered open. “Geez, what in the devil did she use for the explosive?” the mystic detective muttered. “Containment spells shouldn’t be so hard to control.” With my help, she got back on her feet.

I was soon distracted by a quiet coughing, as Danielle stumbled out of the destroyed room. Her dress was in tatters, her glasses askew, and a bit of flying glass had apparently caught her in the arm – oh yes, the mirrors turned out to be quite destroyed – but otherwise she seemed none the worse for wear.

Danielle collapsed back against the wall. “I… I feel… I feel real again,” she murmured in a daze.

“You ARE real,” Melissa assured Danielle, wiping her arm across her own forehead. “Always were. What Dan took from you has been returned. In fact, no one outside of this limited area will even be aware of the switch back. You can live your life as if none of this had ever happened. Though there may be some questions as to how a female managed to get placed into the all male wing of a dorm.”

“Oh,” Danielle murmured quietly. Her brow furrowed. “Is that why I remember what he did now? That is, it feels like… like I did what he did. That is, everything he’s done since we were in grade school, I’ve done… that is…” She raised a hand to the side of her head. “I-I’ll need some time to figure this out…”

I peered back towards the scorched room, but didn’t see anyone else visible amid the carnage. “And Dan?” I mused aloud.

“He’s become spiritual again,” Melissa said absently as she set about retrieving the few mystic papers that remained undamaged. I wasn’t sure if it was so they could be reused, or simply to not have evidence of the supernatural lying around. “I’d have liked to banish him permanently, but the exiling spell – activated by his transition to a non-corporeal form – will at least keep him out of our realm for years,” Melissa explained. “If not decades. After all, nullifying it requires intelligence, and he didn’t seem to have too much of that.”

Danielle gave me an uncertain look, the confusion of her situation obviously becoming too much for her. I decided an explanation wouldn’t be of any help. “Let’s get your arm looked at, then you can go lie down,” I suggested to the blonde, venturing a reassuring smile.

“The sooner the better,” Melissa agreed, turning back to both of us. “After all, this building could still blow sky high. James, could you phone someone and tell them that there’s a natural gas leak here in the basement?”

“A… what?” I retorted. “But… your papers, the spell…”

“A containment spell won’t shut off a gas line, it just temporarily seals a room,” Melissa shot back, rolling her eyes. “The pipes themselves are now dangerously compromised. So, are you going to call it in, or will I?”

I think at this point I was opening and closing my mouth randomly, prompting Melissa’s sigh of, “Fine, I will. I suppose I would have anyway, if you hadn’t come along. Now, both of you, hurry up and get out of here!”

She physically pushed me and Danielle out towards the stairs. At that point our instincts took over, and we rushed outside. Once there, I turned around to say something else to my roommate, but she had already hurried off to parts unknown. Presumably to make the phone call.

*-*

There isn’t much more to tell, really.

I got Danielle to the campus centre for her arm, and when she arrived back at ‘her’ dorm, she found a room transfer notification on her door. I asked Melissa about this, and whether we should be doing something more for Danielle, but Melissa considered this case closed. Reality was just reasserting itself based on the supernatural events that had occurred, she explained idly. As to the explosion, the campus newspaper headlines read ‘small earthquake causes natural gas leak’, and it barely made local news.

That’s actually part of the reason I asked Melissa for permission to write this all down. It feels like there should be a record of what really happened somewhere.

Now, I’m not certain if I’ve done this case justice – in fact, I’m fairly sure I haven’t – but perhaps I’ll improve on that in time. If you’re willing to keep reading. I am only a first year student, after all. And, unless I want to become a chicken instead, I’m stuck rooming with Melissa too. At least her cases seem liable to be just as interesting as they are strange!

END CASE 1

NEXT CASE: Net Worth

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

Virga: Entry 1c

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
The Invisible Girl: Entry 1c

“And that’s it,” Melissa concluded, having laid out the tale of how she met Danielle. She cocked her head to the side. “And I don’t think I missed out on noticing anything after all. Good.”

It took me a moment to find my voice. “All right, wait, hold on, did I hear you right? Are you saying there’s some sort of bomb in the physics building that’s going to go off this weekend??”

Melissa nodded. “Probably in the evening on Saturday. Or rather, this evening, seeing as I guess it’s already early Saturday morning.”

“And you’re OKAY with that?” I demanded. I was incredulous.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“Of course not,” she sighed back. “Given your good memory, I’ll have to assume you weren’t listening. I DID say that altering the new residence plans and moving physics into engineering wasn’t an ideal situation.”

“But… but you told Dan we had too many buildings. And you didn’t want Danielle to tell you where this device was. Or even what she’d set the timer for!”

“Of course not. Not with Dan standing right there with us,” Melissa replied, saying it as if her reasoning was the most obvious thing in the universe.

She raised her arms over her head and stretched, an action which might have otherwise caused my gaze to wander, but I was so mixed up after what she’d been telling me that, at the time, I hardly noticed.

“I might as well go to bed,” my roommate concluded, lowering her arms again and rising from her chair. “Again, let me know if you hear anything about amulets, would you? Once your hearing improves? Though the point will be moot by about six o’clock this evening.”

“No. Melissa, you just stop right there,” I objected. “You can’t leave me hanging this way… what are you going to do about this situation? How will the amulet help? For that matter, what was the point to your question about Dan’s first tormentor?”

Melissa lifted an eyebrow. Then she smiled. “I like you, James. You’re not dismissive, you assume there’s method to my madness. And to be sure, there is.” She then waggled her finger at me. “But how do you ever expect to develop your problem solving skills if I simply give you all the answers? Anyway, I’m not a hundred percent sure about how it’s all going to wrap up, and I’d hate to look like a fool on the first case you’re witnessing. So sleep on it. Tell me what you think in the morning.”

With that, she retired to her bedroom, closing the door behind her.

Feeling thoroughly exasperated, but not sure what else to do at this point, I turned off the office light and stumbled back into my own room. I glanced at my clock by the nightstand in passing. It was after three.

“Why did I let my curiosity get the better of me?” I recall groaning to myself. Surely any sane person wouldn’t have taken Melissa’s bait, no matter how pretty her smile was.

It must have taken me at least a half hour to fall asleep again.

*-*

Melissa was already gone by the time I woke up Saturday morning. (I slept in, no surprise there.) So I made myself some breakfast and tried to get some work done on one of my first university assignments.

However, my mind kept coming back to Dan, Danielle, and most of all, Melissa. What was the story with this case of hers? Ridiculous or not, it nagged at me. So, with the help of my memory, I sketched out some of the main points of the conversation from the previous night. Trying to understand where Melissa’s logic had been coming from.

I couldn’t make any sense of it. (Well, at least those notes proved useful for writing up this case.)

Exasperated, I tried approaching the conversation from Dan’s point of view, instead of Melissa’s. There, at last, I clicked into something. He really did know an awful lot about Danielle. He knew which of his friends she’d spoken to, had known of her goal to become real, knew how she’d planned on doing it, he even knew about the colour of her nail polish… yet he hadn’t seemed to know a thing about the actual setting of the explosives and the use of a timer device.

Why had that caught him off guard?

Danielle had often looked towards Dan before answering too, something Melissa had picked up on. Near the end, the supernatural detective had even asked Danielle not to think about his reaction. Could it be that Dan was still controlling her somehow? My pencil began tapping on the page.

See if you can follow my reasoning. Suppose that you have an imaginary friend who suddenly becomes real. Suppose further that he or she isn’t a mischievous spirit, but someone more like Danielle, who constantly looks to you for guidance. Would you or would you not take advantage of that fact? Ordering her to do things for your own amusement?

“Yet Danielle no longer needs his guidance,” I murmured aloud. “She set up these explosives by herself, in pursuit of a plan to become corporeal. So, if I were Dan, I might find that irritating.”

Also, he sure didn’t mention that goal of becoming real to Melissa up front. For that matter, we only had his word that Danielle’s reappearance was recent. And would a guy like that actually consult with any scientists, like he said? Again, we only had his word.

Just like that, I was seeing Dan in a whole new light.

What if Danielle wasn’t the dangerous one here? What if it was HIM? Granted, my reasoning didn’t explain everything, like why this guy was seeking to banish his imaginary companion rather than regain his control over her, or why he had chosen to come to Melissa for help in the first place.

Perhaps he’d suddenly had an attack of conscience? And was holding back information out of guilt? In which case, was Melissa trying to make him sweat a bit, to ensure that this lesson would stick? After all, she’d deduced the existence of the explosives. She might also know where they were already, and how to deal with them.

Resolving to ask my roommate about it, I finally found myself able to concentrate on my homework.

*-*

“Very nice,” Melissa said, after I outlined my thinking.

She was sitting behind her desk, leaning her chin on her palms and smiling broadly at me as we discussed the situation later that afternoon. And I know I should stop injecting this colour commentary, but she really does have a pretty smile.

“I like your reasoning, James, you’ve really thought about this. And doesn’t it feel a lot better, having worked through this problem by yourself?”

“Then I’m right?” I asked eagerly.

“Eh. You’re getting there,” Melissa countered. “I’ll admit up front that I don’t know exactly where the explosives are, nor exactly when they’ll go off. And there’s still the matter of the third question I asked of Dan, hm?”

My balloon deflated somewhat. “I thought maybe you were just trying to keep him off balance with that one,” I said.

“I suppose that could have been a side benefit. But don’t get discouraged, James. You’re on the right track with the way Danielle has been manipulated. Now, tell me, where do you think she originally came from?”

Again with the threads that I felt I should be able to follow, but couldn’t quite. “Came from? You mean, out of Dan’s imagination?”

“Children have imaginary friends all the time,” Melissa elaborated. “Most of them don’t manifest themselves and start interfering with our lives. Why is that happening here?”

“Yes, well… I suppose Dan’s been dabbling in your ever present supernatural forces?” I hypothesized. “That somehow he used them to create Danielle?”

“Could be,” Melissa replied, her voice suddenly quiet. “Though Danielle is very atypical – there aren’t many supernatural manifestations who would willingly take orders from a human. I don’t like to admit it, but this Dan… he does worry me. He worries me a great deal.”

She paused for a moment, as if to let the impact of that sentence settle over me. But it could equally be that she was thinking about whether she’d eaten lunch. Given how the next thing she did was ask me for the time.

I glanced down at my watch. “It’s five to six.”

She stood. “Time for me to go then. You’re welcome to come, though it may be dangerous.”

“Go?” I asked. “Go where?”

“To the physics building, of course,” she replied matter-of-factly, grabbing her purse and moving for the door.

“But I thought you said you didn’t know where or when the explosion was set to occur,” I protested.

“I don’t,” she acceded. “But Dan does, and I wager it will happen sometime soon. So it’s a matter of following him when he arrives.”

“But if Dan knew, why was he so surprised?”

She paused with her hand on the doorknob. “He didn’t know then. But it was inevitable that he learn of the location. After all, one warning by me to Danielle is hardly going to undo the months, perhaps even years of mental programming that Dan’s instilled into her. No, as soon as Dan knew that she was actually going ahead with her plan, he would stop at nothing to find out the details. And now that he knows, he is going to try to interfere. So it’s up to me to see that Danielle’s plan succeeds.”

I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. “Melissa… if Danielle succeeds, the physics building will blow up,” I reminded her.

Melissa pursed her lips. “Yes, well, I still hope it doesn’t come to that,” she remarked, opening the apartment door. “Now are you with me, or not?”

*-*

If you were to ask me now, I couldn’t tell you why I went with her. I had met a few other people while on campus, frosh like me, most of whom would have jumped at the invitation of a trip to a bar that Saturday night. Why give that up for the chance to hang around with ‘Weird-gal’, when I only had her word for it that an explosion might be involved?

I can say that it wasn’t because I believed all the supernatural stuff she’d been telling me, not then. I didn’t think it was a joke exactly, but I didn’t really believe it either. It also wasn’t because I found Melissa attractive. As that wouldn’t have been enough, and I hope I haven’t come across as being very shallow for my earlier remarks.

Thinking back, I suppose what it came down to was that, to hear Melissa tell it… well, if I didn’t go, I’d somehow be missing out. Even someone less naive than me would have felt this way, I’m sure.

However, after three hours of nothing, even I was starting to have my doubts.

“I thought you said it would happen soon,” I whispered to her, crouched as we were in the bushes only a short distance from the dread physics building. “Exactly what definition of ‘soon’ were you using?”

“I can’t be right all the time,” Melissa answered in a similarly low tone. “At least it’s a clear night. Look, even with all the light pollution you can still see lots of stars.”

“Some of them are there when I close my eyes,” I grumbled. “We should have eaten before we left.”

“I have a leftover candy cane in the pocket of my jeans if you’re desperate,” she offered. After peering at her face to verify that she was serious, I refused, on the obvious grounds that it was September.

Just then, a figure moved towards one of the side doors of the building. It wasn’t hard to identify Dan, given his build.

“We’re on,” Melissa asserted, moving out of the bushes to follow him. “Stay back and follow my lead.” I indicated agreement.

We proceeded through the door after him, down into the poorly lit basement area, to a door marked “Restricted Access”. Don’t ask me how Dan got a key to that room, but he had it.

The door was swinging shut ahead of us until Melissa grabbed a nearby block of wood and slid it into the path of the door. We both held our breath as the door rebounded slightly and remained ajar, but Dan did not investigate. Probably because he had been distracted by what was inside.

“Oh, please… please don’t do this,” came the voice of a girl behind the door. I could only assume it was Danielle. It sounded like she was practically in tears. “Please Dan, don’t stop the explosion.”

“You don’t understand,” Dan replied. His voice sounded like it had more of an edge to it, as compared to when I’d first heard him. “You’ve never understood.”

“But it’s so late at night that there’s not many people here,” Danielle pleaded. “Plus I scared a few away less than a half hour ago, and the rest might have time to evacuate before the building completely collapses. Doesn’t that make things all right?”

“You stupid girl. Don’t you get it yet? I don’t care if you kill a hundred people,” Dan scoffed. “Hell, some of the things you’ve done for me have probably assisted in doing just that. I can’t let you go through with this because of what would happen to ME if you succeed.”

“But… how would you get in trouble?” Danielle protested. “A-And what do you mean when you say I’ve helped you to k-kill?”

“Nice mirrors,” was Dan’s only reply. “Wonder what would happen if I did this…?”

“Oh, stop!” Danielle shrieked. “It took me so long to set those up, because I had to concentrate so very hard to move them. And they have to be aligned just right. No, Dan, what are you doing?! If you turn it that way so many more people could be hurt. Even I could be killed!”

“Oh, I was hoping you’d say that,” Dan replied.

“Stop, stop, no, no, stop! There’s only five minutes left, I’ll never get them put back… Dan, you could die here too!”

“Oh no, not me,” he laughed. “I’m out of here.”

“I think not,” Melissa countered, now swinging the door open wide. During Dan and Danielle’s conversation, she’d been pulling labelled pieces of paper from her purse and pasting them up around the door frame. I couldn’t read them. I hoped they were meant to be protective wards, or some supernatural equivalent.

“You!” Dan said.

“Expecting someone else?” Melissa mused, stepping forwards into the room.

She had a flashlight with her. This was useful, given that the regular lighting was so dim. Admittedly not as useful as an offensive weapon might be, but Melissa’s said she’s not too fond of things like guns.

Anyway, it was by the light of her flashlight that I saw two mirrors in the room – or rather, three, if you counted the one on the ground. The others were standing upright in swivel frames, resting on what seemed to be several crates and boxes. One of the uprights was facing a wall. The other was angled down towards the floor mirror. Dan was standing by this one, with Danielle standing on the one on the floor.

I did wonder momentarily as to why access into the room was restricted, which was when I saw the pipes at the back reading ‘Natural Gas’, and the timing device on them counting down from 4 minutes, 45 seconds. My mouth went dry.

“Dan, what’s the reporter doing here?” Danielle asked in confusion.

I now knew it was Danielle, based on the description, right down to the glasses she wore. And for a moment, I thought that Danielle was asking about me, until I realized she was looking at Melissa. I suppose that’s why Danielle had consented to Friday’s interview. Dan hadn’t told her that Melissa was a detective.

For his part, Dan ignored his ‘imaginary friend’, glowering at Melissa instead. He didn’t even try to hide his emotions. He must have known the jig was up.

“I should never have involved you in this,” Dan growled angrily. “You with your insipid questions and devil-may-care attitude… why didn’t you just banish her like I asked you to in the first place?”

“Because,” Melissa stated simply. “Danielle’s supposed to exist. You’re not.”

I knew I was definitely going to need some time to process that bombshell. Of course, in the moment, I was rather more concerned with the possibility that Dan would lunge forwards and try to knock us all unconscious.

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

ASIDE: Do you see the logic or are you as confused as James? What will happen now? This case concludes in two weeks!