Balancing

Virga: Act 2C

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 2c: OF VAMPYRES AND GENIES

Melissa responded to Charlie’s leap by reaching up towards me, and grabbing Trixie’s cloves of garlic out of my hand.

I had pulled them out as I reached the bedroom doorway. I’d had no real plan, other than throwing them at the vampyre, but Melissa must have seen them out of the corner of her eye, and she had a better idea.

She pressed the cloves between her palms, saying, “Sublimare.”

When she next opened her palms, the solid garlic had become completely gaseous. A gas which the vampyre inhaled as he again attempted to go for Melissa’s neck.

The vampyre (and Charlie?) screamed.

He screamed like he had just inhaled acid or something, loud enough for me to think that we’d finally alerted the neighbours to something happening here. The vampyre then clawed briefly at its neck, and collapsed. Or rather, Charlie’s body collapsed, as Melissa was about to clarify.

“The Culicinae spirit’s fled,” Melissa said, visibly shaken as she attempted to get back onto her feet.

I gave her a hand in rising, and she shot me a look of thanks. It was surprising how much that made this feel like old times.

“It’ll have retreated back to safety, with the Somnalibus,” Melissa added. “Thus inside Amy’s dream. We’ll need to retrieve the demonic control object, then return to the hotel so that I can perform another invocation, allowing us inside your friend’s dream world. To deal with that vampyre spirit for good.”

“I’ve already been inside Amy’s dream,” I offered. “And I likely will be again. If that’s helpful.”

In fact, it had happened to me once more on my trip over here. Fortunately, not for long, and as I was driving away from an intersection, so not at high speed. Otherwise, there could have been an accident.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Melissa shot me a look of mild surprise. I don’t often manage to elicit that sort of response from her, and felt perversely pleased.

“You were holding the knife too,” she deduced immediately. “Okay, I can work with that. First, to the washroom.”

By which she meant the last room in the apartment that she hadn’t investigated. Immediately upon opening the door, she saw that the oddly ornate mirror, which was hung overtop of the medicine cabinet, was emitting the glow she was looking for. It’s… probably best not to dwell on the fact that the bathroom had been selected as the location for spying on Amy’s dreams.

Melissa waved her palm over the glass.

“Okay, it’s all the vampyre’s doing,” she decided. “It trapped the Somnalibus here as a way of corrupting Halko, in order to eventually get itself a body.”

“Then Charlie’s innocent in all this?” I wondered.

Melissa shook her head. “Not really, he knew what he was doing. Okay James, first you kill or banish the vampyre that’s in Amy’s dream. Otherwise it might get strong enough to escape back into its realm.”

I frowned. “But don’t you want it to go back in its realm? Rather than running loose in ours?”

“He seemed more the type to return here with friends. I think we have to nip this one in the bud. Now, once you’ve dealt with him, I’ll shatter the mirror to release the Somnalibus – which will also eliminate the peculiar crack that this object seems to have generated between us and the Culicinae. Understood?”

I did, actually. Which didn’t mean there weren’t problems. “Thing is, I have no more garlic to attack the vampyre with.”

“Irrelevant, you’ll have to use dream world garlic anyway. Don’t worry, so long as our vampyre is in there, he’s vulnerable to that reality.”

“Amy’s dreams also have no garlic though,” I added.

“Makes sense, because the vampyre was controlling Amy’s dreams through Charlie. However, the Somnalibus should be able to exert more control now, if Amy allows him. Which she can do, seeing as she’s now lucid dreaming. Besides, there’s always the knife, decapitation kills most anything.”

“Um, and how exactly are we supposed to identify this demon – or the vampyre, for that matter?”

“It’s Amy’s dream, not mine,” Melissa said, starting to sound irritated. “Check inside lamps, maybe? You know her better than I do, James, you’ve just spent several weeks with the girl.”

“But I don’t–”

And with the momentary ringing in my ears, I was back inside Amy’s dream.

We seemed to be in a movie theatre now, in the main lobby. There were a handful of others present, but I was able to spot Amy once more, by virtue of her purple hair. I even managed to walk towards her this time, reality not reasserting itself quite as fast as before.

It seemed Amy was talking to a guy in a trench coat and hat. That was a new development.

“It could be an ex-boyfriend after me,” Amy was saying to TrenchCoat, before spotting my approach. “Oh, hello again James.”

I picked up on a bit of resentment there. I imagine she wasn’t thrilled with how I kept coming and going.

“And who’s this then?” TrenchCoat demanded.

“This is James. My current boyfriend,” Amy answered with a little sigh, before fully turning to me. “I was just explaining to Sham Spayed here about my stalker problem.”

The ‘boyfriend’ thing worried me, but then, this was her dream. I decided to take the comment in stride. “This is the private investigator you were going to see earlier,” I deduced. “The one who vanished.”

“Mmm,” Sham said, noncommittally. “Yeah, sorry about being called away suddenly, but I’m on the case now. So, Ms. Lampana, you said you had only a knife with which to defend yourself? Let me have a look at it.”

I immediately realized that the reappearance of the private investigator, and disappearance of the vampyre in reality, couldn’t be complete coincidence. Also, that it might be a bad idea, letting the PI have the knife that was acting as a focus for Amy’s lucid dreaming.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t voice any of that, because I again found myself back in Charlie Halko’s bathroom.

Melissa had apparently used the intervening time to pull the mirror down off the wall. (She later told me that she’d also checked that Charlie’s pulse was normal. In the end, once he came to, Charlie was pretty shaken by the incident. He swore off internet videos, which meant that Amy didn’t have to take out a restraining order against him.)

“We’re going back to the hotel,” the brunette declared, upon seeing me alert once more. She then half led, half dragged me back towards the apartment door, in passing switching off the lamp that she’d illuminated.

“Wait,” I protested, still parsing what I’d seen in Amy’s dream. “From what I just saw, I think I’d better return to the dreamworld, sooner rather than later.” Another thought occurred. “And is there some way to prevent me from being pulled back and forth at these really inconvenient times??”

“Let’s get to your car,” Melissa said succinctly. “Once there, I’ll put a conditional on you, allowing you to be in the dream permanently from that entry time up until, let’s say two minutes after you next touch the talisman knife. If you return to reality before I can enter as well, I’ll know it’s time to destroy the mirror. Sound good?”

“Two minutes? What if I need more time?”

“Don’t. I want to smash the mirror as soon after the vampyre’s defeat as possible, to prevent other incursions. But breaking it will free the demon, and subsequently cause Amy to wake up. You’ll really need to be out before then.”

“Oh, good…” I think that was Melissa’s way of telling me I might become trapped in the dream.

By this point we were in the hall, having closed Charlie’s apartment up. That seemed to be the cue for one of the adjacent apartment doors to open a crack.

“Hey, uh, did you hear screams?” a guy said tentatively from behind a chain lock.

“Tenant here REALLY didn’t like the mirror we brought him,” I offered up, thinking fast and gesturing at the object Melissa was holding.

“Ah.” A pause. “Right.” The guy’s door closed again.

People believe what they want to believe.

We hurried out to my car, this time with Melissa in the driver’s seat, the mirror tossed into the back. She turned to look at me.

“Incidentally, if you get the chance, ask the vampyre how it knew my name. If I’m becoming known outside of our realm, I’d like to know why. Now, are you ready?”

I took a deep breath. “I think I –”

“Dormis,” Melissa stated, tapping her index finger on my forehead.

***

I was back in the movie theatre.

The first thing I noticed was Amy and the PI both holding onto the knife from before, with him seemingly examining it. Now, I know that in theory once you start lucid dreaming, you don’t suddenly forget you’re in a dream, but we were bending the rules as it was – plus one can spontaneously wake up from a lucid dream, and I’m not sure where that would put me.

I quickly strode the two paces back over, saying, “Amy, don’t lose your grip on the knife.”

I almost reached out for it myself, before remembering that doing so would start the countdown for my own exit from the dreamworld. There was a lot to keep track of here.

Amy turned back to me. Her grip on the weapon remained firm, which was good as it seemed to me like Sham attempted to use her momentary distraction to jerk it away… but then maybe I was reading too much into him shifting his weight back and forth.

“James, can you stop running off already?” she said, trying not to sound exasperated (and failing).

“Yup,” I affirmed. “This time, I’m here until the conclusion.”

I shared a glance with Sham, the PI. His eyes narrowed a bit, but otherwise he remained pretty inscrutable.

“Fine, well, keep the knife then,” he concluded, releasing his own hold on the object.

Amy slipped it back into the pocket of the jacket she was wearing, still mostly looking at me. Possibly wondering if I was actually me, or if my declaration meant she’d manifested me as part of her dream. Hopefully my knowing about the knife’s significance was proof enough for her.

“Now, Ms. Lampana,” Sham droned on. “I know you said you preferred to keep somewhere public, but that won’t be possible all the time. Best we set up a situation now, where we can coax this stalker of yours out of hiding. We’ll confront him before he becomes violent.”

“Really?” Amy said, dubiously. She looked at me.

“Actually, yeah, the sooner the better,” I agreed.

My reasoning was, with too many people around, it would be really hard to get a read on where the vampyre was hiding. Moreover, if Sham’s setup seemed sketchy, I’d know he was the vampyre. Plus, in the back of my head, I was worried that the longer this went on, the more likely Amy would wake up of her own accord, possibly trapping me.

“Oh,” Amy concluded, rather nonplussed.

In retrospect, I completely understand her reaction. Sham and I were effectively telling Amy to put herself in harm’s way of a stalker. If it makes you feel any better about my insensitivity, Trixie gave me what for about this later, smacking my head as she pointed out that I was an idiot for not considering what kind of suggestion that was for a female.

“Don’t forget, ultimately you have control over what happens,” was all I said at the time.

She smiled uncertainly at that. After all, this was only a dream. A lucid dream that, by now, Amy should have had some control over.

Which was when it struck me how pedestrian things had remained. No magical beings or flying cars to be seen… Amy was either keeping things low key, or had not yet bothered to exert her will on the situation.

Had it been me lucid dreaming, I suspect by that point I’d have tried flying, or casting spells the way Melissa could. It made me even more aware of how incompatible Amy and I might be, long term.

“Good, then here’s what I’m proposing,” Sham went on, oblivious to the situation between us.

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Virga: Act 2B

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 2b: OF VAMPYRES AND GENIES

“Declino,” Melissa called out, thrusting her palm out in front of her. Her spell deflected the flung frying pan off to the left. This knocked it into one of the nearby upright lamps, nearly making it topple over.

“Watch out for my lights,” Charlie shouted at her, baring his teeth in anger. Which was Melissa’s first real clue as to his nature, what with two of his teeth being pointed fangs.

“Oh, perfect,” Melissa said sarcastically. (For the record, I seem to have taught Melissa sarcasm to the point where she now does it without me there. Is that good?)

Opting for avoidance, my former roommate faked left, then moved right, throwing open the doors of one of the other closed rooms. It was the bedroom, and again, pretty much what you’d expect to see there, albeit in this case including the existence of more lamps. Also, a couple of printouts of Amy in different wigs tacked up on the wall.

Nothing seemed to be glowing. So either the item controlling the Somnalibus in Amy’s dreams was in the last room, or it had been quickly hidden away somewhere.

Charlie was fast, though. Melissa has since remarked that it’s the fast reflexes and healing properties of his breed of vampyres that make them formidable opponents, rather than their physical strength. She barely had time to turn before she was being forced to back up, right into that bedroom.

While there existed the option to flee through the window (it was only the second story, plus there was a chance of grabbing at the nearby balcony – albeit equally a chance of getting tangled in the large black curtain), Melissa didn’t like her odds of getting back into the residence afterwards.

She grabbed a lamp instead, brandishing it in the a dim light entering from the main living area.

“I’ll smash this into the dresser,” she warned.

“I’ll stop you in time,” Charlie countered, poised to spring. “And then you’ll regret it.”

“You can’t be a hundred percent sure, or you would have jumped by now,” Melissa countered. “Perhaps we could talk about this.”

“You broke into my place, there’s nothing to discuss,” he shot back.

“How about the fact that you’re being possessed by a vampyre spirit of the Culicinae realm, who’s been gaining power over you by having a Somnalibus demon respond to your commands.”

Charlie stared. “How did you work THAT out?” he said, rather taken aback.

I was rather impressed myself (after the fact), given how Trixie had needed a few minutes of web searching to come to the same conclusion.

(“It was a bit of a reach,” Melissa told me later. “But along with his fast reactions and pointed teeth, there was the comfort of blackness in his place, the playing up of an obsession implying a compulsive personality, and finally a faint buzzing noise when he spoke. Trixie can research all she likes, it’s no substitute for being out in the field, James.”)

“Irrelevant,” is how Melissa responded at the time. “The point is, unless you actually WANT to become a being that requires blood for sustenance, Charlie, you need my help.”

A few emotions ran over Charlie’s face at that point. Melissa wasn’t able to describe them to me, at the time she simply held her ground, figuring any sudden moves would only help the vampyre spirit reassert itself.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

After what the brunette estimated to be about five minutes, but which no doubt felt even longer, Charlie spoke again. “I… I just want it to be over,” he said.

Melissa almost relaxed.

Charlie bared his fangs. “And if were to drink the blood of a true spell caster, like yourself, my transformation would finally be complete.”

Melissa pursed her lips. “Right, well, that’s not going to happen,” she sighed. “So, better decision, we excise the vampyre, so that it can be destroyed, freeing you to make more sensible choices.”

The dark haired man stared, and then bared his teeth again. “You are no match for us. For ME. Surrender now, and I promise not to drain you completely dry, witch.”

“Several minutes to think, and yet you still make the wrong decision,” Melissa said with another sigh. She raised her free hand into the air to snap her fingers, whilst muttering under her breath, “Illusio, Culincinae!”

Immediately, her form changed. Bumps appeared on her forehead, as two of her teeth lengthened into fangs. She drew herself to her full height, and then a bit more, before glaring, her green eyes momentarily flickering red.

“What about now?” Melissa challenged. “Same strength and speed as you, plus magical control. I suggest YOU surrender.”

Charlie took a half step back – only to reassert his pose and look smug. “I’m not stupid,” he declared. “A transformation like that is impossible to maintain. And your type cannot weild magick with the intent to cause harm, even against – I’d even say particularly against – your own self. So you cannot change your body chemistry to be vampyric on a whim, any more than I could change into a bat at any time of my choosing.”

Melissa stared. “No?”

“No. Otherwise, your human body would rebel, the same way humans need compatible blood when receiving donations. No, young witch, I have seen through you. You are out of your league here.”

Melissa’s eyes narrowed. “You seem to know an awful lot, considering you’re from another realm, Culicinae.”

Charlie – or really the vampyre, as Charlie had almost completely given up control by now – shrugged. “The more the balance on your Earth is thrown off, the more the barriers are breaking down. Faster and faster, of late. Perhaps it would be a mercy for you to die now, before it gets really bad? I can help you there.”

Melissa snapped her fingers in the air again, dispelling the illusion she’d crafted about herself. It had obviously not had the desired effect, and took at least marginal effort for her to maintain, effort she preferred to put elsewhere. Though she remained standing as tall as she could.

“Thing is, I’m going to keep it from getting really bad,” she stated coldly. “Starting with you.”

That brought the vampyre up short even more than Melissa’s vampire image had. There’s a certain tone she brings out on occasion, one that brooks no argument, and when accompanied by a look, Mel can have people obeying her almost before they know it.

Then, as if sensing he was on the verge of losing the advantage (or possibly losing control back to Charlie), the vampyre sprang.

Melissa threw the lamp at Charlie’s head.

With the reflexes of a cat, he caught it in midair with one hand, as his other moved to deliver an uppercut.

But Melissa wasn’t there any more.

She had edged to the side, then jumped over onto the bed. After one jump to turn her body back around – as well as test the springs – she coiled her body up, then sprang for the ceiling.

Accomplishing a flip around in midair, Melissa landed back in the bedroom doorway, and then strode quickly out of harm’s way. Or that had been the plan, at least.

The vampyre was a little bit faster than her.

Charlie had swiftly set the lamp aside, then headed back for the door, rather than aiming another blow for Melissa in the air. As such, he managed to grab a handful of my witch friend’s long hair as she fled through the doorframe, then used his hold to yank her back inside.

This had the added bonus of pulling her off balance.

He then twisted the hair around his hand, pulling Melissa’s head off to the side and baring his fangs. She could feel his breath on her skin as he moved to sink his teeth into the unobstructed view of her neck.

“Saeta!” Melissa gasped out.

With that, Melissa’s hair came alive. At least, it did so in that it attempted to twist away from Charlie’s grasp, while at the same time frizzing up and getting in his face, blocking the easy path to her skin.

“Pffth!” the vampyre said, now having to try and spit out a mouthful of her elegantly shampooed hair in order to again go for the jugular. Facing away from him, her next move involved lifting her foot and kicking back towards his legs.

Melissa was successful with one blow, which was immediately followed by the vampyre shoving her into the wall. Hard, and headfirst.

Melissa was unable to brace herself, or prevent her body from collapsing onto the floor, but she at least managed to turn so that the two of them were facing each another once again. She then raised one hand, preparing to deflect the next attack, her hair still attempting to defy gravity as it waved in the air.

In Melissa’s later account, she told me that it was only at this point that she really considered going on the offensive. However, I will say that she has some difficulty with that sort of mindset, plus she wanted to avoid too much collateral damage to the apartment complex. In particular, fire, her best bet against a vampyre, was liable to spread, particularly given the abundance of curtains and other flammable material.

Even as she considered her options, the vampyre grabbed the bedspread and threw it at where she sat on the floor, following it up by leaping at her himself. He was probably reasoning that she’d be preoccupied with removing the sheet, leaving herself exposed to attack.

Except Melissa simply let the spread fall upon her, which made it even more difficult for the vampire to find an opening. Granted, it also served to restrict Melissa’s movements even more.

Ultimately, the vampyre found itself trying to yank the sheet away again.

Which is where he got a bit of a break, in that one of Melissa’s arms had become tangled in the folds. So, by tossing the sheet back behind himself, she was pulled back towards him, and the fabric fell away, giving him another clear chance at a bite.

Her palm went to his chin, to keep him from biting. But at this point, there was no way she could keep him off her indefinitely, not without causing collateral damage.

This is when I arrived.

Trixie’s skeleton key having been successful at granting me access to the building, I burst through the still unlocked apartment door, quickly taking stock of the situation.

Namely, nothing happening, a flickering lamp providing the only light. But it sounded like there was a scuffle in the bedroom.

“Melissa?” I called out, risking drawing attention to myself as I hurried towards the doorway.

The vampyre froze. “Melissa… not Melissa Virga?” the possessed Charlie said, his eyes growing larger as he looked down at the brunette witch.

“Behind you,” Melissa said, throwing her voice to a position near his right ear. (Have I mentioned Melissa picked up ventriloquism in her youth?)

The vampyre jerked his head that way, allowing Melissa to smack his face, spinning him off balance for a change, the diminutive brunette then scurrying out of his clutches and off towards me, though never taking her gaze away from him.

“How can you know me?” she demanded.

Because he had, in fact, used her full, true name, not the pseudonyms I’m using as I publish Melissa’s cases here.

He simply stared at her again. Then the grin came back, and it made my blood run cold.

“I can be the one to ensure that you never restore the balance,” the Culicinae vampyre declared, his eyes taking on a hint of the crazy. As if it no longer mattered what happened to him. “I can be a hero to my realm.”

And with that, the vampyre launched himself at her once more.

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Virga: Act 2A

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 2a: OF VAMPYRES AND GENIES

Bizarrely, I found myself standing in an office. And not Melissa’s office either.

Feeling momentarily disoriented, I took a half step back before evaluating my surroundings. Large wooden desk, coat rack, filing cabinet, no obvious windows. That is, the door had a window, but the glass was frosted. Had I just been magically teleported somewhere? If so, it wouldn’t have been the first time.

Lacking anything better to do, I moved to open the door and peer outside.

On the other side of it was Amy, although she seemed to have purple hair. Like in one of her reviews, except it didn’t look like a wig, the colour looked completely natural. She looked equally startled to see me.

“James?” she said in confusion. She looked down at the rather familiar knife in her hand, then back up. “Did I summon you here? Because the private investigator I was hiring a minute ago just seemed to vanish on me when I turned–”

And then just like that, I was back in the hotel.

“–like an idiot,” Trixie concluded.

“Whoa, what?” I placed a hand to the side of my head to steady myself.

“I said you could actually suggest pertinent details from Amy’s recurring dreams, or continue to stand there like an idiot,” the redheaded witch reiterated without missing a beat, still scrolling through the internet using her electronic device.

“I think I just saw it,” I admitted. “She was with a private investigator.”

“Vampyr PIs, okay, that narrows it down to Moonlight, Angel, Forever Knight, maybe True Blood – no, wait, Blood Ties…” Trixie stopped and looked back up. “JUST saw? Wait. Were you also holding onto the talisman when Amy fell asleep?”

“Yeah.”

Trixie stared. “Huh. That’s either brilliant, or idiotic. I know which direction I’m leaning, but then again, maybe you do have some usefulness after all. Go fig.”

She finally lowered her keyboard to continue. “Look, there’s a good chance Amy’s dreams were being used as a kind of self insertion fanfiction. Can you recall anything more about a dream motif on her end that might lead us towards the kind of vampyr we’re dealing with?”

“Uh…” I tried to recall some of the information I’d previously passed on to Melissa. “The theme was often film noir, so not a lot of sunlight.”

“Yeah, but no vampyre types like sun, it doesn’t even kill all of them, and right now it’s 11 PM, so Missy can’t use that. Next?”

“Okay, euh… oh, countdowns. There was almost always a countdown to some event or other celebration in a lot of the dreams Amy could remember.”

“So now we’re leaning towards the more OCD vampyres, like the ones from X-Files or the Count from Sesame Street. Better. More?”

“I…”

With a slight ping in my ears, I was back in Amy’s dreamworld again. This time I was standing in a lobby. It seemed likely that I was in the same building that the PI’s office had been in during my last trip, as I saw Amy walking across the open area, towards the front doors.

“Amy!” I called out to her, hurrying to catch up. “Where are you going?”

She turned. “James? You’re back! I… I was thinking I should be somewhere surrounded by people. Or should I just wake up? I mean, if the investigator was Charlie, and he’s not here any more?”

“No,” I said hastily, which I then attempted to clarify. “There’s been complications. What I need to know is –”

How could I put it incredibly succinctly? There was no telling how much time I had left here! But just like that, I had it. “Is there anything that you particularly enjoy in real life, that you never, ever, remember having or seeing while you’re inside of these dreams?”

Amy blinked, and her brow creased a bit as she looped a bit of purple hair back off her ear. “Wow, no pressure, huh? Um… oh! Would garlic bread count? That and bruschetta, it’s never on the menus in the restaurants which–”

“–are being increasingly unhelpful,” Trixie concluded in annoyance, as I adjusted to my return to reality.

“Garlic,” I said firmly. “Garlic’s been absent from Amy’s dreams. It must be a particular weakness.”

“Says who?” Trixie said dismissively. “Vampyres have heightened senses, which are irritated by items like allium sativum.” Then her head canted to the side, one of her two red twintails swishing over her shoulder. “Unless?”

She resumed tapping at her keyboard.

“Unless?” I prompted after a second or two.

“Culicinae realm,” the redhead muttered. “It fits, but realistically there’s no way Charlie would know about it. Still…” She punched a final button, then spoke into her phone. “Rixi, garlic cloves.”

“All right,” the device intoned back. It didn’t sound like Siri, the voice was an electronic variation on Trixie’s own voice. “Accessing.”

Having backpedalled a step or two at the sound, I stepped forwards again. Only to take another step back as a small globe of light appeared, hovering over the screen. Inside the glowing sphere, what looked like a few cloves of garlic appeared; Trixie grabbed them, which dispelled the light.

Sensing (or expecting?) my amazement, the young witch shot me a knowing grin. “My own personal Siri, connected to my magical hammerspace. Did I mention I have an IQ of 151?”

“Um, no,” I said. I supposed I could believe it, she seemed to know exactly what she was doing. “And why do you have a hammerspace full of garlic?”

“I’ve had to eat Missy’s cooking,” Trixie said with a shrug. “Remind me to impress you more later, for now, we’d better get this to my cousin.” She strode over towards the door – which I now realized had been partly ajar throughout the whole conversation – then looked back at me expectantly.

“Trixie, I can’t leave Amy,” I pointed out, gesturing at the bed.

At that moment, my Asian friend stirred a little, and I found myself standing outside on a street, no doubt in her dream again. However, this time, before I could even get a handle on exactly where Amy was, I was back in the motel room, so all that really happened was I missed the gist of what Trixie was saying. Something about driving.

“Sorry, mentally absent again,” I apologized.

Trixie pressed a palm to her forehead, and then spoke with deliberate enunciation. “Me no license. Cannot teleport somewhere new. Car faster than broom. You drive?”

“I can, but someone has to stay with Amy,” I reiterated. “If she gets in trouble in the dream, someone may need to wake her up.”

“Seriously?” Trixie made a bit of a pouty face as she stared at me. Just as I was wondering if her interpersonal skills were really any better than Melissa’s, she reached out to grab my hand.

“Fine,” the redhead said, handing over the garlic, along with another object that she pulled from her pocket. “Skeleton key,” she explained as I looked down at it. “It’s how I got in here.”

She then rattled off an address and apartment number. “But hurry up,” Trixie finished. “While I’m sure my cousin can hold her own, it’s better for all of us if she doesn’t get bitten by any lurking vampyres in the process, hm?”

Given how it had already been close to five minutes since I’d sent the text, and from what I recalled of the town’s road map, it was liable to take me another five to get over to Melissa’s location… I hurried up.

***

For her part, Melissa hadn’t wasted any time in shutting her phone completely off after receiving my message. She even admitted later that she hadn’t fully read what I’d sent, so perhaps I could have texted anything. For the sake of the narrative, I’ll give you the gist of what happened here, as I was talking with Trixie.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Focused on the task at hand, Melissa began by using a picture of a key (and a little magick) to trip the lock on the apartment complex. When that worked, she decided that the complex itself wasn’t housing a lot of witches, or at least that there was not liable to be any magical protection outside of Carlie Halko’s apartment.

Melissa then proceeded up the stairs and to the apartment door in question, taking just a moment to listen against it, figuring it was possible that Charlie wasn’t alone inside. As it turned out, she was correct in that, though not in the typical sense.

Hearing nothing, she gently tried the door – locked, eliminating the excuse of meaning to have gone next door – and proceeded to knock.

Some might find this tipping of her hand to be a curious decision, but understand that Melissa had held some hope that Charlie would be reasonable when confronted with the truth of the situation. Plus there was always the chance that she and Trixie had been wrong about his involvement, and on top of this, Melissa says deadbolts are a pain to deal with, even using magick.

There was no answer, but my former roommate later indicated to me that, at this point, she thought she heard someone moving around inside. Melissa then tried to open the door using the old trick of sliding a piece of plastic between the lock and the doorframe. (Well, it wasn’t plastic per se, but you get the gist.)

This being a more conventional way to break and enter, it could have tipped her off as to the extent of actual magical protection on the door, as well as informed her as to how much force she might need to use on a more unconventional attempt.

However, with a click, it felt like the door completely unlocked at this one attempt.

That immediately ramped up Melissa’s level of concern. Either Charlie was way too overconfident, or he was forgetful, or… he was otherwise prepared for this sort of eventuality.

She turned the knob slowly and pushed the door open.

At that point, all Melissa could register was that it was dark. Even the curtains leading to the small balcony were blacked out, meaning the only light spilling in was from the hall.

Committed now, Melissa took a step or two, attuning her senses to the talisman that Amy had, looking for a trace of it to pinpoint the Somnalibus as soon as possible.

The door swung shut.

Melissa ducked instinctively, having caught sight of movement out of the corner of her eye. The frying pan whizzed over her head, and the person swinging it was put off balance. (Of note, her small stature can be an advantage at times like this.)

During Melissa’s initial scan, in the available light from the hallway, she had remembered seeing a light switch, and dove for it now. Hoping to gain the advantage, given that Charlie’s eyes were obviously attuned to the darkness, while she had the opposite problem.

But despite flipping the switch, no light came on.

Melissa hadn’t brought a flashlight; she doesn’t like to weigh herself down with useless items. So her backup plan became a lamp on a nearby table.

Ducking again and heading over, she didn’t even fumble for the lamp’s switch, instead reaching out to touch the bulb, then calling, “Luminarium!” The lamp switched on, revealing… a lot more lamps.

As far as layout went, Charlie’s apartment door opened into a main living area and kitchen. Apart from the closet (where Melissa deduced that her assailant had crouched when she knocked), there were two other doors. But what really drew her attention now was how a lot of available space was taken up with lights and lamps.

Ones that Amy had reviewed in her online web series.

Of course, Charlie was also visible now, brandishing the same frying pan which he’d swung earlier. He was of medium build, with short dark hair, wearing a button up shirt and pants.

“Witch!” he called out, recognizing the use of a spell (and not, presumably, fumbling a ‘b’). He flung his frying pan right at Melissa’s head, despite blinking to adjust to the illumination.

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 1F

Previous INDEX Next Act

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1f: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

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

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

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

“Also, she’s rude and insensitive.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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

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

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

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

However.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At last, I had a pathway forwards.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, uh… vampire?”

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

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

“Sh-Should I wake Amy up?”

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

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

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

“Okay, so, Charlie’s a vampyre…?”

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when things got really crazy.

END ACT 1

Previous INDEX Next Act

Virga: Act 1E

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1e: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

The whole investigative process took us about three weeks. The first of those were merely to determine the guy’s online alias (which involved a few false starts, as to begin with we hadn’t even known Amy’s crazed fan was a ‘he’), then there was one additional week for Melissa to pinpoint his location. Though… perhaps I shouldn’t have said ‘us’.

As Melissa had suggested, I spent all that time with Amy, after moving back to my hometown and staying with my parents.

The justification was that I was keeping Amy safe, being a sort of bodyguard, as well as gathering information. Which was partially true – I did get some hints about pieces of dreams, and information about fans who had sent her messages in the past, all of which I relayed on to Melissa.

Yet at the same time, I couldn’t deny that I was also taking the opportunity to see what life would be like without the presence of supernatural investigating. What life would be like without Melissa.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. On some level, that worried me.

I thought I’d be yearning for Melissa’s arms. Instead, I was realizing that half the time my interactions with her had involved me trying to make sure she had an income, and was functioning in modern society. The other half of the time had been spent trying to figure Mel out – her deductive skills, her thought processes, her romantic preferences, et cetera. For the first time in a long time, I no longer felt like had to concern myself with those things.

I DO grant that part of the trouble there could have been my balancing all of that with university classes as well. We all need some downtime, and I hadn’t had any of that in a long time either. Now I had both downtime, and time away from Melissa.

However, in a related note, I wasn’t seeing supernatural events everywhere, which others were writing off as natural phenomena. And that had been one of my other big concerns. Had Melissa known that I needed to experience this?

Finally, there’s the fact that Amy was kind of fun to be around.

I watched her do one of her online episodes, and helped to lay some of the groundwork for her newsletter. We went on what some might classify as dates, though neither of us admitted to each other that that’s what a dinner out was. (My parents, you might imagine, had no problems with the label.)

I also watched Amy sleep, in what we assured ourselves was a purely professional capacity, to see if there were any clues to be garnered there. There didn’t seem to be. (Note I didn’t actually share her bed, and I tried to behave in as much of a non-creepy way as possible.)

Then, I got the phone call.

“Amy’s stalker creep is Charlie Halko,” the female said on the other end of the line. “Missy wants you to bring Amy to a motel just outside the town where he lives. Within the next two or three days, if possible. I’ll email you the info, it’s not overseas or anything. Alright?”

I stared at my phone. “W-Who is this?”

“Trixie. This is James, yeah?”

“Yes… um, you’re working with Melissa?”

A pause. “O. M. G,” the female said at last. “Four years, FOUR FREAKING YEARS with my cousin, and she NEVER mentioned me?”

I did a quick scan back in my semi-photographic memory. “No…?”

Come to think, Melissa had never mentioned any relatives at all, not that I’d ever asked. But I suppose it stood to reason that someone within her family would have made a good replacement for me.

“Missy is SO going to hear from me about that!” came Trixie’s sharp voice. And she hung up.

I never got the email, instead getting the particulars from Melissa herself, when she called me an hour later. Apparently Trixie had told her to “send James the info your own damn self, he doesn’t know me”. More on Melissa’s cousin later.

Amy and I met up with Melissa Virga two days following, at the motel she had recommended.

***

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“So here’s the thing,” Melissa said, pacing back and forth in front of the motel room window. (I’d drawn the curtains, of course, so no one could see us. For all I knew, this Halko guy had magical means of knowing Amy was in town, and was looking for her.) “Charlie must be using some kind of item to control the Somnibulus. Problem: I’m going to have no way of identifying what that object might be, and defusing it, unless it’s active.”

“So you need me to fall asleep,” Amy deduced. She was sitting in the only chair in the room, at the desk near the television. I was sitting on a corner of the bed.

Melissa made a little gesture, indicating agreement. “You released a new episode two days ago, and James told me that you’ve had the most difficulty getting a restful sleep in the days after a publication. Plus it’s now Friday night, a good time for Charlie to stay up, so you’re liable to be targeted. Which brings me to our next problem: To have the Somnibulus demon release you of his own free will, we need to make your dreams less hospitable to him.”

I blinked and exchanged a glance with Amy. “How do we do that?”

“Lucid dreaming,” Melissa clarified. “That is, becoming aware of the fact that you’re in a dream, and taking control of it. It’s the best way. Somnibuli hate that, they basically become at your mercy rather than the other way around.”

“I’ve heard of the concept,” Amy agreed. “But I have no idea how to do it.”

“Oh, I figured as much,” Melissa said offhandedly. She finished her most recent bout of pacing over by a small bag she’d brought with her, reaching in and pulling out an ornamental knife. “That’s why I’ve enchanted this object to act as a focus. Upon seeing it in your dream, you should realize the truth of your situation and be able to act as you like.”

Amy’s eyes went a little wider. “Okay… one, what guarantee do I have that your focus will show up in my dream at all, and second, why a KNIFE of all things?”

I found myself answering. “It makes sense that if you go to bed holding it, the enchantment will take effect, bringing it into the dream with you. As to the object itself, either the knife was particularly easy to enchant, or Melissa was considering the need for self defence. Or a combination of the two.”

“That’s pretty accurate, well done,” Melissa said, lightly tapping the fingers of one hand against her other palm in light applause. “You haven’t lost your edge.”

“No, wait, hold on,” Amy protested. “Are you saying I’m actually going to have to FIGHT this demon thing??”

“Doubtful, but you may need to bare your teeth a little, yes.” Melissa extended the hand holding the knife.

Amy continued to look at it a bit nervously. “Okay, no, wait, I need a moment here,” Amy said at last, sliding out of her chair and away from Melissa’s arm. “Why didn’t you warn me it was going to come down to this three weeks ago when you first diagnosed the problem? Isn’t there some other way to handle these demons?”

“No. And I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to risk your dream reactions tipping the demon off, otherwise Charlie might have shifted his target to someone else. Making it impossible for me to locate this fan and solve this problem,” Melissa said, her tone casually dismissive. “Besides, it’s not like you could have prepared.”

Amy made a face. “You don’t know that. Also, I’m not good with knives. What if the demon takes it, or otherwise manages to get control of the dream away from me?”

Melissa sighed. “I don’t know, but according to James, the demon hasn’t been giving you images of anguish and torture to this point. Why would he start now?”

“Because now I’d be actually trying to annoy him!” Amy pointed out. She shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself, and it was again obvious to me that she hadn’t been kidding about getting flustered by the unexpected. “I’m not sure I’ll even be able to fall asleep at this rate.”

Melissa now let out a sound of exasperation, while rolling her eyes. “Well, I’m sorry this doesn’t fit in with your world view. But look, James will be staying here with you! Right? The way he has been for the last several weeks, to keep you out of danger, and to wake you up if necessary. All better?”

Both girls turned to look at me at that point. Amy’s expression was almost pitying, as if it was dawning on her that Melissa really was a heck of a roommate to have had for four years. Melissa’s expression… was, as always, harder to read, but it seemed almost… wistful? Could it be that she’d hoped to bring me along with her to Halko’s?

I decided I was merely seeing what I wanted to see.

“No, not all better, but with James here, I suppose there’s a better chance of me enjoying myself tonight,” Amy said after a moment. Her tone now struck me as petty, but again, might have been imagining it.

I also nodded agreement, though I’d kind of expected that I’d end up staying behind anyway. So I wasn’t upset with Melissa having volunteered this duty on me. Heck, it would hardly have been the first time she did something like that, usually my own safety being part of the equation.

“Just one more thing though,” Amy said, finally taking the knife and holding it gingerly. “Is it true that if you die in a dream, you die in real life?”

Melissa merely rolled her eyes again before looking at me. Which, I must point out, wasn’t a denial.

“James, to activate the talisman, just have Amy say ‘Incipio’,” Melissa said. “Oh, and send me one of those text things once your friend’s fully asleep. That way I’ll know it’s time to break into Charlie’s apartment. Got it? Good.”

She headed out before waiting for a response, though I suppose my not protesting or calling her back was response enough.

With that, I turned my attention back to my former schoolmate. “Let’s focus on positive thinking at this point,” I suggested, knowing Melissa had utterly failed to address Amy’s concerns. “From what I’ve read about the Somnibuli, this guy will take one look at the knife and run. No problem.”

I managed a smile, and she smiled back.

“Thanks, James.” Amy then glanced idly about the room, as I stood and went to lock the door for an added show of security. “You know, in under a month we’ve progressed from dinner to checking into a motel together,” she said. “At this rate, people will talk.”

The thought hadn’t even occurred to me. “Uh, yeah. Guess it’s a good thing you’re not famous enough yet to have paparazzi?” I fired back. Then, seeing her smile vanish, I back-pedalled. “Sorry, that sounded better in my head.”

Amy shook her head. “Oh, it’s not that, it’s just… well, I suppose in a way it is that.” She stood herself, moving to the bed and curling her legs up. I rejoined her, again sitting on the edge.

“It seems to be a human thing,” she continued. “To want to be popular, to want to have our fifteen minutes of fame, huh? Yet now here I am, a borderline celebrity, and look where it’s got me. Attacked by a crazed fan with a pet demon.” She shook her head. “And if I get any more popular, I may not have a life of my own to look forward to… or not a private one, anyway. Do you think people would be trying to dredge up gossip on me?”

“Uh, I don’t know.” I tried to think of something cheery to say. “At least you’re not an author, like me. We’re pretty much disregarded, barring the off chance of a story being turned into a movie or a television serial.”

“James…”

Making light of the situation obviously wasn’t helping. “Sorry,” I said again, this time reaching out to put my arm around Amy’s shoulders. She leaned into me. “You don’t have to keep doing your lamp reviews, you know,” I pointed out.

“Oh, I know,” Amy sighed. “But I enjoy it And I don’t want to disappoint the few fans I have. Of course, being a part time waitress to help pay for it, that I can do without. Maybe I should have aimed for better than a three year degree.” She shook her head. “I guess my life just isn’t going quite how I pictured it would.”

“Life never does,” I granted. “Unless you’re Melissa.”

Amy turned to look at me, her expression hinting at a frown. “What?”

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 1D

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1d: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

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

“Mel…”

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

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

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you keep telling me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Promise anyway.”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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