The day after the exorcism of Michael’s studio, she slept for a day and a half at her mother’s house. Her mother began to get worried after the first ten hours and threatened to drag her to a doctor.
“I’m just wiped out,” Ninah muttered, her face in the pillow. “I’ve been busy and I need a good, uninterrupted, sleep.” She did wake up long enough to eat the half burnt grilled cheese sandwich Eddie proudly held out to her along with a glass of milk. He was high-functioning in his Down’s syndrome, but cooking was still a mystery to him. Ninah was fairly sure it ran in the family –none of them could cook well, and they did a lot of eating out and delivery service.
After she ate, which she had to admit did help her to feel better, she lay back down again. Eddie curled up behind her, insisting that he was her Teddy Bear. She had to admit that also helped her to feel better. When he was little, he would climb into her bed often, telling her he was her Teddy Bear. He adored his big sister.
Standing in the doorway of Ninah’s bedroom, Sara watched her oldest daughter sleep. Eddie put a finger to his mouth.
She gave him a smile and a nod, and turned away to go back to the living room. Ninah never slept that long or that hard. Had she been sick? She wasn’t pale, her skin felt temperature fine. She picked up the phone and called 411 for New Babylon.
After taking down the number, she waited to be patched.
“Dr Allen, please. No, I’m Ninah Adams’ mother. It’s a personal call. Thank you.” The office put her on hold while this doctor-boyfriend of Ninah’s was fetched.
Well, he has a pleasant voice, she thought. “This is Sara Fierro, I’m Ninah’s mother.”
“Yes, Mrs Fierro. Is Ninah alright?” His surprise was clear in his voice.
“Well, I’m not sure.” She told him about the championship sleep jag her daughter was going through. “Has she been sick?”
“No, not that I’m aware of,” he said, sounding somewhat surprised. “Does she have a fever?”
“No, her temperature is normal. She got home from that exorcism for Michael Black the other night, I assume you know about it, and has been asleep practically since them. Her little brother brought her a sandwich, she woke up long enough to eat, and went back to sleep. She’s done exorcisms before, but never reacted like this after.”
She could almost hear him blinking in more surprise at her acceptance of Ninah’s ‘extracurricular activities’. “Huh. Alright, let me call a friend of ours who is in Flagstaff. He was going to see if she needed help with the exorcism, which she didn’t, and I think he’s just site-seeing, at the moment. His name is Irra; I’ll have him drop by. What is your address?”
Sara gave him the address and phone number, thanked him, and hung up.
It was three hours later when a knock came at the door. On the other side was a man Sara would never have let near her children. Black leather jacket, boots, and black leather gloves which he was taking off and putting under a strap at his shoulder.
“Mrs Fiero? I’m Irra. Severance sent me.”
A growly, furry voice. She had never heard violence in a person’s voice, except her ex-husband when he was drunk, and yet…
“Um… could… would you mind if I asked for ID?”
Without raising a black eyebrow, he pulled out his wallet and handed it to her.
Irra Reiter, New Babylon, Washington
Strange name. And it was certainly him in the picture on his driver’s license. She handed it back to him.
“Thank you.” She opened the door and ushered him in.
“Is she still asleep?” he asked quietly.
“Yes. She didn’t even move when her brother left the room. I’m very worried about her.”
He looked around at the modest home. Sara Fiero had decided to keep the home her family had grown up in, and make a few renovations, instead of buying a larger house with the money Ninah had given them. There were bookcases everywhere filled with books, DVDs, and CDs, along with framed photos of the family and school awards. A new, 60in flat-screen television dominated one wall where a cartoon was paused.
“And she’s never done this before?”
“No, never; she rarely sleeps more than six hours.”
“You and your other kids? Everyone feeling alright?”
Sara lifted her hands. “We’re all fine.”
He looked at the two teenagers sitting on the top stair. Sixteen and seventeen, if he remembered right. Both the kids looked worried. “Do you both feel alright?” he asked them. They assured him they felt fine.
“Is her room up there? May I?” He pointed up the stairs with his thumb. Sara shook herself and led the way, shooing the kids aside.
At the top of the stairs, off to the left, he looked in at Ninah’s room. It was neat, somewhat orderly, a bookcase filled with books from childhood and current reading, a small personal altar in the far corner. The curtains and the walls were cool shades of blues and aqua. She lay in bed, curled around a pillow, her hair scattered on the sheet.
He sat on the edge of the bed and put the back of his hand to her forehead and cheek. No fever. This didn’t feel like sickness to him, though. He looked at the family at the door. “You are aware of her… magical life?” he asked. They nodded.
“She’s done that kind of stuff for years,” Sara assured him with a hand wave. Ninah looked much like her, he noted; same pixie face, dark hair and brown eyes, same pointed, stubborn chin.
“Good. I do it, too. I’m going to try a little astral excursion, so please stay quiet.” He could do it in the middle of a hurricane, but he didn’t want them asking questions and interrupting him.
Hopefully, she didn’t drag back any of that thing from Michael’s studio. There was nothing dark around her, though, so he doubted it.
Center, up, and out. Having done it for years, he could jump up and out quickly, which he did. Once released from his form, he turned and surveyed the room below. The first thing he noted was the lack of any dark malignancies hovering around her. Her aura was its normal forest greens and browns, as was most animists he knew. Okay, so she didn’t bring anything back with her. Good.
Turning his attention to the other members of the house, he was relieved to see that Mom and the teens were all clear. They were also all showing hints of Talent. Standard empathy. That explained Sara’s call to Severance; mom-power in action.
He looked closer at Ninah. Her aura seemed a little pale around her heart. Her energy levels were in the gutter. What did she do? And why was her mind muttering in some odd, foreign sounding words? Her third eye chakra was pulsing slightly in light blue. He was fluent in six languages, had been all over the world, could speak a smattering of several more, and had never heard whatever it was her mind was ruminating in.
*Ninah?* he called silently to her. *Can you hear me?*
Her mind was sluggish in responding. *…mmm tired…*
*Yes, but people are worried about you. Why are you so tired?*
All he heard were mental snores.
He dropped out of the over-world, took out his cell phone and dialed.
“All I’m getting is low energy levels.”
“Again?” Severance questioned, puzzled. “She was low on potassium before. I’m wondering if she’s using magic a little differently than we are, and it’s causing this drain. Alright, get her awake and on a high-potassium meal. You can’t take her to the nearest hospital and tell them to hang a banana bag, so do it home-style. I’m Fed-Ex-ing you a kit on over-night delivery. I’ll send it to her home.”
Irra put his cell phone away and looked at the family. “She’s been having a small problem with potassium,” he said. “Severance had to put her on a drip a while back. This may be more of the same problem. He wants her on a high-potassium diet. Fish, yogurt, sweet potatoes, that kind of thing. Wake her up and make her eat. Mash it up and spoon-feed her, if you have to. He’s sending a care package over-night, so you should get it in the morning.”
He ushered them back downstairs and sat on the couch, leaning forward, hands dangling between his knees as he thought hard for possible reasons for the potassium issue. The different language was odd, too. “Does your family speak a language other than English?”
Surprised at the question, it took Sara a moment.
“A few words and phrases of Spanish,” she said. “This is Phoenix, after all, but nothing else. Why?”
Definitely wasn’t Spanish he was hearing; Spanish was on his list of languages.
“Curious,” was all he said.
“Will my thithter be ah-wigh’?” the boy, Eddie, asked. He sat on the edge of a chair, breathing heavily through his mouth.
“She’ll be fine, buddy,” Irra said to the boy in a gentle voice very few people ever heard. “Do you know what potassium is?” In his research of Ninah, he found the surprising age difference between Ninah and her siblings, along with the fact of her brother’s Down’s Syndrome. Sara and young Ninah must have pulled together immediately upon discovering the new baby’s genetic abnormality; there was no sense of the emotional upsets that frequently plagued families with special needs children.
“It’s a mineral in some foods that help give you energy. Ninah needs more of it. So I’m going to help your mom put together the foods your sister needs so she can get more energy.”
Eddie’s small eyes sparkled with happiness. “Good!”
“Will she really be alright?” Laura asked, biting around a fingernail.
Both teens had the same dark, thick hair as Ninah. They were also both were highly curious, which told him they were intelligent. With all the books in the house, he wasn’t surprised.
Although not a kid person, he was fairly comfortable with teenagers, having been around Severance’s four kids for many years.
“She’ll be fine,” he told her. “She’s been very busy, and has probably been neglecting food and rest.”
The kids were satisfied, for the moment, so Sara sent them to find something to do. She then turned to Irra, her arms crossed. He got the same look from Ninah, once in a while, when she was about to put her foot down.
“What’s going on up there?” she demanded. “She’s running a bookstore and waiting for her house remodel to be finished. What is she doing that is causing exhaustion?”
He sat back, wondering how much to tell her.
“Have you heard about the strange wisps of energy that people have been complaining about? Some of the news sites have been reporting on them.”
Sara frowned, her eyes searching the inner database. “Yes, I think so,” she said. “Something about odd occurrences of rugs moving, doors opening, things like that. Poltergeist activity.”
“Well, it isn’t poltergeists,” he said. “We have no idea what it is only that it’s been acting up everywhere. So far, no one has been hurt. It hasn’t been much more than annoying, really. Our group takes care of local spots whenever someone calls for help. We just dissipate the energy; send it on its way.
“Ninah’s been helping, but honestly, she hasn’t been over-worked. Severance has been pulling on his hair quite a bit trying to figure out why she’s been so drained. He’s run all the lab work, and nothing is coming up.”
Sara’s response was to pick up the phone and hit the speed dial. “Sabrina, it’s Sara Fierro. Does Dr Hayward have time to see Ninah? Oh, I see. Yes, she’s in town for a visit. She’s been very tired, and her doctor up in Seattle says she’s been low on potassium. No, none of the labs are coming up with anything. Yes, I’ll ask him. What’s your fax number? Thank you.”
She handed a scrap of paper to Irra. “Please ask Dr Allen to fax those labs to this number. I’m getting a second opinion. No offense toward your doctor.”
Second opinions were always a good idea. He texted the number and request to Severance. He also warned Sev that Ninah’s stubborn nature didn’t fall far from the tree.
Before excusing himself, he sent out another inner poke toward Ninah. Still asleep. He gave Sara his cell number and excused himself.
In the morning, the care package arrived just after 8am.
“Severance Allen.” He held out a hand to greet Ninah’s mother. There was no way anyone would look at Ninah and Sara and come up with any relationship other than mother and daughter.
“You do Fed-Ex deliveries, too?” she asked. Her baby was no longer dating boys, she was dating men. He was a little older than she expected, but he handsome. Thick, wavy hair was longer than she had seen on most doctors, and the goatee was also unusual on a medical professional. He looked a bit tired, but he did just come in on the red-eye. He smiled. Dimples, she noted.
“Only when necessary.”
She showed him in and offered him coffee, which he gratefully accepted. “I brought potassium, which has worked before, but if your doctor is going to order another round of labs, I will hold off giving it to her. Did she wake up, yet?”
“We got her awake long enough to eat,” she said with a sigh, sitting opposite him at the kitchen table. At least he didn’t sound irritated at the thought of a second opinion. “She ate a piece of tilapia last night, got some milk in her, and she had a baked sweet potato and yogurt about an hour ago. She’s back to sleep, but I don’t think it’s as deep as it was.”
Sensing Ninah above him, he sent a mental probe her way. *Ninah? Can you hear me?*
*How are you feeling?*
*Okay, I think. I’ve been so tired.*
“She should wake up soon,” he said to Sara while he spoke silently to Ninah. “She was down for just a couple days before.”
Sara leaned forward on her elbows, hands clasped around her mug. “Your friend, Irra, said she’s been helping with these energy motes, whatever they are. But she’s been cleansing space for years, and this has never happened before.”
Somewhat surprised at her acceptance, he gave a nod. “I’m honestly not sure what’s causing it. I can say that we’ve all been feeling a little drained lately, and yet labs have been clean for all of us.”
She blinked. “Who is ‘us’?”
Gods, now he had two of them doing it… He gave her a rundown of the group. “All I can think of is that she didn’t replenish her own energy after three cleansings within a few months. All three were major exorcisms. I was with her for the first one, and I had to remind her to keep a little energy for her own well-being.”
Ninah’s mother seemed to be taking all the magic talk in stride, so Severance began to relax and not worry about watching his words. According to Irra, Ninah’s mother and siblings were all empathic.
“Well, she always was a little gung-ho.” Sara refilled their mugs and pulled a bag of bagels from the refrigerator. Sev picked out a cinnamon-raisin.
A teenage boy shuffled into the kitchen. Ninah had never said her brother had Down’s. He blinked at the strange man seated at the table.
“Who ah you?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.
“I’m Severance, Ninah’s friend.” He shook the boy’s hand.
“Oh. Are you Ewa’s fwiend, too?”
Getting around the slight speech problem, Sev confirmed he was Irra’s friend, too.
“Ewa has a motorcycle. Do you have one?”
“I do, but I don’t ride it much.”
“Please tell me my daughter isn’t riding a bike,” Sara requested, her hands pausing over the toaster.
“No,” Sev said with a smile. “She’s happy taking the keys to Jeeps and cars from whoever is nearest to her at that time.”
The bagel popped, and he slathered cream cheese and orange marmalade on it.
He took one look at Sara’s face, bagel paused halfway to his mouth. Uh oh. Interrogation time.
Having chased the cruiser out of Sol System, Rick looked over the progress of the bio-dome on the far side of Mars. The engineering crew of the Sentinel was working furiously to have the outpost set up and ready for the coming incursion against the neighboring blue planet. So far, the Udug ships entering the area seemed to be carefully feeling out the new arrivals in the backwater solar system.
The astronauts on the ISS had a camera continually focused on them, but their link back to Earth seemed to fail just as they were ready to download the images. From the screams of frustration coming over the lines, NASA, ESA, and any other tech lab that may have had a hand in the design of the space station, were pulling their collective hair out trying to find out why extremely few of the close-ups of the alien crafts were getting Earth-side. No one bothered to ask Rick and his own techs about it.
He wasn’t in denial about their ‘secret’ roaming through Sol System; Earth governments had spotted the ships almost as soon as they entered the solar system two years earlier, and a few private parties had also spotted them. The continued silence from the ships was irritating the governments who were demanding identification, but it wasn’t time to show up and knock on the door. At Rick’s request, though, knowing that Earthers will get what they want sooner or later, Thane allowed a few pictures to ‘escape’.
Thane wasn’t happy with Earth’s treatment of either the people or the planet, and wasn’t going to risk his crew without seeing some improvement. After scanning through Earth’s broadcasts, he placed the planet under Protectorate status, with Quarantine as a sub-status.
Once Rick’s science department decoded the odd message that came from a private hacker planet-side, he discussed its meaning with Thane, and received permission to launch the idea. It wasn’t too much longer that a new website appeared with a live-cam feed, and files of information on, surprisingly, the Grays.
The people inhabiting Earth’s here-I-am-come-get-me station (ISS) were getting great footage which they could only describe to their minders below. Their verbal reports, though, only succeeded in frustrating their governments even more. The governments quickly shut up the moment the cameras on the ISS were released.
Rick decided he needed an assistant. Once the information began to be processed, all the lines would be tied up. He decided there was only one person on the ship that could tell someone where to stick it and make it sound like an invitation. He called Claire, the manager of Deck 7. She demanded to know drugs what he had been ingesting.
Standing in his office, ignoring the reports he had waiting on his desk, Rick pulled at the collar of his sheriff’s uniform, hating the damned thing; it made him choke. He never thought he’d miss his saga, the Thayan kilt that he usually wore. Give him his saga and a loose-weave shirt any ol’ day. And boots that fit. He was wearing the uniform, though, because he never knew when he’d be called on the cell phone in his pocket and need to head land-side to play sheriff. The role was getting more and more difficult, though; he just didn’t have time to play sheriff anymore. He considered turning in his resignation.
The door opened and Evan came in. “She’s doing it again,” Evan told him. “And she found someone else with an off-talent Talent: Michael, that singer Aaron is married to.”
Rick frowned. “Who’s Aaron? What singer? What’s he do with it?”
Evan made quick mental leaps over the Rick-speak. “Aaron and Michael are bond-mates; Aaron worked with Karrin Cooper, he has earth-sense. He’s the one who’s been fixing up Ninah’s new house. You shook hands with him two weeks ago, Rick. His mate, Michael, is a singer. He manipulates sound waves,” Evan told him. “Both French, by the way. So far, Michael has made some truly beautiful music. I was just down at a concert he put on in Phoenix. Aaron called Ninah for a badly written matrix program that Michael spoke for a movie scene, and brought enough air waves together to make an indoor hurricane. Ninah fixed it after telling him to intone a counteracting wave, which, I believe, she made up on the spot. He created a trap matrix using only his voice and unconscious instinct.”
Rick thought about it. “What was he doing speaking a matrix at a concert?”
Evan sighed and sat on the corner of Rick’s desk. “No, Rick, he was in rehearsal for a movie the other day, and apparently things started flying across the set. Aaron called Ninah to come down and take a look. After the concert, Michael and his manager were called to the studio after a security guard and found the entire set smashing itself to pieces. The matrix had grown, instead of simply dissipating. So Michael called Aaron to bring Ninah right away. I slipped a voice tag into their cars. You can listen to the recording, if you’d like. But on the way she made up a trap matrix, another one on the spot, mind you, and had Michael speak it on the set to hold the conjured energy in place until she got there to deal with it.”
Rick’s eyes were far away as he considered the information. “Hmm.. interrogation possibilities,” he said, thinking out loud. Evan had to agree, although he was thinking more along the lines of therapeutic applications.
He gave a noisy growl and pulled the uniform over his head and off, tossing it onto the table, and gave his hairy chest an exuberant rub as he breathed deeply.
“How about if we just tell them the truth?” he asked. “We were looking for allies in this sector, and here they are. Are they capable of helping us?”
“Possibly,” Evan said with a shrug. “I think most of this is new to them, though. I have no idea how they’d react to real-world scenarios. More real than they are now experiencing, I mean.”
“We need to start working on bringing them in. There has to be more than these five –sorry, seven, now – who can do the work.”
Evan sighed and settled his jaw in his palm. “Bring them in. These Earthers have great potential, but they are new at it and still don’t know what they’re doing.”
“Isn’t that what you’re for?” Rick countered. He poured himself a glass of juice and gulped it. “With that damned Udug filter taken down, we knew odd things were bound to happen. Okay, so their metas are jumping instead of crawling; all the more reason to get them trained, and quickly. There has to be more M1’s and 2’s on the planet than those few. Start stripping the woodwork and see what you can roust out of their nests.”
It was another hour or so before the concert began. Out on the floor, the companies who were sponsoring the event were doing a show-and-tell for their special guests before letting in the general seating guests. Michael took off to find a quiet corner; Ninah was told that he usually took time for himself, to gather his thoughts and get himself centered.
The family was taken to their private table at the front of the stadium floor where the twelve-person tables held ‘reserved’ signs. Emily was back with her friend, and seated with the family. She was introduced to Ninah and politely shook hands.
At the reserved table next to theirs, familiar faces filled the seats; actors that Ninah recognized from movies. They must be from the movie he was working on, she surmised.
Ninah’s sister, Laura, was present and seated next to her, wiggling with excitement with her friends and unabashedly getting autographs from the table next to them. She grabbed at Ninah for a hug, and Ninah had to shush her and remind her of the speaker on the stage who gave them a look.
The rest of the tables on the floor were filling up with local ‘Red Book’ people, elected officials and other VIPs, who paid a lot of money to the charity. Along the bowl of the floor, in the stadium seating, certain people were still trying to decipher her attendance with the family at the reserved tables.
Ninah’s phone buzzed and she took it from her pocket, prepared to turn it off. A text was sent to her. She read it, frowning, and followed the link to the news article online. Someone with a telescope happened to be pointing it in the right direction at the right time, and caught an image that was unmistakably a ship that didn’t look familiar to any known shuttle or rocket designs. Ninah handed the phone to Aaron. He looked at it and then back at her.
Ninah had a feeling she knew exactly whose ship it was. She responded to the text with an acknowledgment and a sign-off for the next couple of hours, and then forwarded the text to Rick’s cell phone.
>Be more careful< she typed.
Minutes later, >viruses are a great invention<.
Ninah tried to follow the link again, and discovered that the page was now missing. Whoever he had on his AI team was really good. The only people who would have those articles and pictures were people who had downloaded them to a computer or printed them out. By then, with no way to trace it, there was no way to prove that the person didn’t invent the images.
The clan needed to discuss their alien sheriff.
After the concert two hours later, Ninah waited for the crowds to thin; she didn’t feel like getting trampled. Aaron snuck up behind her and took her arm, pulling her aside as the crowds clamored loudly for more.
“The director of the movie needs you on the set,” he whispered urgently. “Now. Michael and Malcolm are on their way now.”
Ninah got her sister and her friends, and sent them home with taxi money, much to their disappointment, while Aaron told the family that something had come up on the set. They understood, it happens, so they decided to head back to their hotel for a late meal before turning in.
“I don’t want you there, Aaron,” she told him as they hustled out of the building through one of the doors under the stage.
“Too bad,” he responded.
“You are not an exorcist,” she informed him. “I can’t protect both of us if something sniffs out your energy. You don’t know how to shield, yet.”
“Ninah, I’m not leaving Michael in that mess,” he insisted.
She ground her teeth and got into the car with him.
“Alright,” she snapped. “Quick lesson; your Talent works with ley lines, right? When we get there, I want you to find one, dig deep if you have to, and stand on it. Make sure it comes up and covers you just like Shara taught you in grounding and shielding. That’s the best I can do until we get you trained.”
Aaron promised. He was afraid for his partner; whatever was going on, it was serious enough for the director to call Michael and his manager out in the middle of the night. He was dialing Michael’s number on the cell phone.
“What’s going on?” he asked the moment the line was picked up. He listened before turning the speaker on. “It’s on,” he said.
“I’m here,” she said. “Describe what’s happening.”
“Well, things are being tossed around the set,” he said. He was hanging on hard to his wits, but the fear was coming through his voice. “Whenever someone gets close, something is thrown at them. Looks like that Poltergeist movie in here.”
“What was being rehearsed or filmed today?” she asked.
“Setting up for the incantation scene tomorrow,” another man said. Probably the director, she thought.
“Was someone speaking the lines?” she asked. There was a loud bang.
“That was a chair hitting the wall over us,” the man said. “No, the lines weren’t part of it.”
“I rehearsed them yesterday with my co-star,” Michael interjected.
Ninah pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay,” she said with a wince. “Do you have a script with you?”
There was a rustling of paper. “Got one,” Michael said.
“Good. Give it to someone else!”
“I have it,” the director said.
“Tell me what the incantation says,” she requested. “Don’t let Michael say any of it! Just… quickly, what are the words?”
The director read the words, his voice pausing now and again as something crashed nearby. He stuttered and stumbled his way through the scene with Ninah listening carefully. She was beginning to see why they were having a problem. If anyone else had spoken the words, nothing would have happened; Michael, however, had magic in his voice. Literally.
“Okay, I got it,” she said. “Do you have a pen?”
“Good. Write this down, exactly word for word.”
Ninah gave them the words as they spilled from her head. If she was there, she’d speak them herself, but over the phone wasn’t going to cut it and they were still several miles from the site.
“Well, that doesn’t really sound….,” the director began to pick over her words.
“I don’t care!” Ninah yelled in frustration. “Don’t change the words! If you want the crap to stop, deal with the cadence as it is! Michael!”
“Here,” he said.
“It’s a short incantation, so it should be easy to memorize,” she said. “Do you understand it?”
He poured over the two sentences. “I think so,” he said. “Containment?”
“Yes,” she nodded, somewhat surprised at how quickly he grasped the meaning. But then again, words are his medium. “You can’t get rid of it, yet, but you can contain it until we get there.”
“How does Michael contain an evil spirit?” It was Malcolm who was asking; he couldn’t imagine his star artist with a wizard’s cap on.
“No such things,” she said. “It’s just energy that’s been given a direction. Like pointing a gun. A very unhealthy direction, but there it is. Michael is going to put it on pause so it doesn’t escape its borders.”
“Michael, I want you to intone those words I gave you and direct it toward the energy. Just think of it as a person who is ignoring you. But you need to intonethem, not sing them. Keep it steady, give it an almost sensual feel, as though you were singing it to a lover. Yes! Pretend it’s Aaron! Shut your eyes, if you need to, but the energy is Aaron, and he’s really upset at something you did, so direct the words at him to calm him down.”
“I understand,” Michael assured her.
The studio site was several blocks away.
Michael’s voice came over the speaker; the intoned words to her binding spell were bringing the hairs on her arms to a standing position. He got through five rounds before Aaron stopped with a screech outside a warehouse door, next to several other cars.
“It’s working!” Malcolm shouted in the background.
The door was opened for them and they ran in, following close behind the crew person who let them in. They zigzagged through a maze of hallways and doors crowded with movie production equipment. Ninah could feel the air becoming more and more electrified as they came near to the set where Michael had the energy trapped. The noise from the energy was tremendous as it spun around within the cage.
“What the hell is that?!” Aaron shouted over the noise. A cyclone spun in mid-air, the blast of wind whipping up paper and light-weight objects around them. The sound was deafening.
“A trap matrix,” she told him. She moved up to Michael, letting him see her so that he wouldn’t be startled. “I’m going to take it from you,” she told him. “You’ll feel it fall away. When you do, don’t fight it, just get back. We are a duet, and it’s my turn, understand? And get everyone out of here, this isn’t a spectator sport!”
“No argument from me!” he said. His eyes were wide and his voice was stressed, but he stood his ground and held the trap firm.
Ninah felt for the trap key, set with Michael, and took over carrying it. Michael took several large steps backward until he was next to Aaron at the door. They took a couple of cleansing breaths before grabbing shirts and arms, yanking the other men out of the room.
The trapped energy continued to spin, the sound of it almost as loud as a tornado. There was no entity within it; the sound came from the movement of the energy, like wind rushing through tree tops. Little by little, Ninah calmed the energy until it was no longer screaming in her ears. When it was no more than a gentle breeze, she dismissed the trap and grounded the energy, dissipating it back into the atmosphere where it originally came from.
The idiot screenwriter used air energy to build the spell, instead of earth energy. She supposed they could all be lucky he didn’t use fire. The spell wasn’t good enough to work on its own, except that it was spoken by someone with real magic in their voice.
She gave a look around the set, making sure all the energy was gone, before heading back outside the building where the men were waiting.
“Well?” they asked when the door opened.
“It’s gone,” she said. “Michael, can we talk?” Without waiting for a response, Ninah strode off beyond the hearing of the others. He followed her.
“You know that magic stuff we were talking about with Aaron?” she asked. He nodded. “You have it, too.”
Michael took a step back, tossing a hand up in protest.
“No one else could have brought that stupid spell to life,” she told him. She caught his blue eyes and held them. “It’s your voice. We don’t know why, but something is bringing a few of us together. People with these weird talents. Why do you think you and Aaron are so strong together? You found each other.
“Something is happening, Michael, and we need to train ourselves before it hits us. If you don’t get trained, that kind of thing will happen again and again because you have no conscious control of it. What if the spell came from a fire elemental instead of air?” She waited for it to sink in.
He was pale as he crossed his arms, shoved his hands under his pits and nervously paced. “I started reading the script at my parents’ house,” he said. “I was babysitting my niece and nephew there. Oh, my God.” His hands went to his face.
Ninah put her hands on his shoulders. His muscles were hard, strong, although not overly built up. He had a dancer’s body, used to lifting his dance partners. “It’s okay,” she said. “You had no power in your voice while you were on a first read. Please, Michael; come to our clan and learn, like Aaron has begun to. We’re not a cult or anything; we’re just magicians, as confused as you are, and it has nothing to do with who or what we worship. We’re learning, though.”
Aaron was walking slowly toward them, pausing until Ninah gave him a nod. He came close and put his arms around his lover.
“We’re not pagan,” Michael protested. “How can this be happening?”
“I just told you, magic has nothing to do with religion,” Ninah told him. “It’s the manipulation of energy for a specific purpose. Anyone can do it, with training. We have a few of Abraham’s children in the clans; Aaron has their contact information. Talk with them.”
The men sat around the dining table at Sev and Shara’s home. Pizza boxes and beer bottles littered the table.
“Vocals? I’ve been to a concert, and while he’s really good, I didn’t get anything special from his voice.” Terry dipped his crust into a small bowl of melted butter and garlic.
“You went to a Michael Black concert?” Irra paused in bringing a beer to his lips and looked at Terry. The man frowned at him.
“Yeah, what of it?”
Irra chuckled. “Nothing,” and drank his beer.
“It was a date, jerk. With Karrin.”
Since he was sitting to Severance’s left, Sev gave his shoulder a rub as the smile left Irra’s face.
“Hey, man, I’m sorry.”
Apology was accepted.
“So we should all admit that, while we’ve always been among the strongest, something more has been happening, lately,” Severance said after a moment. “And it seems as though people we come into contact with are also dropped into the deep end. Take Aaron, for example. And now, if what Ninah says is true, and her judgment isn’t colored by her friendship with Aaron, Michael has also come down with a case of magicitus.”
Irra scowled and tossed his napkin to the table. “And I have something to say, since you’ve brought her into this; since when is Ninah the leader of this merry little band?” He pointed a finger a Severance. “And don’t tell me we don’t have a leader, not when everyone looks to you as our de facto Gandolf. I certainly have no problem with you as our leader, you’re fair and equitable. But suddenly everyone seems to be bowing to the queen of the desert. In case you haven’t noticed, she’s a shaman, not a high priestess.”
“She’s a Middle Eastern shaman, but that’s beside the point,” Sev told him. “She isn’t the leader any more than I am. She has natural leadership instincts and she runs with it. You are free to decline whatever it is she wants to do. And I might point out to you that she’s as new to this higher form of magic just as we are.”
“You’re biased,” Irra told him, pointing a pepperoni at him. He then slid it under the table to the cat.
Severance sighed and held his hands out. “What do you want from me, Irra?”
Shara shook his head. “Time out, guys. I think you’ve all missed a larger point.”
“She hasn’t once agreed to be part of our little ‘clan’; we just all assumed she was. She hasn’t even been vetted. She is with us on the say-so of Wolf and his reindeer bones. Now, I have no problem with Wolf’s bones, they’ve never done us wrong. I accept Ninah even without the vetting process. As far as I’m concerned, she’s already proven herself. Also, coming from a matrilineal tribe, it’s natural for me to see her as the head of our ‘household’, if you will.”
“You saw Karrin as our head of household, too,” Sev commented, giving a small smile. Shara acknowledged him with a nod.
“I think you are having a different issue with her,” Shara told Irra. “And I don’t want you to take this as an attack. I love you as my own brother, and I say this in all light and love.” He waited until he got a nod from the brooding man. “Ninah is the first exorcist we’ve had with us since you came to join us. How much of what you are saying comes from a place of jealousy and insecurity?”
Irra threw his napkin to the table. “I am not jealous OR insecure!”
“I didn’t say you were,” Shara told him, staring intently into the man’s eyes. “I’m asking you to search yourself and find a better response than ‘she’s new and we don’t know her’. Because while I grant you that she is new to us, what does your spirit tell you? Mine tells me that she completes us.”
The table was silent for several minutes, only the clinking of bottles and the sound of eating breaking the thickness of the air.
Irra scrubbed at his face. “Crap,” he groaned behind his hands. “I need to go down to Phoenix. We worked well together at the temple and at the old house. She and I can speak the same language; so maybe we can work together on this.”
“If you don’t kill each other first,” Terry snorted.
“Okay, so what are we going to do with the studio?” Michael asked, getting back to the main reason for her visit.
“I need to see it, first,” she said. “Ninety-eight percent of the time, people are experiencing nothing more than coincidence and bad timing. If something is happening, it’ll be taken care of.”
Michael nodded thoughtfully. “And Aaron really can do this kind of stuff? He’s never done it before.”
“He can now,” Ninah said with a smile at Aaron. He flushed. “He’s been doing it unconsciously, now he’ll learn to control it. I’m guessing it’s the reason Karrin hired him. She wanted the best; to her, the best was another magician.”
Michael folded his arms across his chest and a leg over a knee. “Tell me something no one could have told you about me or Aaron.”
Ninah smiled. “I’m an exorcist, not a psychic.”
He switched back to an open, eager, little boy face and leaned over the table. “Can you teach me how to read tarot cards?”
Ninah laughed. “That one, I can do.”
He kicked his feet up onto a chair and reached for another bottle of water. “So tell me about this magic stuff. I thought it was all movie make-believe.”
“Most of it is,” she told him. “First, what you should understand is that there is no such thing as demons. That concept is a religious product. Hauntings are caused by the energy of a person who has died. Normally their soul, which is nothing more than the energy that animated a body, moves on to either another plane of existence, or it dissipates and joins the rest of that stuff that makes life Alive.”
“No demons?” he asked, concentrating on her face as she spoke.
“No demons,” she confirmed. “Some ancient mythologies mentioned them, but it was in the Greek sense of the word, daemon, which only means ‘spirit’. Spirits are neither good nor bad, they have no intent. A ghost is a spirit. The Catholic Church uses such concepts to scare people into obeying. There is no proof of demonic existence.”
“Uh huh. So what do you do with this ‘stuff that makes life Alive’?”
“Some people are sensitive to the presence of this kind of energy. Just like blowing away a piece of dust, we use our own energy to ‘blow away’ the energy mote. It then goes back to the universe or, if it’s strong enough to stay in one piece, it becomes the soul for another baby about to be born.”
“What about evil people?” he asked. “Murderers and such.”
“Take responsibility for your own actions,” she said. “A person chooses their actions, there is no outside force making the person do anything. We are not puppets. Sure, people are formed by their experiences, and yes, someone from an extremely abused childhood can become mentally unstable, but it is still their choice. They could choose to get counseling. They could also have mixed wires in their brain, in which case the cause is medical –still no demons.”
“But how do you explain what happened at the studio?”
“More than likely you spoke the lines with intent, instead of just reciting them. Some old magics relied on certain sounds spoken in a certain way, and you happened to hit it just right to send the local matrix spinning. If that is what happened, then all I need to do is go in, pull the matrix apart, and put it back in its proper order.”
At least, she hoped that was all she needed to do. She had thought long and hard about what she did at the Williams’ home, and was sure she could do it again. Severance helped before, but that was with the girl, after Ninah had already settled the moving objects in the living room.
His lips were pursed in thought until arguing could be heard moving closer to them. An older couple was making their way across the floor toward them, along with a woman a few years older than Michael and Aaron. All three looked furious.
“What’s wrong?” Michael asked when he spotted them.
The older, white-haired man sputtered something in tongue-twisting Quebecois. Michael’s arms returned to his chest, crossed.
“Laisse les gens s’exprimer, Papa,” he insisted with a frown.
“Gang de cons,” the younger woman snapped. She sat with an angry plop in a chair. The older woman sat next to her. Ninah could see a nice combination of both parents on Michael’s face, while his sister looked like their mother. “Bunch of asses outside waving anti-gay signs,” his sister said in English.
“It’s the new Mormon temple,” Ninah said. The three newcomers looked at her. Aaron made introductions. Monica was Michael’s sister, and their parents were Ruth and Jerome.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Phoenix is usually some-what tolerant. The lizards and toads have come out from under their rocks the past couple of years mainly because of the temple. Elections are coming up, and gay marriage is once more on the ballot. Between the Mormons and the Catholics, that one’s been a hard fight here.”
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Marty!” he bellowed, his mercurial personality changing once more in an instant. One of the men on the stage quickly straightened, jumped off the stage, and ran over to them. “I want rainbows added to the color-scheme!” His grin was a little on the scary side. The roadie snapped a salute.
“Oui, mon Capitan!”
The side of Michael’s mouth twitched as the roadie jogged off.
There was a sparkle of something gold just below the neckline of Michael’s t-shirt. Ninah knew what it was, having seen plenty of Michael’s skin in magazines. ‘Shy’ wasn’t a word in his vocabulary. He always wore the necklace, except when he was filming and needed it off for the character. She looked at his eyes, and found the pain he was hiding behind the bravado.
Ninah pulled her chair closer and took his hand, much to his surprise.
“Do you know the Christian’s creed?” she asked. Confused, his mouth opened and then closed. “I don’t mean recite it,” she said. “Just a summation.”
“Uh.” He thought about it, his eyes consulting the ceiling. “It has to do with Jesus being the son of God, born of a virgin, died and risen.”
“Close enough,” she said with a nod. His family was watching, curious. “Michael, only the first four books of the New Testament are about Christ. The rest of the New Testament is about his followers, his apostles, and their stories are about politics and their hatred of the Roman Empire.
“Dump everything except those first four books. Never once did Jesus try and force someone to accept what he had to say, which was nothing more than his own opinion of life in general. A true Christian follows Christ’s example, not the example of his seriously jaded apostles.”
She covered his hand with her other hand, nestling his between hers. “If you don’t like what you hear in church, or at any pulpit including the street corner, don’t listen. You can read, so read Jesus’ words for yourself and make your own interpretations for your own life. He didn’t condemn the Samaritan woman at the well, and he certainly isn’t going to condemn a man who spends his life helping others. Those people outside have not heard Jesus speaking to their heart.”
Michael took a deep, shaky breath, and brought their hands to rest at his forehead for a moment. He then pressed his mouth to her knuckles and released her.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice a little deeper than his usual mellow tenor. His family had also been released from their anger and outrage.
“Merci, cheri,” his mother said, reaching out to pat Ninah’s hand.
Aaron smiled at her and gave a nod of thanks.
The family relaxed and began chatting. They included Ninah even more after Aaron informed them she was his new friend from Washington.
The stage was almost done, and most of the crew had left to find food. The floor crew was also almost done; the supervisors were going through the tables, making sure everything was perfect.
Ninah’s phone rang and she excused herself, taking a few steps away from the table.
“Well, yes, but I think the tickets are all sold,” she said into the phone after listening to her sister beg and plead for concert tickets. Somehow her family had guessed where she was. Probably Eddie, she decided; never play guessing games with her little brother. “I don’t know; it’s being sponsored for a charity event.”
Michael looked at her, his eyes questioning. Ninah put her hand over the phone.
“My little sister,” she said with an apology. “She’s trying to get tickets for the concert but at this late date….” The sudden change in acts was announced on the newspaper’s front page and across radio and television stations over the past week. Remaining tickets disappeared fast.
Michael held his hand out and made grabby motions for her phone. Ninah handed him her cell.
“Name?” he whispered. She told him. “Laura,” he said into the phone. “It’s Michael. How many tickets, honey? You will have four tickets waiting. Just go to Will Call and give them your name. You’re welcome.” He handed the phone back. Ninah saw the line had been hung up. More than likely, her sister had fainted. Or was screaming.
“That’s too generous, Michael,” she protested as she pocketed the phone.
“Nonsense,” he said. “They’re my tickets and I always hold out extra seats. Let the kid come and have fun.”
Ninah pulled out her check book from her shoulder bag and took out the check she had stashed away for him. She handed it to him. He protested.
“Nonsense,” she said. “It’s my money and I always have something available for others.” She pushed it into his hand. “Charity of your choice,” she said. She had left the line blank for him to fill in.
His chair scraped the floor when he saw the amount. He looked at Aaron.
“I told you so,” Aaron said smugly.
An hour later, the staff was dismissed, and Michael and his band went backstage for dinner which was cooked and served by one of the high-class restaurants sponsoring the evening’s event. Ninah was invited back to eat with the family where she spoke with Mom Ruth who had questions about her and what she did for a living. The need to ask how someone who runs a small book store had the kind of money written on the check Michael shoved into his pocket was clearly on her lips, but unvoiced. Dad Jerome was all French as he twinkled at her; with the family teasing him, she felt free to twinkle back.
Ninah’s cell buzzed in her pocket. She looked at it, saw Severance’s name, and excused herself.
“Hi,” she said once she was in the hallway.
“Hi,” he said. She could hear the smile in his voice and it warmed her. “How’s the haunting?”
“Don’t know, yet,” she said. “I need to get to the set and take a feel around first. I’m thinking, though, that this might be a combination of that idiot script and the fact that Michael is Talented.”
“What?” Severance was surprised. “In what way?”
“Vocal,” she said. “His voice is completely enveloped in Talent. We get a glimpse of it recorded, but in person…? If anyone else had said those lines, I’ll bet nothing would have happened. If that’s the case, either the script needs to change or the lines need to be said by someone else. I’ll know more tomorrow.”
“Wow,” he commented. “Alright. Let me know if you need us to come down.”
“I think I’ll be alright,” she said. At least, she hoped she’d be alright. Should she have him come down? No, it was probably not much more than a few stray motes spooking the mundane crew. “But you can come down anyway.”
She could feel the warmth through the phone. “So we’re good?” he asked, his voice deep and low. She shivered.
“We’re very good,” she assured him. He’s very good, she thought. Shara had made no protest when Sev brought Ninah close to them and kissed her. His beard tickled, his lips were warm and moist. She was divested of her jeans, and she lay naked in his arms while Shara cradled them, lovingly kissing and caressing both of them. Severance was on his back and lifted Ninah above him, the firelight flickering on their skin as she lowered herself onto him….
“How’s Shara with this?” she asked.
“He’s fine,” Sev said. “We had a long talk, and he’s comfortable. Are you comfortable with him?”
“Strangely, yes,” she said. “I’ve never had an issue with poly relationships, although I’ve never been in one. Am I in one?”
“Gods, I hope so,” he breathed. “The three of us will sit down when you come back.”
It felt right. That was all Ninah could think when she thought of the three of them making love together; it felt right. Shara didn’t enter her but his fingers knew what to do; he pleasured both Ninah and Severance while the two took each other. Ninah wanted more.
“What are you glowing about?” came a whisper in her ear. Ninah jumped. Aaron had come out to see if she was alright. “Sorry,” he said, catching her. “Making sure you weren’t lost. You are glowing,” he accused, waving a finger at her face.
She flushed even more. “New relationship,” she said. He smiled and gave a nod.
“Ah. Let me guess: Severance?”
Her face gave her away and he laughed. “It’s alright,” he said. “Both the guys or just Severance?”
“Severance,” she said. “Although Shara was present.”
“Nice,” he said with a smile. “I’m envious; wouldn’t mind taking a turn with either one of them. I didn’t think Shara worked with women, though; Karrin mentioned something about her brother-in-law at one time.”
“He doesn’t,” she said. Well, Aaron was on the way into the clan, and probably Michael, too….. “But he knows how to use his fingers.”
Aaron laughed. Ninah liked Aaron. Michael would be a bit high maintenance for her, but she enjoyed Aaron’s quiet company. And once they were part of the clan, Aaron would be floored to find out he was allowed playtime with the guys, if they all consented.
“Aaron, could I ask a personal question?” she asked.
“Have you and Michael ever…. played or strayed?”
Aaron looked around and led them to a room that wasn’t being used. There were a couple of cushioned chairs, and they sat.
“Both,” he admitted. “We’ve only played a couple times, by mutual consent, and straying… well, straying happens with men more than it does with women, I think. We’re careful and we forgive each other. It’s only happened a couple times in the past eighteen years, though, so I don’t want you to think it’s a regular occurrence.”
Ninah nodded, noticing that he was careful to not name names. “How do you deal with it?”
He sat back, considering her. “I’m going to take a guess; you’re thinking about your own boys.” Ninah told him his guess was right. “Well, I can’t speak for Severance and Shara, so I will generalize.
“Men are dogs, Ninah. We sniff each other’s butts, we bark and growl, mark our territory, and the moment we walk away the feud is over and forgotten. Usually.
“For us, sex is external and most women don’t understand that. From my observations, women tend to think of sex as a romantic thing and they take it to heart. It’s the opposite with men, and we are always getting into trouble with women because of it.”
He leaned forward and took her hand.
“Whatever happens, don’t take personally anything they do,” he told her. “Don’t let it bother you if they are fighting. They’ll get over it. Men have mood swings just like women; let them go off in their corner when they need to, let them know you’re available when they need to communicate, and they do need to communicate, just don’t push them when they aren’t ready. Be firm, though; part of being in a relationship is communication. With a three-way partnership, communication is going to be even more important. Michael and I have been together a long time, and we have a tendency to grunt at each other; we can translate. When we need to, though, we make it a point to sit face to face and talk.
“Having a daughter has gotten us into the habit of checking in about once a week. Emily knows when to take the bull by the horns and make us talk.” He smiled. “As the communicator of our species, I recommend that you take the lead. Do you need advice on a man’s body?”
“No,” she said. “I’ve never been a shy lover, and I’ve had several close, gay friends who didn’t hesitate to tell me all the gory details of gay sex and the hygiene thereof.”
Aaron chuckled. “Good, good. Yes, we like things messy.”
He watched her face, smiling quietly. “Do you enjoy watching them together?”
Ninah smiled back at him. “I think they’re beautiful together.”