Author: mathtans

Writer and high school mathematics teacher.

5.01: Taken

<-To Story 4 INDEX 5 Next

CHANCED ERASURES: PART ONE

Whenever a pay phone rang near Chartreuse, she answered it. Given the number of people who tended to use pay phones in the modern age, chances were good that the incoming call was not normal, but rather, connected to her in some mystic way. This time was no exception.

“Hello, like, Chartreuse speaking,” the pink haired teenager declared into the receiver.

“Hi,” the mystery female voice responded. “Epsilon Project here… can we summon you? Through a door or whatever? Is now a good time?”

Chartreuse frowned. “Not really? When you called my house this morning, I said around 4pm would be, you know, good. D’you need me earlier?”

“Oh! No, but I only just started synching with your world. I’ll go back and make that call now. Thanks.”

Chartreuse peered at the phone. “Is this, like, a prank? Did Carrie put you up to this?”

The woman had already hung up. Chartreuse slowly replaced the phone into its cradle, glancing around the parking lot of the local cafe. There didn’t seem to be anyone paying attention to her. More to the point, the female on the other end of the line had sounded like the same woman who had called before, and the ‘Epsilon Project’ was a weird extra-dimensional association – so perhaps it was legit?

Yeah, it probably was. Carrie wasn’t the type of girlfriend who would use her time travel abilities for something silly like this. Besides, only Chartreuse and her sister Azure even knew about ‘Epsilon’, from the affair two weeks ago. Alas, Chartreuse supposed she should have asked for more details during the first call, but her mom had wanted her to do a reading on the future, after which she’d planned on meeting Carrie for lunch.

Ah well. It was generally better to tackle the unknown at the end of a day regardless, versus first thing in the morning. That way you weren’t exhausted all day after dealing with it – you could go to bed.

“I’ll, you know, figure this out at 4pm,” Chartreuse declared aloud, the vocalization helping to push the Epsilon stuff out of her mind.

CHARTREUSE VERMILION
Commission by Ruuari

Smoothing her hands down over her multicoloured dress, she continued on her way from her lunch date towards the library, to meet up with Lee. He’d turned up some information about Ottawa, which Chartreuse figured would be useful for when she and Carrie went to University in September.

It was a little after 4pm when Chartreuse remembered about the call. Still being a couple of blocks from her house, she walked over to a nearby parked car instead. It had doors, right? Finding the back unlocked, she opened it and got inside.

Nothing happened. Which included no one coming and asking her to get out of their car, so there was that.

After glancing around the interior, Chartreuse shrugged and got back out… only to now find herself standing in the large embarkation room of the Epsilon Project station. Shaped like a cylinder, the room had a set of computer banks on one portion of the curved wall, and it was there that a woman was standing. Her long blonde hair was pulled into a side ponytail, and she wore a plain black blouse, with a white skirt and thigh-high dark stockings.

“Hi!” Chartreuse chirped. “I thought you’d, you know, forgotten about me.”

The woman turned and smiled wryly. “No, but part of the point for the advance call was so you wouldn’t use a random door,” she remarked. “I realized I needed to recalibrate. Maybe this is why Alice always summoned people without bothering to warn them?”

“Oh. Oops?” Chartreuse glanced around. “Where is Alice anyway?”

The woman sighed and took a step closer. “Excellent question. That is, in fact, why you’re here. She and Beam were on a mission, and Alice was captured. My name is Fate, by the way, I’m currently in charge.”

Chartreuse widened her eyes. “Meaning you’ll need us to, like, go on a rescue mission?”

Fate shook her head. “More like a surveillance mission.” She pressed a finger to her cheek. “Though it might become a rescue mission? Eh, I suppose we’ll see what happens.”

Chartreuse nodded, then glanced around the room again. “So is Simon here?”

Fate blinked. “Who? Oh, wait, of course, the gentleman from your recruitment drive. No, retrieving him would be rather more complicated, and you’re well suited for what we want. Though if you want him on your team, that might be possible.”

Chartreuse clasped her hands. “I get a, like, team? Wow! And you’ve called for me owing to my ability to, you know, seamlessly blend into the background??”

“Eh heh. More like your ability to pick up impressions and read the future,” Fate remarked, scratching her forehead. “Leading the mission is voluntary though. Let’s go and have Beam fill you in. She’s down in the infirmary.”

***

Beam turned out to be a blonde girl in white dress, whom Fate introduced as being a sentient hologram. For her part, Chartreuse was becoming disconcerted by the number of pretty blondes she was encountering. At least they seemed a little too old for her to visualize them in a romantic way. Not that she’d ever consider cheating on Carrie, but it had the potential to be distracting.

“Did you hear what I said?” Beam asked, arcing an eyebrow.

“Hm? Oh, for sure,” Chartreuse said. “This project’s only lead on people who might be, you know, spreading dimensional knowledge was this mystery clover shape. You, like, followed up by going to a database from a way advanced reality, but, you know, got caught while trying to download information.”

Beam sat up a little in bed, but not so much as to jar the cable that was seemingly plugged into her blue hairband. She turned to look at Fate. “Girl’s smarter than she looks and sounds,” Beam remarked. “Is she single?”

“No, I am NOT,” Chartreuse said, a little louder than she’d intended. She quickly turned her own attention to Fate. “So when do I, like, pick my team?”

“Hold on,” Fate soothed. “Let Beam finish her story.”

Chartreuse looked back, to see Beam grinning. “Pardon my programming. Thing is, I got away from the place with enough information to hack the system. I can make you a member of this place’s academy, along with one other individual. You can decide who that will be.”

Chartreuse pursed her lips. “And so I, like, run around and try to learn as much as I can about what they’re doing, whether they’re connected to your clover people, and, you know, what happened to Alice?”

“Essentially,” Fate agreed. “We’d send Beam herself, but they might be able to detect her again, after what happened.”

“Um.” Chartreuse picked a random spot on the ceiling to look at as she rocked her body up onto her tiptoes and back down. “Seems harmless enough? Do I get, like, extra hazard pay?”

“I… oh.” Fate looked at Beam. “Wait, does the Project… pay people?”

“Not really,” Beam said. “Only in adventure, a better life, favours to be named later kind of deal. Or that’s how I understood it.”

Fate looked back at Chartreuse, rubbing the back of her neck. “No? You can back out though, if it’s a real issue. Or just not be the leader.”

Chartreuse refocussed, then smiled. “It’s fine. I should probably get more experience with crazy things anyway, given the direction my life has taken. So, I get to buddy with one other person out there?”

Fate nodded, and Beam added, “One thing I might suggest?”

“Sure,” Chartreuse chirped.

“Not Alijda, also known as Alison. Her close personal ties could be an issue. And I’m not only saying that because of how I made things awkward with Rose.”

Chartreuse adjusted one of the bows in her hair. “Since I don’t know who that is, or what you’re talking about, sure. Actually, someone logical would, you know, probably be a good counterpoint to me – got anyone in mind there, Fate?”

Fate half smiled. “Possibly. How do you feel about personified mathematics?”

Chartreuse was pretty sure that, despite her best efforts, she’d somehow lost the thread of the conversation. “Personified what now?”

Fate turned. “Let’s pull up her file, and if you’re okay with it, call her in.”

***

“So you’re a, like, personified parabola,” Chartreuse said slowly.

Para reached up with her hands to adjust the bunny ears on her hairband. She was another blonde, because of course she was. At least her pink dress seemed normal enough. “For the third time, yes?” the woman replied.

“Okay. Just, you know, still wrapping my head around it.” Chartreuse forced herself to change the topic. “Do you know any more about this advanced reality we’re going to than I do then? Like, math-wise?”

Para shook her head. “I only know what we both read in that report. There’s some sort of academy for multidimensional education, and they don’t like unauthorized people snooping around. But that Beam girl can give us IDs, and I’m pretty good at doing calculations on the fly, if need be.”

Chartreuse fingered the pendant hanging around her neck. “Right. Well, I know a thing or two about crystals, if that, you know, comes up.”

“We’re set then!” Para said, clasping her hands together. “I hope we can be friends.”

Chartreuse grinned. “Me too.” The bunny girl was nice enough, after all.

“Okay, I’m coming down,” came Fate’s voice from the circular opening in the ceiling. With a click, the gravity temporarily switched off, Fate bobbing down to join them back in the circular embarkation room. “Here,” she said, holding out a ring towards Chartreuse with one hand, as the other used a remote to reactivate the gravity.

“What’s that?” Para asked, as Chartreuse took the small ring and slid it onto her finger.

Fate looked towards Para. “There’s a note in Chartreuse’s file that says she needs time to acclimate her power when entering every new environment. However, that artifact should reduce any ill effects, if not fix things up for her entirely.”

“Should?” Chartreuse asked, holding her hand out at arm’s length. There was a small jewel inside the artifact, possibly jade.

Fate scratched her forehead. “Mysticism isn’t a fine science?” she offered. “But we can recall you if you hit the emergency button on your communicator. If things get bad.” She gestured towards the watches that Chartreuse and Para were already wearing.

“Meaning Alice could become trapped forever in, you know, their evil clutches,” Chartreuse sighed. “Okay, let’s do this thing. No point, you know, waiting.”

Fate seemed to look at her for a moment, as if judging her sincerity, then she walked over to the main computer. “I’ll try to avoid calling you, but feel free to call in at any time. Again, surveillance might be enough for us to get a read on the situation, you don’t need to rescue Alice yourself.”

Chartreuse nodded. “Gotcha.”

Para made a little salute. “Roger!” Then she leaned in towards Chartreuse. “That’s something humans say, right?”

Chartreuse bobbed her head. “For sures.”

Fate tapped away at the keyboard, and chevrons lit up on the floor as the portal system activated. Shortly after jumping in, Chartreuse found herself on what looked like the rooftop of a school campus. Seemed like she was headed back to school earlier than she’d anticipated.

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES MIDNIGHT EDT SUNDAY JULY 15th

<- To Story 4 INDEX 5 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
My plots were deliberately vague. Surveillance would have involved the mystery clover group, rescue would have involved retrieving Alice, so with a tie we got them both. Escort mission would have had a princess or something, probably? I’m not sure how this will develop. Your votes really do matter, please spread the word!

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Chanced Erasures INDEX

ɛ PROJECT

WB (Writing Bufferless) presents…

STORY 5: CHANCED ERASURES

Every Epsilon story can stand alone. That said, in Story 4, Fate Wallace-Wray took over the Epsilon Project, following a curious case of someone obtaining illicit dimensional knowledge. Now, according to last week’s vote, we proceed.

Story 5 of ???

STORY #5:

Following the apparent abduction of Alice, an elite squad is called in to investigate. No idea where we’ll go from here.

 

CAST:

CHARTREUSE VERMILION … A mystic teenager (from T&T)

PARA BOLA … A personified quadratic function

 

EPISODE INDEX:

1.  Taken (VOTING OPEN UNTIL JUL 15)

2. (Coming July 22)

 

Virga: Entry 3d

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT???

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Borderline: Case 3d

Melissa pulled out a ten-sided die, a d10. It was the item she had made the quick stop for, at Eric’s place, before coming over. She brandished it.

This had about as much dramatic impact as you might think – namely none – until she made a few gestures and heaved it in Melody’s direction.

(‘And I think she knew, just before it happened,’ Melissa explained to me later. ‘Of course, I’m not entirely sure how it played out, since I was immediately busy trying to pull you out of harm’s way.’ As such, I will now try to piece together what happened in a way that provides optimal dramatic effect.)

As the d10 came within a meter or so of the blonde witch, a form coalesced around it. “G-Gary?” Eric said in shock, recognizing the spectre even as it slammed into the one who had siphoned it’s spiritual power a short time ago. They both tumbled to the floor.

Eric spun back to look at Melissa, though she was now busy spilling a circle of salt onto the carpet. Always have some salt with you if you go away on a trip, by the way. Because you never know when you might need to conjure yourself back home.

“That was the die you asked for,” Eric said. “The one Gary leant me when we first started roleplaying… how could it have created…?”

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Melissa didn’t answer, clapping her hands and muttering a spell she later would not give me word for word. She says it’s not terribly useful anyway, as just like any proper spell it requires consent… where one of the key reasons it worked was because I hadn’t really consented to the original teleport (merely mistimed a wishful thought), and subsequently would rather have been anywhere than upside down, with a flame burning through the rope that was keeping me from getting impaled, as monks chanted around me.

When Melissa stepped back out of the circle she had made, I appeared there in her place – disconcertingly still in the same position, and held up by the rope, but at least without the candle above or the nails dangling a short distance from my head.

I remember one of the first things I could focus on was Melody (inverted) as she grappled with Gary’s spirit. She’d managed to stand back up, but not do much more than that. Granted, the fight – if you can call it that – mostly consisted of Gary holding Melody’s arms, to prevent her from casting easily, while trying to throw off her centre of balance, so that she couldn’t do anything else.

That couldn’t last. But it didn’t have to. Melissa, still visibly shaking with the effort of what she had already done, was preparing one last counterattack. Pulling a paper from her pocket and scribbling on it, she then pressed it to her forehead while looking at Melody and intoned, “Lapsus memoriae!”

“Ultima ratio!”

Melody had pulled her arms free. Their two spells happened virtually simultaneously.

At this point, no one is sure how much – if any – of Melissa’s ‘Memory Lapse’ worked, but Melody’s ‘Last Resort’ obviously did, as she simply vanished. My witch roommate then proceeded to crumple down onto the ground, saved from landing on her face only by the actions of Eric. I wasn’t quite so lucky, as the frayed rope finally gave out, dumping me down onto the floor.

I took a moment to take some deep breaths, and attempted to process what had taken place in the last two minutes. “Right,” I concluded, understandably upset, and shifting to a slightly more upright position as I contemplated swearing. “Could someone PLEASE tell me what the HECK just…”

I stopped.

Melissa was crying.

She always acted so in control that I hadn’t ever conceived of that happening.

Her sobs were loud, and she curled up and buried her face into her own lap, turning away from Eric, who now sat next to her looking confused, angry, and as lost as I was. I looked at him, he looked at me, then his gaze shifted towards the spectral form of Gary, which was approaching, yet already fading, growing more transparent by the second. As Eric rose to meet the spectre, I instinctively moved towards my roommate, wanting to comfort her, but lacking context, having no idea how.

“I don’t understand,” Eric said. “Are you really Gary??”

“I … take some form around Melody … had my spiritual energy,” the spectral Gary said, sounding like he was at the bottom of a well. “Your friend Melissa knew … with my magick interest as well, an item … obviously couldn’t discuss … had to be done.”

“But this means that all this time, Melody and Melissa had the power to summon you?!”

Gary shook his head, even as Melissa grabbed two fistfuls of her hair and, among the choked sobs, wailed, “Gary’s tainted, I’ve tainted him, his spirit, his memory… oh Gods, I was only going to make a point, not actually call him forth, but when she forced my hand…”

“Hey, hey … not too tainted and … choice also,” Gary said, looking continuously more etherial now that Melody had vanished to wherever. He smiled(?) down at Melissa, not that she was looking up, or that his expression was clear. “… could have ignored your summons, but this … couldn’t be … to continue. You … the right thing.”

Melissa simply shook her head, her body pitching back and forth in her curled up position on the floor. As I reached her, I realized that there was a slight sheen of perspiration on her body, as if she had a fever, but when I moved my head to her forehead – and she flinched away – I didn’t feel any excess warmth. It was, it turned out, related to casting the fairly powerful spells.

I know Melissa didn’t cast again for at least twenty four hours following these events.

“This is it then,” Eric realized, slumping. “I’ve lost both Gary and Melody.”

Gary seemed to grimace. “Melody … not so good for you. I … better that you move on … better place … myself. Goodbye, friend.” His form was just a shadow by now.

Eric reached out slightly towards Gary, only to have his spectre vanish.

Eric turned to me. “Can you look after Melissa?” he asked. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t… I can’t deal with any of this right now.”

I acknowledged with a slight nod, and Melissa’s ex made a run out the door. I reached my hand out to touch Melissa’s shoulder. She didn’t flinch away this time, so I instinctively pulled her into an embrace. I ended up hugging her tightly. She didn’t stop crying for quite a while after we were left alone.

*-*

We returned to our university town by mundane means. I didn’t actually get the backstory until three days later.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t a couple opportunities, mostly early in the morning. But I wasn’t sure how to bring it up, and Melissa didn’t say anything either. I began to worry that we might not speak of it at all, despite the explanation I figured I was owed for my part in it. But just when I had decided to address the matter the next morning no matter what, Melissa surprised me, arriving home just as I was about to change for bed, brandishing a pizza box and an apology.

“I’m sorry I got you involved with Melody, and I’m sorry, SO sorry for breaking down on you in her home,” she stated, lowering her gaze to the floor as she held out out the box like a peace offering. “It won’t happen again.”

“Oh, well… thanks,” was all I could think to say at first, both accepting the take-out box and the apology. “Though, it’s allowed to happen again,” I added. “Like, not the thing with the monks, but any time you need a shoulder, I’m here. You know that, right? In fact you’ve probably noticed that I… kind of care about you, Melissa.”

Melissa looked back up. “Because you think I have a nice ass,” she stated.

I felt my cheeks get warm. “It’s more than that,” I insisted.

Melissa seemed to pick up on my sincerity. She grimaced. “Right. Okay. Sorry again.”

To avoid looking at her, I peeked inside the pizza box. Rather nervously, knowing Melissa’s food preferences.

“I didn’t have them put peaches and broccoli on this one,” she reassured.

“Uh, right.” It seemed to be Canadian; perhaps she’d actually noticed that was my preference sometime during the previous weeks? I decided to ignore the fact that I’d had dinner about three hours ago and offered to get us some plates.

Melissa followed me to the kitchen doorway. “Did you want to hear the full story then?” she continued. “For one of your chronicles? Or do you think it’s better for us to forget all about it?”

I hesitated at that, because despite my earlier decision to confront her in the morning, I was now thinking of Melissa crying in my arms, an event which had shaken me more than I care to admit. “I… only if you’re willing to tell it.”

She nodded and gestured me over to the couch, before going and sitting in it herself. What followed was most of the story to this point, narrated with almost clinical detachment, though when it came to the part about summoning Gary, her body tensed and (unless it was my imagination), she spoke with a bit of a lump in her throat.

It was following those events, once Melissa had managed an emotional recovery in Melody’s residence, that she had immediately arranged for my transportation back to the university. Alone. She elected to stay the night. I naturally offered to stay too, but she was pretty insistent – plus I had a paper due for a class on creative writing. (Got a B, if you care.)

“So, did you hook up with Eric again during that last day?” I asked, declining the offer of a fourth slice of pizza.

“Good deduction,” Melissa said, also setting aside her plate.

She lifted her legs onto the couch, wrapping her arms around them. It was a position much like the one she’d had that day, except this time she was more composed. So it just looked remarkably cute. Particularly when she rested her cheek on her knees and some hair spilled out to the side.

“I thought he might not want to see me again,” Melissa admitted. “And I couldn’t have blamed him. But he let me in when I came to return the d10.”

*-*

“I want to hate you, Mel,” Eric said quietly, partly turned away and unable to meet her gaze. “But I can’t. You were just being you.” His fists clenched and unclenched. “If anything, I hate myself more, for pushing the point.”

“Oh, Eric, no,” Melissa protested. “You were just being… you. I mean, if I’d made more of an effort to understand you all those years ago, I might have realized…”

His eyes snapped to her. “Stop it. Just stop, Mel. What’s done is done, now I’ve got to live with it. Gary’s gone, his spirit is probably twisted, I have no spiritual advisor, and I’ll be stuck siphoning energy away from the recently deceased in that nursing home for the rest of my days.”

“That’s hyperbole.”

“Stop talking latin at me!”

“No, I meant…” Melissa waved her hand dismissively. “Never mind. Look, it’s not as bad as you say. Gary seemed glad to help you one last time, which can redeem him, and while you might not have Melody any more, I can help. With stopping the siphoning, at least. See, it’s your inability to allow people to pass on which makes you susceptible to such spiritual manipulation. That’s a trait which could be corrected.”

“Corrected? Mel, this is not a problem with my eyesight,” he protested, throwing his arms out. “The way I feel… I mean, it’s your lack of understanding these feelings I have which led me to Melody in the first place!”

Melissa winced. “Okay. So maybe reality is somewhere in the middle of us. What I meant though was I can tell you how to close off the energy flow, and Melody’s imprinting of her scent should still ensure that no one else tries to take advantage of you.”

“Imprinting…” Eric briefly lifted the collar of his shirt to sniff it. (Melissa’s fairly sure he wouldn’t have sensed the cinnamon.) “Is it possible she’ll come back for me? For good or ill?”

The young witch pursed her lips. “Hard to say. It was your name I scribbled on the paper when I cast my memory lapse spell, but I don’t know if it took, or if it did, to what degree.” She rubbed her forehead. “I’m sorry, it’s only occurring to me now that you two might have had more than a professional relationship. If I’ve screwed up your personal life here too, I’m real…”

“Oh, hey, what? Melody was twice my age!”

“Probably more than that. The magick she bled off helped her look youthful.”

“Okay, whatever… I wasn’t lying when I said we weren’t dating.”

“Okay. Good.”

An awkward silence fell. “Is that your way of asking if I’m available?” Eric finally asked.

Melissa blinked. “What? No.”

“Good, because I don’t think things would work out for us like that. Not any more.”

“Of course not.”

“James seems more your type any way. Good for you.”

“Right, he… whoa, whoa! I’m not seeing him either.” (She seemed to be blushing a bit relating this part to me, so maybe she was also a touch red at the time she said it to Eric. For all I know, I blushed upon hearing it.)

Eric chuckled. “Didn’t seem like it, but I couldn’t resist. Anyway…” He sighed. “Let’s close off my energy flow or whatever. Then you should go. I’ll call if I screw my life up again.” He smiled wryly. “Now that I’m pretty sure you’ll answer the phone, that is.”

Melissa nodded, started to turn away, then thought better of it.

“No,” she said, discovering that this time she couldn’t quite meet his gaze. She settled for a point over his shoulder. “You shouldn’t call. Something this case has shown me is that I’m more than capable of screwing up on an epic scale. Despite me trying to stay emotionally unattached, I lashed out at Melody for what she was doing. And while I maintain that her actions weren’t necessarily right… in the end, she did try to protect you, and she didn’t cause death, when she could have. I was the one who called forth a spirit. I crossed the borderline. Not her. Me. I’m the one who was in the wrong.”

Eric stared. “Melissa…”

She waved him off, drew in a long breath and continued. “Meaning you didn’t make a bad choice back then, after… after Cam. Also, you’re pretty good at fending for yourself. One personality hangup about death doesn’t change that. Thus you shouldn’t necessarily turn to me. Particularly since our history could complicate things again.”

Eric chuckled softly. “Not gonna get rid of me that easily. But I see your point.” He reached back out to pick up the d10 from the end table. “Don’t sell yourself short though,” he added. “I’m the one who dragged you in, you were only trying to help me, and the fact that you think you’re in the wrong here says a lot too.” He ran his palm back over his scalp. “But damn, girl, you need to communicate better, okay? In fact, how about if you agree to do that, I’ll see what I can do about accepting death.”

Melissa opened her mouth to reply, then simply nodded.

When she left Eric’s residence, she didn’t look back.

*-*

Melissa fidgeted a bit with her fingers before breaking her pose and releasing her legs. “So that’s the gist of it. Need anything else for your story?”

I rubbed my chin. “You really think Melody was in the right then? After suspending me over a bunch of spikes?”

My roommate shrugged. “Not entirely, obviously, but it’s hard to know her motives. She might not have let anything happen to you, James. She certainly seemed to have more ethics than me.”

“Don’t say that,” I objected. She opened her mouth to object, but I raised a finger to hold her off. “After all, you only made one rash decision in the heat of the moment. She spent YEARS with this siphoning – and who’s to say she didn’t damage a few spirits, accidentally or otherwise, on the way? Hmmm?”

Melissa squirmed a bit on the couch. “Maybe. I just feel so dirty now. Like I need a really long bath.” Before I could even think of a response to that, on account of the inappropriate images that flashed into my mind, she raised her gaze to look me in the eye.

“But more than that, I think I need your help, James. With my cases. With the human element, not to mention the technological one. Looking back, there’s at least three incidents I was involved with in the past month alone which I’m sure would have gone more smoothly if I’d consulted you on them. I… I know that this is not part of our original agreement, but can I take you on, as a partner? A sort of Watson to my Holmes?”

I blinked. So here it was, an opening into her life… one that those less naive than I surely saw coming, and one I might have been a bit more keen on before these prior two cases showed me the dangers of associating with a witch. Not to mention how it would unavoidably link me with ‘Weird Gal’ from this point forward.

(Incidentally, our situation wouldn’t even fit with her Holmes analogy, because I don’t think Watson ever admired the way Holmes looked in a shiny green nightgown. Or if he did, I’m glad we never heard about it.)

“If it helps,” Melissa continued, sensing the hesitation, “this more formal association would, in fact, attune me more to you, thus you’ll end up in less in danger than before. Probably. I’ll even scrap the chicken clause in our contract… so how about it? I mean, it’s… it’s not like we’d be dating, you know.”

“Oh, well, of course not,” I said quickly. Probably too quickly.

She briefly sucked her lower lip into her mouth. “So?”

“So… we can try it out at least, sure,” I found myself saying. Hey, it’s not like my parties with Adam had been about to lead me anywhere else. Anyway, I think I was finally realizing that both of us were naive, in different ways. Somehow, we complimented each other.

“Great!” she said brightly, and almost before I realized it, she’d leaned in to kiss my cheek.

I gasped. She turned away, either being dismissive of her act, or having been flustered by it – it was impossible to tell now that I could no longer see her expression. She stood up. “So, to make it official, I think I’ve got some Chicken Nut Brownies left in the fridge that could do for a dessert,” she finished. Her ass wiggled (accidentally?) as she headed into the kitchen.

Surprisingly, the chicken brownies weren’t half bad.

*-*

The epilogue here is once again brief, unless you’re counting the prior section to be part of it. Eric and Melissa have spoken on the phone at least once this month. So I know that Melody’s home is on the market, with all her belongings having been cleared out, no forwarding address.

I have also discovered a few things in offering to look over Melissa’s prior cases, to better understand her agency. The first being our wall clock, buried on the desk under all her papers. It needs batteries. (She really needs a better filing system.)

Second, I’ve found that the human nature aspect, which I’ll be helping Melissa handle, is liable to be helpful in my quest to become a better journalist. Admittedly, a good chunk of what I get is human reactions to supernatural forces, hardly mainstream, but it’s a start. (And yes, I’ve asked Melissa if my involvement means I’ll end up “imprinted”, and what scent I’ll give off to other witches. She manages to be charmingly enigmatic about it, so I don’t push the point.)

Finally, the bitter irony is, now that I am becoming involved more closely, I won’t be able to write about Melissa anymore. Partly owing to how I’m losing what little impartiality I previously had, but more than that, I’m rapidly sensing that the act of being involved in the cases is going to leave me with no time to write about them. Not if I want to pass first year classes too. It’s taken me a month just to finish up this account.

So, let me take the opportunity to thank you for reading to this point, and allow me to leave you with this final literary quote, which seems rather fitting given the nature of this third (and last?) chronicled case. There is something to be said for trilogies, is there not?

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.” -Richard Bach.

END
REQUIESCAT IN PACE

NEXT CASE: Balancing Act

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT???

ASIDE: What? A “Next Case” after this?? Yes, in 2012 I wrote a 50k word novella, taking place 4 years in the future as James is graduating. It features vampires, spirits, zombies, and some callbacks to these earlier cases. Perhaps I’ll post it sometime? In the interim, the plan is a return to Epsilon, and you can vote here. I hope some of you enjoyed Melissa’s third case!

Plot Voting 5

The last part of the “University Witch”/”Virga Mysteries” cases runs tomorrow, finishing off June. So, as per usual, an “Epsilon” story will fill the void between pre-written stories. In theory, school will finally be out, giving me lots of time to write, but in practice, I now have a baby daughter, so she gets priority… meaning we’ll stick with updates every two weeks.

As far as plot voting, I’m tossing out some pretty generic plots here, because (as usual) the whole story gets made up on the fly, and I don’t have much of a scaffold in mind yet. (Very busy time of year.) Feel free to offer comments on why you picked what you did, in terms of anything you’d hope to see.

 

CHARTREUSE

As far as character voting goes, Chartreuse will return from “Wish Fulfilment”, now that all of “Time & Tied” has been put on the blog. She had the highest votes after first appearing, but I wanted to get her backstory out as a matter of record. This story would then take place after all previous stories involving the mystical bisexual teen, but before “Time Untied”.

Should she appear with someone else? Let me know!

 

Thanks for reading, do consider voting and following along. After almost four years of regular posts, it would be nice to keep more than four people interested. Helps with incentive and all that.

Polls will close at MIDNIGHT after Sunday, July 1st, or that’s the plan for now. Spread the word.

Virga: Entry 3c

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Borderline: Case 3c

“So, how do you normally proceed in a case like this?” Eric asked, looking up at the apartment complex.

“Every case is different,” the brunette murmured in reply, not looking up, but rather scanning up and down the street. The area was mostly residential, but Melissa spotted a few commercial shops encroaching from the west.

“Gary lived on the 9th floor,” Eric offered. “I still have a key if–”

“I don’t need to see the apartment,” Melissa cut in. “We’re really only confirming my suspicions at this point, the case is solved… I figure we go this way,” she concluded, and began walking towards the shops.

“Oh, uh… hey, you want to let me in on what happened?”

“If you haven’t already figured it out, you will soon enough,” was Melissa’s reply. (In a way, it’s nice to know that she doesn’t only pull that enigmatic routine with me.)

They got almost three blocks before discovering the carpet store. Melissa marched right in. “Ah, you’re wondering if they’re missing any merchandise?” Eric hypothesized as he followed after.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Melissa tried to ignore the ramblings of her old friend, instead seeking out the nearest employee. It turned out to be the person manning the main counter.

“Hi!” Melissa said, flashing the man a smile. “I want to know who bought a throw rug from you last week.”

The counter man (who, Melissa remarked to me, seemed to have a rug on his head as well) sized up both her and Eric before replying. “All sales are final. Who wants to know?”

“I do,” the brunette answered easily. “I can even describe the buyer for you if you like. He was… uh…” She turned to Eric. “Describe Gary.”

Eric blinked. “What?”

“Wait, did you want to buy a similar rug?” the salesman wondered.

Melissa sighed. “No, I’m not buying a rug. Just listen as Eric describes Gary.” She elbowed her associate.

“Oh, uh…” Eric went on to provide a basic description. It’s not really relevant, so picture Gary however you like.

“It would have been last week, late in the day,” Melissa added.

The salesman nodded slowly. “Oh, right, I remember him. In fact we still have a limited number of those throw rugs in stock, if you…”

“Wait, Gary bought a throw rug here?” Eric interjected.

“He had to have, since you said it was in his apartment,” Melissa said patiently.

“The killer made him buy the murder weapon then?” Eric gasped.

“Whoa! Killer? What do you mean?” the man at the counter asked warily. “Look, what people do with our carpets once they’ve been bought is out of our hands…”

Melissa’s selective hearing now began ignoring the store employee. “Eric, your friend was not murdered. Gary chose a bad time to buy a throw rug.”

Eric shook his head. “Mel, I know what I saw at the seance. Gary said himself that there was a killer. Unless… did the rug come alive and attack him?? Man, that’s some freaky Aladdin craziness!”

The witch palmed her forehead, and let out a long breath. “Eric. Are you at least with me as far as your friend buying the rug, or do you need to see the receipt?”

Eric paused, looking from her to the counterman, who in my mind had started edging away. “I’m with you on Gary buying the rug,” he yielded. “But he could have been coerced.”

“Fine.” Melissa turned and began to walk out of the store. “We have one quick stop to make first, then you can take me to Melody.”

Eric hurried to catch up. “Melody? You… you need to team up with her?”

Once again, Melissa chose not to respond. Eric could only grumble to himself.

(“I hope,” my roommate told me during the course of providing this backstory, “that you, at least, would have figured out Melody’s connection by now. Seeing as you don’t have Eric’s blind spot for death.” Trying to look intelligent, I told Melissa that I certainly couldn’t imagine her teaming up with this other witch. However, I suspect that at this point I’d be blaming Melody for Gary’s death – which wasn’t correct either.)

*-*

Melody Nedsen’s residence was rather different from mine and Melissa’s. For one, it was actually a house, and for another, it was separate from her “business”, which she ran out of a different place. However, given the time of day and Melissa’s insistence that things couldn’t wait until morning, Eric brought them there instead.

Picture, if you will, a typical two story building, with a small balcony wrapping around the second level. It had a small lawn and straight driveway, and there were two obvious entrances. One at the front, the other at the side, by the driveway. Eric brought them to this side entrance, and knocked in a distinctive rhythm.

Apparently, Melody had at least converted one room of her place to use for ‘spiritual emergencies’, and this was the way in. She answered the door herself. Which is a good time to describe her, much as I did with Eric. Bearing in mind that the only time I saw her firsthand was when I was being suspended upside down, I can offer the following.

She was beautiful. Long blonde hair, bright blue eyes and knowing smile. Perhaps in her early fifties, but could easily be mistaken for ten years younger. Taller than Melissa (though that’s not difficult), and apparently pretty sharp mentally. Given her first remark was “Eric? What… oh.” Her eyes narrowed upon spotting my brunette roommate. “I suppose it would do no good to send you away.”

“Nope,” Melissa countered.

“Uh, Melody, this is Melissa… Melissa, Melody… please try to get along?”

There was a pause, then Melody invited them in. The side entry room had some rugs on the floor and candles around on some dressers, along with what I presumed to be magickal draperies on the wall, but it was otherwise reasonably sparse.

I guess if you’re having a spiritual emergency, you don’t need a chair.

After closing the door, Melody sat down on a pillow in the middle of the central rug, gesturing at the others to do the same. Melissa did so, her posture tense. “Quanta de spe decidi,” Melissa began.

Melody ventured a smile. “Quae haec est fabula?”

“Dixi tibi. Quid in te fecit?”

A sigh. “Si id non fecissem, aliquis id fecisset. Volenti non fit iniuria…”

Melissa slammed her palm down onto the carpet. “Voluntarius?!”

“Whoa, hey, uh, ladies?” Eric interrupted. “I, um, er… re vera, linguam Latinam vix cognovi?”

The two witches turned to glance at him, and Melody half smiled. “Oh, Eric. How long have you been waiting to use that phrase?”

“Uh, not long. I tried to brush up before going to get Melissa,” he admitted. “But I meant it. I don’t really know all that much Latin. Who is volunteering for what here?”

“Voluntarius essentially means willing,” my roommate clarified, still looking at the other witch. “She’s saying you were a willing victim.”

“A… what?”

Melody sighed again. “Melissa dear, don’t be so dramatic.” She spelled things out at this point, gesturing first at Eric’s companion, then back at herself, as she reiterated the conversation.
Melissa: “I am very disappointed.”
Melody: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Melissa: “You know very well. What harm has he done to you?”
Melody: “If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have. One who is willing suffers no injustice.”

“Eric’s not willing,” Melissa now broke back in, in English. “He doesn’t even know what you’re doing!”

“But the way Eric feels… wait. Doesn’t? As in, not even now? You haven’t explained it to him yet?”

“It’s pretty damn obvious, given how you imprinted yourself.”

Melody laughed lightly. “To you, perhaps. Not to people like him.” Again Melody looked to Eric, brushing some hair back off her shoulder. “In which case, I’ll come clean first then. Eric, I’m afraid that I have, in a very minor way, been using you.”

“Minor?! You…”

“Melissa? Shut up. Please,” Eric broke in.

The interruption brought her up short, and she looked back at Eric, as he clenched his jaw and continued.

“Obviously I’m missing something,” Eric said. “And have been for a while. But you two witches arguing is not helping me understand. So, Melody first. What do you mean by using me? Did you…” He swallowed. “Did you make me kill Gary or something?”

Melody’s eyes went wide. “Oh, God, no, nothing like that. I’ve just…” She tapped her index fingers together. “Well, for the last few years, I’ve been using you a bit like a sponge.”

Melissa snorted, her arms by now crossed back over her front, her standard angry pose. “That’s putting it mildly. Eric, Melody is amplifying her magick power by bleeding it from the dead. Through you. It must stop now.”

“It’s not like that,” Melody said, her eyes flashing as she looked back at the brunette. “Eric’s not just some conduit for me to use. Nor have I killed anyone directly with this act! All those whom I take energy from, they died of natural causes. You’re too young to understand.”

“I understand that Gary called you a killer.”

Melody’s hand was lightning quick, striking Melissa’s cheek even as the shorter witch started to raise her hand to try and block. Melissa tumbled to the side, more from shock at the speed of the act than the actual force of the blow.

“Gary was confused,” Melody said, angrily. “He didn’t understand what was happening, because I hadn’t anticipated Eric absorbing some of his friend’s spiritual energy. Interfering with my normal collection methods. It must have been owing to their close friendship, and the suddenness of Gary’s accidental death… which WAS an accident.”

“I am aware of his unfortunate death on account of the throw rug. I wasn’t blaming you directly, but it is you who has since tied his spirit here.”

“Temporarily. Since the seance with Eric, I’ve corrected the problem.”

Melissa gaped. “Corrected? You cannot be serious. This is not a problem you can correct so easily. I shudder to think of what might have happened with Cam back when you first met Eric, and started your…”

“Melissa, STOP IT!”

Melissa blinked in surprise as Eric now stood, looking down at her. His fists clenched and unclenched. The brunette righted herself back into a seating position, following her tumble due to Melody’s slap, still looking up at him. “What? Eric… don’t you get it? What she’s done?”

“Sure. I’m an energy sieve, am I? Fine, whatever. Setting that aside, Melissa, I asked you to be civil. Since it’s obvious you won’t be, and further, that Gary’s death was not, apparently, a murder, your involvement is now finished. So leave. NOW.”

Melissa swallowed. “Eric, listen. People who are associated with you who die, they’re not immediately able to pass on. They’re tied to this plane by Melody, who is bleeding spiritual energy through you – for however long she wants! She told you to volunteer your time at a retirement home for that reason.”

“*I* chose to volunteer my time,” Eric said. “To help people continue to live decent lives in their old age. Dammit Melissa, now who’s ‘theorizing without facts’? This is just like it was in high school. You still think you know everything, when really, you don’t have a clue. Because, guess what?”

He took in a deep breath before continuing. “You could have stopped all this. It was pure happenstance that I hooked up with Melody in a cafe, a week after Cam died. The only reason I pulled away from you then was because you were so dispassionate about the whole thing. I needed to talk to someone… if not to Cam, then to you… but you didn’t care, not the way I did! So Melody did what you wouldn’t – and I’m with her now.”

“But…” Melissa began, suddenly not sure what to say. She admitted to me after the fact that perhaps some of the conclusions she had drawn, while correct, had neglected to factor in the random human element.

“Melissa,” Melody broke in quietly. “You know as well as I do that for my siphoning to work without Eric’s direct awareness, he had to have a predisposition. In being a person who cannot accept the death of others, he can bind their spiritual energy here without conscious effort on my part. If I had not used that knowledge and imprinted upon him, someone else might have done much worse… even caused deaths, to exploit his weakness. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t realize we were associating from the start.”

“I… I was sixteen when Cam died,” Melissa protested, deflating. “I just wanted to get on with my life. To hone my abilities.”

“So go, Melissa,” Eric said, turning away. “Get on with your life again. I’ll stop getting in touch.”

A pained look crossed Melissa’s face. “Eric…”

(‘Things were hitting too close to home,’ she told me during our later talk. ‘My plan here had been to make Eric stop trusting Melody, forcing her to break their link. But, seeing as I’d practically sent him to her, back in high school… I was at a loss. That was when I thought of you, James. Of how you might be able to handle this, using interpersonal skills or something. I realized then that perhaps I should have brought you along.’ Which made me feel good, until I realized it’s what led to my less than stellar arrival.)

Melissa took in a breath, and turned from Eric back to the older witch. “The thing is, you’re not going to stop this if I leave, are you.”

Melody slowly shook her head. “No. No, I’m not. I’m not doing anything wrong. Supernatural balance is being maintained.”

“It’s not wrong according to our rules. But it’s morally wrong. Plus, Eric knows now.”

“So he knows. There are spells that can make people forget, if necessary. Perhaps you can even accept the use of one on yourself too, if you’re that worked up about this.”

“THAT is wrong.”

Melody shrugged. “Necessitas caret lege.” (Now there’s one for you to look up.)

Melissa rose, as did Melody in tandem with her, so that the three of them were standing. “No,” Melissa whispered. “I’m not leaving Eric. I can’t. Not this time. Not again.”

Eric turned back. “Mel…!” His voice was pleading, but it was hard for her to say what it was he was hoping for.

The two witches remained staring at each other, as if sizing the other up, waiting to see who would make the first move.

Melody’s eyes narrowed. “Melissa… you leave me no choice. Semper paratus!”

*-*

This is when I came back into it. Of course, back at our apartment, all I knew was that my roommate had pulled a new vanishing act. Melissa hadn’t told me about leaving with Eric, and while I’d poked around briefly that evening to see if she’d left a message, there wasn’t one. (Though I did find another note advising me not to answer the phone, in the medicine cabinet of the bathroom.) Hence me doing my homework. Possibly wishing to be elsewhere. Which alas only made things easier for Melody.

Without warning, I was suspended upside down over a bed of nails, with people (monks?) chanting around me. Earlier, I said this was incredibly disorienting, yes? That bears repeating. At least I now know in retrospect that it was because Melody had pulled my identity from Melissa’s immediate thoughts, and transposed me into a position of peril. Supposedly a spell the elderly blonde witch kept on standby in her home, for use in such situations, given how she only had to say “Always prepared” to achieve that effect.

It happened so quickly that all Melissa knew was that a spell had been cast, doing something which gave her a feeling of dread in her gut related to me.

“Where is he?” Melissa gasped.

“In jeopardy. Now you must deal with that, effectively dividing your attention.”

“Giving you time to take control of the situation here, and bind my powers or steal Eric’s memory.”

“Only if I must. Understand, my dear girl, that I have been doing this for decades. There were others before Eric. I’m not going to allow you to change things.”

“Melody, what’s going on?” Eric broke back in. “Let’s just let bygones be bygones, okay? I’m sorry for bringing Melissa in. It’s my fault. Just let her leave, and stop all this jeopardy talk.”

Melody’s lips thinned. “Too late for that now.”

“Because the truth of it is,” Melissa said, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “This IS my fault, for not doing something sooner. I’m sorry.”

She half turned to Eric, while keeping an eye on Melody. “You know, you’re right. I’m dispassionate. I compartmentalize my emotions. Even when I’m supposed to be having fun, like on a date, I still do it. And back then, since I didn’t seem to care about what was going on around me, I guess to you, it looked like I didn’t care about Cam. But caring… Eric, that’s when people get hurt. I couldn’t deal with being hurt, not as a witch, not with my power – lest I do what Melody is doing, and get innocents involved in a personal matter.”

Melody placed her hands on her hips. “My my, Melissa, how you do overdramatize. Please grow up. No one is truly innocent, and necessitas caret…”

“…lege, you said that,” Melissa finished for her. She took in a deep breath, returning full attention to the elder blonde. “I’m sorry. Both of you, I’m so, SO sorry. This is going to hurt me more than anyone else. But perhaps, after all this, I deserve to be hurt.”

Melissa reached into the pocket of her jeans.

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

ASIDE: If you missed it, last week I posted up my stats for May 2018. We’re back to decimal numbers of views. Anyway, hope some people are still interested in the conclusion to this tale, coming in two weeks!

May Day May Day

In May 2017 this blog got 1933 page views from 330 visitors. In May 2018 (last month) this blog got 75 page views from 48 visitors. Literally the highest and lowest monthly statistics we’ve ever seen for my serials.

Welcome to another deconstruction post, with a look at where we’re going. Maybe it will also make you feel better about your own statistics.

STATS + CONTEXT

May 2017 was, as I once said, a statistical anomaly. Tartra wrote me a review on Web Fiction Guide early in the month, Rev Fitz reviewed the site mid-May, and late in the month I had a guest post at Drew Hayes’ site. Since then, we’ve been on a decline.

MONTHLY STATS, June 2016-May 2018

Caveats: There’s been only 35 new posts over the past year, after I shifted to posting every two weeks, following rather disheartening voting results in July 2017. (Viewership also declined when I started posting more frequently though, so who knows.) In addition, the entries haven’t been for “Time & Tied”, as that serial concluded at the end of May 2017. “Epsilon Delta” ran from June to December 2017, then “Virga Mysteries” took us from January 2018 to June.

The weakest performer of “Epsilon Delta” was Part 15, with 15 views. (Others earlier on reached 17 views – some even more than 30.) “Virga Mysteries” has had a cooler reception, only 10 people reaching the end of Case One, and only 4 people starting Case Three last month. And before you say it hasn’t been around as long, the latest views were the day of publishing, and no one’s looked at “Epsilon Delta” in 2018 (the “fave character” poll sits at 4 votes), so time doesn’t seem to be a factor. You either see me the week I publish, or never.

Rev Fitz has reminded me of people who have subscribed, and don’t visit the website. I do have 18 “followers” and 2 “email followers”, whatever that means. (I’m also constantly spammed by @outlook emails claiming someone’s followed my blog. Why do more spammers visit my page than actual people? I get 20 spam comments per week. Oh well.) So there may be something to those invisible readers.

In an attempt to find some silver lining, this HAS restored decimal progress to my two week statistics snapshots. You may recall these appeared back during the climax of “Time & Tied” Book 2, in November 2015. It a funny quirk I’ve been able to track. You can manage 10.0 if you have an 8 or 9 view day; as soon as you get 10, the scale jumps away from decimals.

TWO AND A HALF YEARS LATER…

I almost managed to get a full month of ALL less than 10 views. However, on May 15th, someone gave “Time & Tied” a try right up to Part 7, netting me 12 page views, which was my highest day. Zero view days were May 4, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26 and 31. Across 268+ posts, which include a number of completed serials. (I still tweet out every update and post it to my FB page.)

Now, I should conclude this section by pointing out that I haven’t done much in the way of outside publicity this year. I’ve been pretty busy (see below). I did participate in the WFG “April Fool” swap again (I fear Rev Fitz isn’t building much traffic from me), “Serial Fiction Digest” gave me a feature shoutout at the end of March (before apparently going under), and I still get high referrers (ie- 5 per month) from Top Web Fiction, The Chaos Beast, and Redwood Crossing. So maybe that… kept things from being worse?

WHAT NOW?

As I said, I’ve been pretty busy – me and my wife are expecting our first child later this month. Melissa’s been queued up to run no matter what. My plan is still to return to “Epsilon” after (I’ll be putting my webcomic on hiatus to ensure I have time)… assuming I, you know, get votes for it. If no one cares, well, I don’t know. Look for a post late in the month starting that off.

I also hope to poke around more with “Time Untied” – yes, it really is still a thing, the 40k+ words from November have been revisited a few times since, and I still know what I want to do with it. It’s only that the first big Carrie-Heather scene has kind of blocked me, not to mention the stress of the teaching job constantly pulling me away.

In the meantime, I’ve contributed monthly comic columns to “The Time Travel Nexus” and participate in weekly webcomic chats on Discord, so you can find me there. Oh, and no 2018 coins yet this year. Interesting. I’m guessing I’ll start to see them soon?

As always, I hope you enjoyed the read. Feel free to add your voice below about anything you were wondering about, how much better/worse your site is doing, or just to offer encouragement. I’ll leave you with this AMV of a time travel/pop culture mix that you didn’t know you needed. (It makes more sense if you’ve seen the anime.)