Melissa

Virga: Act 1E

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1e: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, I got the phone call.

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

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

“Trixie. This is James, yeah?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I managed a smile, and she smiled back.

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

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

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

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

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

“James…”

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

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

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

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

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Virga: Act 1D

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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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Virga: Act 1C

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1c: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head. “Nope.”

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

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

“I guess you don’t,” Amy said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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

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

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

“Melissa…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh, Melissa…” I cautioned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I… I’m not sure anymore.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. For sure,” I agreed.

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

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

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

“Angry with me?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 1B

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1b: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

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

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

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I heard my dad sigh.

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

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

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

My mother, however, was not our client.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly where was I supposed to start fixing this mess?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My old school friend shrugged. “Green.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Magic,” Amy repeated, obviously still unsure.

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

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

I blinked back. “What?”

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

“Ah. Well, uh…”

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

Or was there something more to it?

Previous INDEX Next

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

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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? (UPDATE: Yup, in 2019.) 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!

Virga: Entry 3c

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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.

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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!