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