Virga

Virga: Entry 3d

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT???

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Borderline: Case 3d

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

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

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

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

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

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

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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

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

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

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

“Ultima ratio!”

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

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

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

I stopped.

Melissa was crying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

“That’s hyperbole.”

“Stop talking latin at me!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay. Good.”

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

Melissa blinked. “What? No.”

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

“Of course not.”

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

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

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

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

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

Eric stared. “Melissa…”

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

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

Melissa opened her mouth to reply, then simply nodded.

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprisingly, the chicken brownies weren’t half bad.

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

END
REQUIESCAT IN PACE

NEXT CASE: Balancing Act

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT???

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

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Virga: Entry 3c

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Borderline: Case 3c

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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

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

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

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

Eric blinked. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

“Nope,” Melissa countered.

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

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

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

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

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

“Dixi tibi. Quid in te fecit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A… what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Minor?! You…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I understand that Gary called you a killer.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Melissa, STOP IT!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“THAT is wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

“Where is he?” Melissa gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa reached into the pocket of her jeans.

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

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

Virga: Entry 3b

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Borderline: Case 3b

As I entered the kitchen, Melissa was leaning against the counter, eating what seemed to be a bowl of jello with pieces of fruit inside it.

“Um, Melissa,” I began cautiously, “Next time, if you don’t want me to answer the phone, maybe you can–”

“Look, if you want to know about my history with Eric, just ask, don’t dance around the subject,” the brunette said sharply, jabbing her spoon out in my direction.

Well, naturally I was curious. But a question and answer session honestly hadn’t been my intention here, I’d mostly been hoping to avoid messing up her weekend any further. So, since I do have SOME sense of self preservation, and five minutes obviously hadn’t been enough time for her to calm down, I turned to leave.

I’d just passed through the doorway when I heard her spoon clatter back into her bowl. “I’m… sorry,” she called out. “That was rude of me.”

I turned back, a little surprised at her admission. After all, even at the best of times Melissa barely seemed to take note of the effect her remarks had on others. She set her bowl aside, brushed some hair back off her shoulder and folded her arms again. “Moreover, Eric probably would have come by here anyway, so it’s not your fault,” she stated. “It’s just… him and his attitude, they bring out the worst in me.”

I edged back into the kitchen, not sure if it would be proper to agree with that sentiment or not. I settled for, “Ex-es know how to pull our strings.”

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

She half smiled at that. “Why James, are you speaking from experience?”

“Uh…” I’ve mentioned I’m a naive guy from out of town, right? I did have a date for the prom, but that was about it. I considered bringing up the experience of Frank, from the last case I’d set to paper, but fortunately, she didn’t seem to expect me to answer the question.

“It’s not like Eric was really my boyfriend anyway,” she continued, lips tightening. “We went out on dates a couple times in high school. The relationship ended badly. Since then, I’ve made sure people are aware that my work takes priority over any sort of emotionalism.”

I decided to press my luck a bit and continue the conversation. “You mean something bad happened with Eric because you had put your work secondary?”

Melissa’s half smile returned. “You’re theorizing without the facts again.”

I believe I looked appropriately sheepish. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, it’s kind of cute.” She stared at me for a few more seconds, then reached back for her bowl again. “Anyway, relationships are just messy,” she declared. “Though for the record, the situation here was that a mutual friend of mine and Eric’s was diagnosed with a terminal illness.”

With that, she sighed and had another spoonful of jello. The fruit cubes (apples?) crunched as she bit down. I wasn’t sure how to react to her latest comment, so I said nothing in hopes that more information was forthcoming. It was.

“There was nothing I could do of course, magickly or otherwise,” Melissa continued after swallowing. “Even if it wasn’t against my principles surrounding death, keeping our friend alive would only have prolonged his suffering. However, you may have noticed that Eric has acceptance issues regarding death? He wanted to be able to communicate with our friend after he passed on. In fact, both of them seemed to be amenable to that idea.” She frowned. “I’d have thought that Cam, at the least, would have had more sense.”

I assumed correctly here that Cam was their mutual friend, and waited for Melissa to down another mouthful from her bowl. Her eyes narrowed after she swallowed.

“Of course, I think Eric may have talked him into it, and since they knew of my early dabblings in magick, they thought I could help. But of course, I strictly forbade it, and made it clear that if they tried something so idiotic, our friendship was over.” She paused. “Cam understood. But me and Eric didn’t speak after that.”

Her expression became wistful, and perhaps understandably, there was another pause at this point. Finally, I simply had to break the silence myself. “Why was their plan such a bad thing?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer.

Melissa’s jello bowl got tossed aside again. “Because trying to tie people to the mortal plane after their time has passed… it messes with the natural order of things.” There was anger in her tone once more, and she jabbed her spoon out at me. “Death is a natural consequence of life. Whether it’s an accident, a suicide, or simply a dramatic demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man, death is simply one of those things you have to live with.” (I’m fairly certain her pun was unintentional.)

“Furthermore,” she went on, pushing off the counter and beginning to pace, “attributing every death, no matter how unjust, to some malevolent spirit is the height of arrogance on our part. What Eric can’t seem to understand is that we’re not immortal beings, nor do we need the supernatural in order to seriously screw ourselves over. Furthermore, I’m a witch, not a scientist or a psychologist.”

I tried to reconcile this new information with what I knew of Melissa to this point. “Yet working on your cases, you have saved lives,” I pointed out. “Was that wrong?”

“Oh, of course not,” Melissa sighed. “I’m not saying that you should sit and watch if someone’s going to get hit by a bus. What I’m saying is that when somebody DOES pass on, any attempt by us to hold them to this plane does nobody any good. If anything, we make the victim even more susceptible to supernatural attack!” She frowned, and leaned back against the counter. “For instance, not all evil spirits were evil to begin with.”

I didn’t doubt her, but was still having some trouble. “Yet how can you be so sure there WASN’T something supernatural in the death of Eric’s friend? That something else isn’t holding him to this plane? You didn’t even hear him out.”

Melissa didn’t answer right away, and when she spoke, even I could tell she was being evasive. “Eric called me out of the blue last year,” she remarked. “His grandmother was dying. He was wondering if maybe I’d changed my mind about talking with the dead. Obviously, I hadn’t.”

“That doesn’t mean this friend didn’t die in a supernatural way,” I insisted. “And since the person’s already dead, what’s the harm in looking into it – using non-supernatural means if necessary? I think you’re smart enough to do it that way.”

Melissa chuckled. “Thanks. Thing is, I know Eric. Whatever he’s doing, it’s a job best left for the police. Besides, he obviously has some other witch he’s associating with.”

“Oh.” I frowned, recalling that part of the conversation. “Were you serious about the scent thing then? Never mind, I’m sure you were,” I corrected myself immediately. (I know Melissa doesn’t like being asked if she’s serious.) “It’s only, Annie didn’t have a scent… or did she?”

Melissa gestured vaguely. “The smell is more tied to a witch’s associates than the witch herself, and has to build up over time when casting.” She frowned very slightly, but then gestured dismissively. “Another witch has to attune herself carefully to recognize it anyway, you shouldn’t worry about being around me.”

Which I thought might be Melissa’s attempt to put me at ease, given my natural follow up question was whether I was somehow being marked by my recent associations with her. Though her comment raised it’s own question. “Why did you attune yourself to pick it up on Eric then?” I asked.

That one seemed to catch her off guard, as Melissa opened and closed her mouth once before responding. “I… to be sure Eric has other resources,” she declared at last. And if I didn’t know better, I’d have said she was flustered. “Which he does,” Melissa added. “Which is good. Because I don’t want to have anything more to do with him!”

That said, she shoved herself away from the counter. “I’m heading back to my room now. Feel free to finish off the jello.”

Melissa stalked past me, and seeing as I was still assimilating all that she had told me, I let her go. However, with a passing glance at the bowl she had left behind, I did call out to her, “What’s the fruit you have in this?”

“Potatoes and turnips,” Melissa called back, before closing her bedroom door.

I left the jello for her.

*-*

My next involvement in this case involves me being suspended upside down over a bed of nails with people chanting all around me. Distressingly, this wasn’t even something I had a chance to prepare myself for – one moment I was typing an assignment on my computer in my bedroom, and the next, all the blood was suddenly rushing to my head as my world got turned upside-down.

Of course, I’m not sure how one would prepare for that sort of thing anyway… but that’s beside the point. Luckily for you, no matter how tempting it is for me to drop you into that puzzling situation as well, Melissa later provided me with some context that you might appreciate first.

You see, my little talk with her had had more of an effect than I’d realized. According to Melissa, the more she wondered about whether there really could have been a supernatural connection, the more something nagged at her.

“It felt like, in my casual dismissal of Eric, I had missed something,” she explained to me in the aftermath. “A feeling which persisted until, despite my better judgement, I got back in contact with Eric as he was leaving town…” She grimaced. “And went with him to investigate his friend’s death.”

What follows is a rough transcript based on what Melissa told me, and what I know of her and Eric’s personalities.

*-*

“I knew you would understand!” Eric said gleefully upon Melissa’s arrival at the bus stop/train station/airport. (Keeping it anonymous here. Pick your transportation of choice.) “I knew that finally you–”

“Look,” Melissa interrupted, poking him in the chest. “I’m not sure why I’m doing this. Maybe it’s because you’re an old friend. Maybe it’s in hopes of compensation. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing more interesting happening at the moment. However, if you push your luck, I’m GONE.”

Her tone and facial expression must have made it clear how serious she was, because Eric fell silent. He didn’t speak again until they were already on their way out of town.

“Did you want the particulars?” he voiced at last.

Melissa stopped staring out the window and turned back to him. “Alright,” she sighed.

“My friend’s name was Gary,” Eric began. “We met in college, through a role playing club.” He paused. “I think part of the reason that we became such good friends was that he also believed in magicks. It’s rare to find people like that, particularly where I live.”

Melissa raised an eyebrow. “Did this Gary consider himself a warlock?”

Eric frowned. “I thought you once told me that ‘warlock’ meant ‘traitor’.”

She grunted. “So you do remember that conversation.”

“Mel, just because I don’t usually like what you say, that doesn’t mean I don’t listen. So are you asking if Gary was a traitor?”

Melissa shook her head. “No. Thing is, you’d be surprised how much a person can learn by simply using that word instead of ‘wizard’. Both about the individual’s knowledge of magick, and about them as a person. I mean, I’m not sure when the history books got rewritten to change the ‘warlock’ definition, but male magick practicioners are an odd bunch.”

“Hm. Then to answer your question… no, he didn’t use either word. In fact he never even tried to do illusions. Gary thought it was too dangerous.”

“Smart guy.”

“Maybe if he’d known some spells, he’d still be alive.”

Melissa posture tightened. “Don’t start. Don’t even start.”

Eric’s jaw clenched in response. “Sorry.”

My roommate resumed her scrutiny of the window. There was another extended silence. “Fine, how did he die?” she asked at last.

Eric’s posture relaxed marginally. “The official story is that he slipped on a throw rug, banged his head on a corner of his end table, and had a lamp fall on him.”

“Ow.”

“Yeah.”

Melissa turned. “Still, seems straightforward.”

“Except Gary didn’t OWN a throw rug.”

“Oh.” The witch tugged on a lock of her hair. “Odd theory for the police to come up with then.”

Eric shot her a glare. “Are you taking this seriously??”

Melissa rolled her eyes. “Yes, Eric, I am being serious! But I still don’t know why I’m here. I mean, what, are you just using your friend’s death as an excuse to talk to me again?”

He flinched. “Wow, Mel, really?”

Melissa belatedly back-pedalled. “I mean… I am sorry that you… lost someone,” she offered. “It’s just, I’m not clear… look, Eric, how does the supernatural come into this?”

Eric continued to stare for a moment before returning his gaze forward. “Well, the way I see it, the rug was planted by someone. Someone who had probably been inside the apartment, and who, accidentally or otherwise, killed Gary.”

“Which is NOT necessarily supernatural,” Melissa said patiently. Then her eyes narrowed. “Eric, I hope, I really, truly hope that you don’t expect me to conjure up Gary’s spirit to ask him who did it.”

“No, I already… that is… ah, heck, you’d figure this out anyway,” Eric sighed. “Melody already said that Gary doesn’t know who it was.”

Melissa crossed her arms. “Melody,” she murmured, switching mental gears onto this new name. She exhaled slowly through her mouth, then inhaled sharply through her nose. “So that’s the witch I can smell on you?”

Eric cast her another sidelong glance. “What… literally smell? I thought you were joking.”

“Have you ever known me to joke? No, she’s actually either taken the effort to imprint herself on you, or you’ve known her for a couple of years at least.” (So I suppose I’m safe – for the moment.) Melissa’s nose twitched. “I’d say Melody’s sort of cinnamony.”

“Ah. Weird,” was her companion’s only remark. Eric then went quiet, yanking lightly on one of his earlobes.

Melissa began to get a very bad feeling in the pit of her stomach, as suddenly a couple of the pieces about the situation interlocked for her. “Eric, how long HAVE you known her?”

Her bald companion shrugged. “I don’t remember exactly…”

“Eric. HOW LONG?”

It seemed like he wasn’t going to answer, which itself was enough to confirm Melissa’s suspicions. She was just about to call him on it, when he provided the answer. “Since Cam.”

Melissa swore again, her fists clenching involuntarily. “That’s why you pulled away from me after he died? So that you could get this Melody girl to do what I strictly forbade? What is it with you and girls nicknamed Mel, huh?!”

“I didn’t go out with Melody!” Eric protested. “And I’m not proud of it, okay? But I couldn’t bear to lose Cam. Not like that. Anyway, it was just a seance or two, it’s not like me and Melody have been trying to raise the dead.”

The brunette witch somehow resisted the urge to slap him. “You’re even stupider than I thought,” she accused. “Even spells for talking to the dead, if not done properly, can act as a conduit for evil, or they can warp the morality of the spirit invoked, they’ll even–”

“Melody did what you refused to do,” Eric interrupted angrily. “Naturally she took precautions.”

“For Cam’s sake I bloody well hope she did.”

“He was my friend too, Mel!” Eric shouted at her; she met his renewed glare with one of her own.

Then she abruptly leaned in closer, to sniff at his neckline.

“Dammit, what is WITH you?” he said giving her a shove back into her seat. “I’m starting to regret ever contacting you again.”

“I’m not surprised,” she retorted, eyeing him more closely. “Tell me, when this Melody made a supernatural connection with your friend Gary, what exactly did his spirit have to say? Did he say that he’d been murdered?”

“Yes.”

“He used the word murder?”

“Yes!”

The brunette witch peered at him, using one of her ‘under the microscope’ gazes.

“Well, no, not exactly,” Eric amended. “But Gary said he was still partially tied to our world because the killer was hiding. Then our connection was broken. Melody wasn’t able to discern who Gary meant by ‘killer’. But his apartment door was locked from the inside, so this couldn’t have been a typical assailant. It had to be supernatural.”

“And that’s when you thought of me.”

“Yeah.”

Melissa almost leaned in to sniff at Eric again, but then thought better of it and wiggled herself back into a comfortable position on her seat instead. Meaning resting her feet up on the object in front of her, folding her body as she crossed her arms again. Her gaze became one of serious thought. “You trust Melody?” she asked after a moment, without looking at Eric.

“I do,” Eric replied. “So if you must talk with her, please don’t badmouth all the efforts she’s made on my behalf.”

“And how long have you been volunteering your time at a retirement home?”

“Ever since my grandmother went into… wait, how in the deuce did you know about that?”

“Because I know why I’m here now,” Melissa sighed. “Why I felt I had to come. But I wish I didn’t. Damn, damn… don’t talk to me any more, I have some things to sort out.”

Shooting her one final look, which Melissa caught out of the corner of her eye and said might best be described as a mixture of puzzlement and irritation, Eric did as she requested. And by the way, regardless of the form of public transportation you pictured, you can also assume that, by now, no one else was going to bother Melissa either.

The next event which has a bearing on this case occurred when Eric and Melissa arrived outside Gary’s apartment building. (I’ll spare you the intervening time – Melissa says that the only notable thing to happen was them having a meal together. I can only assume Eric ended up paying the bill.) So, let’s fast forward to that.

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

ASIDE: Rev Fitz has been putting together information about how to promote your Web Fiction. I included a blurb about Twitter in his post here. Feel free to agree/disagree!

Virga: Entry 3a

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Borderline: Case 3a

I can only assume by now that you know I am James Conway, roommate and chronicler for supernatural detective Melissa Virga. If you are not aware of this, you should perhaps read the previous two cases I’ve published, because portions of this third story represent a bit of a departure from Melissa’s normal actions, and as such I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea about her.

Of course, she is still a second year university student living just off of campus, who is known by the nickname ‘Weird Gal’, primarily because of the agency she runs out of our apartment. (Similarly, I am still a somewhat naive freshman who moved into the place sight unseen.) But while Melissa kept what you might call a “professional distance” from the last two cases I’ve laid out, this one became rather more personal.

Allow me to begin at the start of my involvement, because to begin at the very beginning would necessitate tracking back a few years, and it’s best to let those events fill in as necessary. (Particularly given the need for me to keep Melissa’s true identity hidden.)

First, let me say that my participation was purely accidental. You may recall that, following the first case I witnessed, I became curious as to my roommate’s other cases – so I poked around in her papers, and talked with that one client, Annie. What followed from that was a dramatic demonstration of the dangers in pursing any sort of association with a witch.

This meant that, while I wasn’t exactly concerned about being possessed by an electrical entity, I wasn’t about to go looking for trouble. As such, I started to spend a number of evenings studying (okay, and partying) with my classmate Adam. Part of me was hoping that I might hook up with some other girl, to get me past the little “Melissa crush” which I’ve remarked on.

After all, if I’m not at home, not only am I staying clear of any dangerous cases, I’m also not liable to be tantalized by the way my roommate fills out a pair of jeans. Unfortunately, I never really clicked with anyone, and it was largely due to my absences that I rather missed the boat as far as Eric was concerned.

You see, Eric Hill (as I’ll call him) was a former classmate of Melissa’s back in high school. Their relationship was… well, for the moment, let me just say that they didn’t get along. All I knew on this particular Sunday morning in October though, was that Melissa’s phone kept ringing continuously for several minutes.

It wasn’t that Melissa hadn’t turned on her answering machine either – the phone would ring three times, stop before the machine had a chance to pick up, then resume ringing again. So, since Melissa was apparently out, and this person wasn’t about to leave a message, I decided to pick up. I actually made the decision to do so after the first minute of the caller’s persistence, but it took me some additional time to locate the phone inside of Melissa’s filing cabinet.

“Hello,” I said into the receiver, suddenly realizing I didn’t know how to refer to Melissa’s Agency. “Uh, can I help you?”

There was a response, but I completely missed it.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

I became rather distracted by the sight of Melissa’s bedroom door being thrown open, and her jumping out and ordering me to “Hang up!”. I believe she was using that no-nonsense tone of voice too, the one that gets a person to obey without even thinking about it. Despite that, I didn’t respond immediately. She began to stalk towards me, repeating her command, but the problem – and the reason for my continuing hesitation – basically came down to the fact that she was wearing a nightgown.

Despite rooming together for over a month now, this was a sight I had never seen before.

As another brief digression, let me remind you that Melissa’s sleeping habits were highly irregular – you may recall that she’s been fully awake at 2am before. In fact, I had begun to believe that she simply slept in her clothes whenever she found herself in need of a recharge.

So, having her present herself to me in sleepwear, at 10am on a Sunday, caught me off guard to say the least. Add to my surprise the way that the material of her gown (which was a bright green) had a bit of a sheen to it, creating an overall effect that helped to bring out her green eyes, and the fact that her brown hair was rumpled in a rather fetching way, and you can (hopefully) understand why I simply stood dumbfounded, holding the phone receiver up to my ear.

But enough of that. The point is, it wasn’t until Melissa was two paces away from me that any words began to register, the first being those of the male voice on the other end of the line.

“Look, I’m coming right over,” he said, right before our connection was severed by Melissa punching the disconnect button.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” my roommate asked, angrier than I had ever seen her before. Which, admittedly, isn’t THAT angry, but it was a change from how unflappable she usually appeared. “I told you to hang up!”

“Oh, uh, sorry,” was my sheepish apology as I looked away. As much out of shame as to prevent further visual distraction. “I didn’t realize you were resting.”

“As if I could sleep with that incessant ringing,” Melissa snapped back at me. “James, I asked you several times NOT to answer the phone this weekend!”

I quickly searched my memory for such an event. I do have a semi-photographic memory (which is what helps me write these accounts), and had only been home for a short while the day before. I hadn’t seen Melissa then, and tracking back to before the weekend gave me no additional hints. When had she spoken to me about this?

Feeling even more chagrined, I realized I had no idea. “Uh, when was that?” I asked meekly.

Melissa let out a quick breath between her lips, then turned to her desk. She shuffled around a couple of sheets, plucking one from the mix and holding it out in front of my face. It read ‘James, seriously, do NOT answer the phone!!!’ and was signed ‘Virga’.

I blinked. It was about to dawn on me that her version of telling me had involved leaving me notices strewn around the apartment. “I… don’t make it a habit to search your desk,” I said.

She rolled her eyes. “There’s another note in the textbook you left in the kitchen. And in the freezer next to your ice cream.”

“Why not on my bedroom door?”

“I couldn’t find any tape, and adhesive spells don’t work very well with paper.”

“Why didn’t you take the phone completely off the hook?”

“Legitimate clients would find it hard to get hold of me then, wouldn’t they?” Melissa fired back. “I did put the phone away in the filing cabinet, or had you not noticed that as well?”

Truth be told, I’d given up on understanding her filing system, but by now, I saw Melissa’s arms were folded and she was giving me a rather exasperated glare. Sensing that this was all perfectly logical to her, I thought it might be wiser to move on.

“Well, sorry,” I apologized again. “The guy did say he was coming over though, so you might want to chan–”

She grabbed me by the shirt. “Eric said he was coming here?”

“Um, yeah,” I affirmed, making the logical leap to the fact that it had been Eric on the phone.

“I’m not home, and you haven’t seen me,” she concluded. “This is my weekend off.”

With that, she released me, spun around, and vanished back into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

At this point, I figured that she was simply taking a few days away from her business to handle schoolwork, thus deferring any cases to Monday. Which was wrong, given how she’d talked about legitimate clients reaching her. Moreover, the fact that she had known Eric’s name just from the way he phoned should have been my first hint of a connection between them.

*-*

Eric showed up some ten minutes later. I used that time to try and think of a polite way to get rid of him. I had toyed with the idea of simply not answering the door, but given how insistent he’d been with the phone, such a tactic wasn’t likely to work very well.

So when he knocked, I opened the door, barring the way inside while holding a pencil and notepaper. “Hi!” I greeted pleasantly. “Miss Virga’s not available right now, but if you leave me the case particulars I’ll–”

“Where is she?” Eric interrupted, trying to peer around behind me.

I guess this is a good enough time to describe him… he was about my height, seemed reasonably fit, and was probably university student age – though it was a bit hard to tell, given that he was bald. His choice of attire was a T-shirt and jeans, mostly hidden by an overcoat. (If it helps, perhaps you can picture a shorter Kojak without the lollypop?) Anyway, not especially imposing, but as I found out, very stubborn.

“She’s unavailable,” I repeated. “If you’ll just tell me–”

“Who are you?” he demanded, shifting his attention from the room to me, the person obstructing his passage. “Melissa’s latest boyfriend?”

That one brought me up short. The idea of Melissa dating anyone had never seriously occurred to me, let alone me being her ‘latest’ boyfriend. What didn’t help either was how the idea might have crossed my mind once or twice.

Eric capitalized on my moment of confusion, pushing past me to enter the main room. I slipped around, back into his path. “I’m her secretary,” I offered up, not wishing to get caught up in the details of our rooming situation. Then, to try and turn the tables on his questioning, I fired back, “Who are YOU?”

“I’m Eric. Melissa’s ex-boyfriend,” he stated.

This constant string of surprises really wasn’t fair to me at all.

He got as far as looking around behind her desk this time, and was making a move for her bedroom, before I could head him off again. He sure as heck wasn’t getting in THERE, not with Melissa in her green nightgown.

“Well, as you can see, Melissa’s not here,” I reiterated. “Why don’t you come back tomorrow?”

“I’m only in town this weekend,” came his quick reply. “She knows that, from when I phoned her on Friday.”

His arm met my chest – but he wasn’t about to dodge past me a third time, not with that lame line. “Look, this is a place of business,” I said, raising my voice and ignoring for the moment how it was also my residence. “If you have a personal grudge with Melissa, this is hardly the–”

“I have a case for her, a friend of mine is dead!”

Okay, so, with that one he was able to get by me and knock at Melissa’s bedroom door.

“Hey!” I protested, resorting to grabbing at his arm by the overcoat so he couldn’t turn the doorknob. “I said leave the details with ME. Or come back later. Melissa isn’t–”

“Oh, nevermind, James,” came her voice from behind the door.

It swung open then, and Melissa slipped out. She closed the door behind her, leaning back on the wall with her arms folded, and glared at the both of us. Again, though I’ve said she’s only a little over five feet tall, comparatively, at that moment, it felt like I was only five inches in height. (Incidentally, she had changed into jeans and a sweatshirt.)

“Sorry,” I mumbled at her yet again, but her anger was swiftly zeroing in on Eric.

Melissa’s nose wrinkled slightly as she sniffed the air. “Interesting scent,” she observed. “Since you’ve apparently been seeing some other witch regularly, why not have her deal with your problems?”

“Because she only lets me talk with spirits, she doesn’t do detective work,” Eric answered. He also seemed a bit more deflated now that he was in Melissa’s presence. I chalked it up to her glare. “I need more than that. I need to know who killed him.”

Melissa’s jaw clenched. “I should have known.”

“Mel, listen…”

“I don’t… do… DEATH!” she stated, punctuating each word with jabs to Eric’s chest. “You of ALL people know that. If evil spirits are manipulating the living, that’s one thing. Once people are dead, that’s out of my hands. That’s a border I cannot cross! Whoever it is, you have to let them go, Eric.”

“I can’t.”

Melissa swore. My jaw dropped – I’d never seen her lose her cool that way. She then marched between us to lean against her desk, facing away, towards the window. Eric didn’t pursue her, apparently knowing enough to give her some time after that outburst.

“You’re a damn fool,” she reiterated after a moment, using slightly less colourful language. “Eric, you haven’t changed in three years.”

“And I won’t dispute that,” he answered. “But I still need your help.”

“So what,” Melissa inquired, still without turning, “makes you think I’ll help you this time, when I have never done so in the past?”

Eric shuffled his feet a bit. “I came in person?”

Melissa finally turned back. “Get out.”

“Look,” I piped up, aware that the smart thing to do here would be to retreat somewhere else. (Sometimes I do the smart thing, but this wasn’t one of those times.) “Obviously there’s a history here that I don’t know. But, setting that aside, if someone has died because of the supernatural, shouldn’t we do something to make sure it doesn’t happen again?” I mean, Melissa had always seemed pretty conscientious about preventing issues that might happen later.

“That’s not what this is about,” Melissa said, tight lipped. “Right, Eric?”

“It… might be,” he said, in a rather unconvincing way.

“It’s about using the supernatural to solve a routine death,” she explained, looking to me. “Eric is nothing if not predictable.”

“Oh,” I said, briefly taken aback. “And if we did that, it would mess with the supernatural balance on Earth?”

“Right,” Melissa asserted.

“That’s not a sure thing,” Eric protested. “Mel, you’re just twisting the facts here to get rid of me.”

“Is it working yet?”

Eric’s expression tightened. “Fine. Fine, have it your way,” he said after a moment. “I’ll investigate things on my own.” He turned and strode purposefully back towards the front door. “You know, you haven’t changed in three years either,” was his parting shot before he walked out and slammed the door behind him.

Melissa stood silently, face turned away from the door, not watching him leave. I fancied a bit more colour appeared in her cheeks when he spoke his last words, though whether it was anger or embarrassment, I don’t know.

She then breezed past me, not to her room, but to the kitchen.

I gave Melissa five minutes before I joined her.

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

ASIDE: This case was written in 2009, five years after Case 2. In a way, it was me dealing with the death of my grandmother (who died of natural causes). Stay tuned to see how it plays out, there’s four entries like usual.

Virga: Entry 2d

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2d

Fortunately for me, at the moment, the entity’s attention was on Annie… while Annie was managing to focus on Frank, and not the blue energy being that started sinking down into him.

“Did you think that by not saying anything, I wasn’t hurting?” she challenged him. “Damn it Frank, you keep talking about yourself. Didn’t you learn anything about me during that time we spent together?”

“I could say the same,” Frank cut back. “I mean, I liked to think what we had was more than physical, but ever since April, it became harder and harder to figure you out. I kept wondering what was going wrong, and you wouldn’t tell me!”

“I didn’t know what was happening with me either! Not until…” Annie’s hands clenched into fists, glancing at Melissa out of the corner of her eye. She took in a deep breath. “Look, I think you’ve said enough,” she told Frank. “We’ve both moved on now, can we get to the banish–”

“Like HELL I’ve moved on,” Frank interrupted, a spark of electricity appearing at his fingertips. “The pain at being ignored, it’s still gnawing at me months later. Gosh, I was such a damn inconvenience to you, wasn’t I? You must have wondered why couldn’t I just leave you alone.”

“Frank…”

“After all, I was the last one to know it was done, wasn’t I? Everyone else we knew had it figured out, but no, not me.” His fingertips began to glow blue. “You know,” Annie’s former boyfriend continued, his body now shaking slightly. “You know, if you die, then at least I won’t have to keep hoping that some day, somehow, you’ll finally EXPLAIN yourself to me. Finally I’ll get SOME sort of closure!”

Annie took a half a step back, concern and worry on her face.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“This isn’t good,” Melissa muttered, a little redundantly.

Of course, Melissa’s major problem now was that she couldn’t act directly against the entity, not so long as Frank was at least partially accepting it’s control. The whole ‘performing magick on the unwilling’ situation. As to me, I was starting to wonder why I’d stuck around for this ceremony in the first place, as Melissa had suggested to me that I go elsewhere. (Oh, right, it was so I could write this story up for you.)

“Look, Frank…” Annie began again, but he didn’t seem to be listening anymore. I became aware of a scratching noise at my bedroom door.

“All you had to do was tell me WHY!” Frank practically screamed at her. A tear ran down his cheek, glowing electric blue. “Not even necessarily why we split apart, because yes, I could see there were differences, I wasn’t completely blind, but why cut me out of your life? Did I have absolutely ZERO net worth as far as you were concerned?!”

Annie took another step back, slipped on one of Melissa’s stray desk papers, and fell to the ground. Frank took a step forwards, raising one arm, a ball of blue energy forming within his palm. Melissa let out what I think was a latin curse and began making mystical gestures – which I suspect involved that backup plan of destroying our entire building.

And me? Well, I went to check out the scratching at my bedroom door. Why? Because it felt like someone should, and I was the least preoccupied person in the room.

It turned out to be the right thing to do.

Tabby shot out of my room and into Annie’s arms, without, it seemed to me, a paw even touching the floor. Frank froze upon seeing the cat, caught off guard – no one had mentioned to him about Melissa bringing Tabby here, along with all the other things Annie had wanted for her overnight stay. (No one had told me either, for that matter.)

In retrospect, closing Tabby up in my room in order to keep him safe might have been the luckiest mistake Annie made that night. Because it was at this point, when Annie blinked down at her pet, then back up at Frank, that the presence of the animal could give her a measure of inner strength.

It’s worth adding that her red barrette began to glow faintly. Something that makes more sense when you remember that it was the one item that Melissa’s illusion spell couldn’t duplicate. Remember how Annie’s witch powers were recent?

“All right,” Annie said quietly, staring up at her ex-boyfriend. “You want the truth? Then here it is.” She stumbled back to her feet, the rest of the room going deadly quiet. Even Avril had given up her crooning in the nearby apartment.

There was a boom of thunder, in my opinion a little late (or perhaps, early) for proper dramatic effect.

“Last April, I found that I was able to conjure objects,” Annie said. “Nothing big. A pencil. A thumbtack. Water into a glass. It freaked me the heck out… and I found that I couldn’t talk to you about it. Because whenever I tried, you wouldn’t listen, or you changed the subject. Which is when I realized that you had started to take me for granted.”

The sparks flashing around Frank’s palm died down. Annie began to pet the cat in her arms, though her gaze remained fixed on him. I noticed a tear running down her cheek now too.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” Annie continued. “You felt like one of the good ones. But with that huge change in my life, all the other things became harder to ignore. I finally realized that the only way I could deal with my own issues was to cut things off with you completely. So that I wouldn’t be tempted to return to you, prolonging the inevitable. It was for both our sakes.”

“BOTH of us?” Frank said, a spark of electricity jumping about in his hair. “I–”

“Just LISTEN for once!” Annie shouted, and now it was Frank’s turn to take a step back. “Listen, and for that matter, think about what it means to be female in today’s society! To have ridiculous standards imposed on us. To have stupid terms like ‘friend zone’ bounced around. And then to add to all that the fact that apparently I can do magic and didn’t know why or if I might hurt you or someone else we knew. I needed time. So, I cut myself off. What would you have done in my place?”

There was a silence that seemed to stretch on forever, but in reality I’m sure it lasted only seconds. “All right,” Frank murmured, his voice sounding loud after the stillness. “In retrospect, I should have listened better.” He gestured at Annie’s glowing accessory. “And here I thought your new hairstyle was a symptom, rather than the barrette itself being the problem.”

“That’s a magick amplifier,” Melissa said idly. “Attuned to her family, or I might have realized sooner. Annie, for the record, if you take it off, you might not have to deal with the magick any more.”

Annie reached up to touch the object. “My mom found this in our attic. Gave it to me for my birthday. When I wear it, I feel some sort of connection… but yes, I think today’s the last day I will ever put it on.”

“Oh.” Frank half smiled. “In that case, do you think that our relationship might…”

“NO, Frank,” Annie said, putting Tabby down. “Because Melissa’s genealogy spell also showed me that we’re actually related. Turns out my father had an illicit affair, he was secretly your father, so things can truly never be between us.”

Frank’s eyes grew wide. “Wait, what? We’re siblings?”

Annie chuckled. “No. But I figured you were expecting some extra dramatic twist, like in those shows you liked to watch. So you can use that, if you want a more mundane explanation than a magical barrette. Or me not wanting to look back.”

Frank stared. Then he laughed. “Touché. Geez, I was so busy looking for one specific thing that I did. But it’s never as simple as that, huh?” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Annie. It is time to move on. And as they said once on CSI, truth brings closure.”

Annie nodded. “I’m sorry too, maybe I should have made more of an effort to get through to you.”

Frank shook his head. “You tried. A relationship takes two.” He then gasped and collapsed to his knees, slamming his hands up against his temples. “S-Speaking of… agh! It’s… still trying to control… quick, k-kill it already!”

“About time you asked us,” Melissa grumbled, quickly stepping forwards while holding the orb of hex out in the palm of her hand. “Annie?”

The dark haired woman turned to glance at Melissa, blinked then nodded. She reached out to place her palm overtop of the orb as well. The two witches then turned their attention to Frank, who returned their gaze, his panicked look somehow at odds with his posture, and his eye colour – which was that same electric blue from before.

“F,” Melissa began slowly. “E… D… C… B… A… 9…”

“Yaaaaggghhh!” Frank shouted, coiling up from the floor and jumping at Annie. “Your power is MINE, witch!”

“8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, ANNULLARE!” Annie finished rapidly in place of Melissa.

I caught my roommate smiling at the other woman as a wave of red light pulsed out from the orb of hex, rippling through the whole room, freezing Frank in mid-jump. (By the way, annullare here means destroy. Which leaves Melissa’s earlier latin remark at the light switch as the one for you to look up. After all, it’s important to be well educated.)

The air crackled at that point, everyone catching a bad case of electrostatic (including Tabby, poor thing), and from Frank’s throat there came the death scream of an evil internet entity. The creepiest part being how Frank’s mouth wasn’t open.

It was all rather hideous at the time, though the only way I can think to describe that sound now, after the fact, is to say it was like a 1200 baud modem connecting to a phone line. Assuming you’ve ever heard that. Maybe you’ve come across the sound by seeking out retro noises on the web.

At any rate, the scream soon died out. Blue sparks showered the area, then dispersed without a trace, and I was left with something of a tinny feeling in my mouth. I found out later that the power had cut out for the whole building.

Frank dropped to the floor, unconscious.

“Good,” Melissa concluded, letting out a sigh of relief. She raked her free hand back through her hair. Which, by the way, did not help to unfrizz the static at all. Predictably, it was kind of cute. “You handled that perfectly, Annie. Carry a small magical charm with you at all times, and use that latin phrase if you ever get attacked again,” she concluded.

Annie’s knuckles were white as she maintained a death grip on the orb I’d bought (little more than a small crystal ball, really). “Do you… do you think this sort of thing is LIKELY to happen again?” she inquired weakly.

“If you’re serious about taking off the barrette and not practicing magick in future, probably not,” Melissa admitted. “Particularly now that you have a way of defending yourself. After all, while fledgling witches are prime targets, they’re damn hard to pinpoint without help, and not worth the effort when they’re on their guard. Of course, to be on the safe side, if you’re ever running sensitive personal information though a computer, don’t have it hooked into anything else, hmmm?”

Melissa took a step towards her desk, and ended up partially pulling Annie with her. She stopped. “You can let go of the orb now,” the experienced witch added, glancing down at where their palms were joined.

“Oh…” With some effort, Annie lifted her hand away from the crystal. She looked down at the unconscious Frank, whose head was being pawed at gently by Tabby. “Will… will he be all right?”

“Oh, sure,” Melissa said easily, moving to put the orb of hex away in a file cabinet. “He’ll probably have a bad headache, but that’s all. Almost lost him, of course… really would have helped had he told us the full extent of his issues with you beforehand.”

Annie flushed a bit in the cheeks. “Our relationship was hardly your business. Though the things he was saying there… was that all the entity’s doing?”

Melissa made a vague gesture in the air. “Not entirely. The dialogue was him, though I doubt he would have spoken any of it aloud if it weren’t for the merging. Now, you’ll receive my bill for the orb in the mail. I’ll grant you a discount since I might have occasion to use it again. And on the bright side, the rain seems to be easing up, so you can head home now if you like!” She smiled.

A distant rumble added credence to the fact that the storm had begun moving off. I’d barely noticed the status of the weather what with all the excitement inside the apartment.

“I… home?” Annie said dubiously, turning to look out the window.

“No, no, it’s fine, you can stick around here,” I broke in quickly, reasoning Annie might not want to be alone just yet. “I don’t mind you and Tabby using my room. I mean, I’m too amped up to sleep now, and Frank may want someone to help him home when he comes to. Plus according to my watch it’s already…”

I paused, shaking my wrist. My watch had stopped working at 11:45. I suppose it was a good thing that my computer hadn’t been in the area. “Well, it’s at least midnight,” I ventured.

“Midnight?” Melissa said in surprise. “It can’t be that late, can it?” She paused to check her own wrist, then the desk and the wall. She still hadn’t put clocks in any of those places. “Though you could be right,” she yielded. “Hey, it’s awful dark in here too. James, do you know where I might have put our flashlight?”

“I left it in the fridge when I went there for a drink,” I remarked. “While we were waiting for Frank. I needed the light because of how said fridge was unplugged and I didn’t want to accidentally pour myself your beet and jalapeño juice.”

Annie looked from Melissa to me and back. “You two are very weird,” she decided.

Well, I could hardly argue with her there.

*-*

Again, there’s not a lot more to say in the epilogue. Frank came to reasonably quickly and bowed out of the apartment looking embarrassed. I accompanied him part of the way home, just to fill in the gaps, as Annie slept in my room. When I got back, Melissa actually did have the courtesy to offer me the use of her bed – she wanted to do some paperwork – but upon reflection, I decided I wasn’t ready for a look inside Melissa’s bedroom just yet. I dropped myself into a chair with a blanket.

Related, this little crush on Melissa that I’ve managed to not make subtle in the slightest? Well, given this look at how a relationship with a witch can turn out, I’ve decided I’ll be trying to curb my youthful enthusiasm as much as possible.

Still… I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot when Melissa belatedly thanked me the next morning for letting Tabby out, salvaging the whole situation and all. Knowing her, it was nice that she not only noticed that fact, but took the further step of acknowledging me. It also led to the following exchange, beginning with my remark, “Pretty soon, I bet you won’t even be able to forget that I’m living here.”

Melissa shook her head. “Please, James. I don’t ever forget about you,” she stated. “You’re simply not quite what I expected in a roommate. I’m having to adjust, that’s all.”

“You mean adjust to my interest in your cases?”

She eyed me. “Frankly, yes. I had expected teasing, hoped for tolerance, and somehow got acceptance. I may even be trying to provoke the more typical reactions, instead of what you’re giving me.” She put her hands on her hips. “On top of that, there’s also your interest in my appearance. The way you look at me sometimes, it’s… mmph, well, it’s time I was going to class.”

Melissa swiftly grasped her purse and philosophy textbook and hurried out of the apartment before I was able to pull myself together and ask for clarification. Was she saying my crush was jeopardizing everything? Or was she saying I had a chance with her? My heart beat faster. I tried to get it to slow down.

Perhaps it was time to find myself a study partner in first year who wasn’t Adam. A female one, that is, and one who wasn’t a witch, which might allow me to avoid things getting complicated in the apartment. It’s to my benefit that Melissa hasn’t shown any interest in reading these accounts thus far.

Either way, as far as the case is concerned, the electrical activity in our area that night was attributed to the storm, and it barely made the news. I got my laptop back, and have since taken to making sure I’m not on the net 24/7, as well as ensuring that the little trash bin icon is emptied regularly. As to Frank and Annie, I will say Frank got in touch with us a couple of days after the incident, thanking us for inadvertently providing him with closure.

I suppose one can hope that those two at least resumed talking with each other on occasion… after all, to believe such a thing gives a measure of hope to the messed up interpersonal relationships the rest of us manage to get ourselves involved in. Wouldn’t you say?

END CASE 2

NEXT CASE: Borderline

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

ASIDE: Hope you enjoyed the second case! It required a bit more editing than the first, both for technology and pacing. How much did you call in advance?

Virga: Entry 2c

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
Net Worth: Entry 2c

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, and not consciously.”

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

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

“And the supernatural books at her house…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I blinked. “Odie ate ammo?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

“I speak to you,” Annie shot back.

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

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

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

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

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

Frank turned to gave Melissa a dubious look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

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