“About freakin’ time,” the man grumbled as he sat opposite Severance in the booth later in the morning. “Joy-riding for two years while we wait.”
The small diner in the center of town, across the street from the city hall, was a favorite place for them to hang out. None of them cooked well, and at the diner they didn’t have to clean up after themselves. When they hired Thayer a year earlier, they had hoped he would be able to cook, but it was one of the few things he couldn’t do. In fact, the men were pretty sure Thayer had figured out how to burn water.
“She’s here now, so let it be,” Severance ordered. “Things happen when they need to happen.”
A cup of coffee was set in front of him by the waitress, a young girl of seventeen, with her brown hair pulled back into a pony tail which bobbed when she scurried around the diner. Katie would be starting senior year in high school the following fall.
“Thanks, Katie,” Sev acknowledged. He blew on his coffee and took a sip. “The far-seers were right; she has a lot of power and very little in the way of self-discipline. My sudden presence almost caused her to drop that matrix from the girl. If that had happened…”
“It would have taken all of us to get it back,” his companion finished.
Boots clicked on the linoleum floor, making their way to the table. The back corner, which the guys usually huddled in when they were at the diner, was fairly private, allowing them to speak semi-freely depending on who was in the diner. At the moment, it was quiet; just after the breakfast rush and an hour or so before the lunch crowd poured in, the only other people were a few old codgers on the other side of the room.
The owner of the boots sat, shoving Terry over to make room. Katie brought more coffee, leaving the carafe for them. Her necklace, with its star surrounded by a circle of silver wire, dangled briefly when she leaned over to pour his cup.
“Thanks,” the newcomer said, adding a tablespoon of sugar to the hot liquid. He had a cut over his left eye being held together by surgical glue; Severance had glued him together two days earlier. Sev didn’t ask questions when the guys came home covered in bruises after one of their secret trips. Once in a while a bullet wound needed to be taken care of; he didn’t ask about those, either. They promised him they weren’t doing anything against the law, and he believed them. If law enforcement decided to make a case about it, though, he could lose his medical license for not reporting the bullet wounds. The guys promised it wouldn’t happen. Severance was beginning to wonder if they worked for an agency with a three-letter acronym.
“What’s the word?” the man asked her.
“Nothing much,” Katie said. She had stopped feeling intimidated by the men over a year earlier when they chased her mother’s ex-boyfriend out of town after one black eye too many. “I heard a few comments that could have referred to poltergeists, someone is timing it in their dreams, and a lot of people are feeling more and more twitchy the past year or so.”
“Who’s timing it?” Severance asked. Precognition was a hard one to prove in someone untrained; too many ambiguous images along with too much rationalizing from the conscious mind.
Katie thought for a moment and then shook her head. “I don’t know her name but it’s the woman who lives out on
“Stepped yard?” Terry asked, looking inward at the databank in his head. “Herbal garden along the side?” No one could figure out how he did it but he managed to keep all sorts of odd information in his head, including phone numbers, addresses and birthdays.
Katie nodded. “That’s her.”
The guys had already spotted the woman; she was Christian, though, so they declined to spook her with an invite to the group. The woman would find them if the gods wanted her to. Or if the guys really needed her help.
“Is she on target?” Sev asked Katie.
The girl shrugged. “So she says. Small stuff, though.” She excused herself to help a customer.
Terry looked inward as he thought, counting in his head. “Okay, so about an eighth of the town has come down with magic-itus, and now we got people moving in with it. Anything dark, or is it generalized?”
“General, as far as I’ve noticed,” Irra said. As their exorcist, he would know if anything dark was coming their way. “In fact, the so-called dark magicians seem to be at a loss; they’ve been unable to deal with the energy. It’s almost like the energy is resonating differently.”
A light went on over his head, and Severance snapped his fingers. “That’s it!” he declared, happy to find what had been bugging him. A few customers looked their way. “That’s what I’ve been feeling! The energy IS resonating differently. Damned if I couldn’t put a finger on it.”
“What about the new woman?” Terry asked. “Where’s she in all this? Her store is looking good. She’s got it warded to the hilt; the whole building is humming nicely. Karrin’s crew is tearing apart the upstairs, and they haven’t had one accident.”
Sev turned in his seat, putting his back to the wall, and stretched his long legs out along the bench seat. “Not sure,” he said, thinking about the young woman. She was pretty, and he liked her freckles and long, thick dark hair. She was slim, but not so much that her bones were sticking out; he liked a few curves. “She is definitely Talented. I think she stretched herself for that poor girl, and yet I get the impression that she isn’t done growing. She scares me a little.”
Irra looked up. “In what way?” he growled.
Their watch dog was waved down. “Nothing bad,” Sev assured him. “She scares me in that she conjured up a major matrix, thought it up on the spot, I’m certain, and that was only a small sample of what she’s capable of. Or will be capable of once she’s done growing.” He shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “The change in the energy…. I’d swear it’s part of the cause behind all the sudden ‘magic-itus.’ It’s like some veil was lifted and anyone who was the least bit sensitive is suddenly feeling the difference and putting two and two together.” The men didn’t have much to say about that statement other than general agreement. It needed to be thought out.
Irra said he would hunt around and see what he could dig up on her; someone with that kind of talent doesn’t just burst onto the scene. They should have known about her. Where the hell did she come from?
On his way home, Severance stopped by the dojo where class was being held for a group of kids. He kicked off his shoes at the door before crossing the room, acknowledged the sensei, and went into the office. The master of the dojo was at the desk pouring over the computer.
“What have we got?” Sev asked as he leaned over the desk for a peck. Thin-rimmed glasses were taken off and carefully placed on the desk, and long, straight blue-black hair was gathered and bound in a dark ribbon.
“More reports of activity at the junior high,” Shara told him. “Not completely unexpected, considering all the prepubescent energy. Electricians think there’s a short in the wiring somewhere and it’s making them crazy trying to find it. Becky Waters says it isn’t that kind of energy that’s making things go haywire, though.”
Severance sat back in a chair. “She should know,” he commented, unconcerned; even teenagers were finding their way to the outer Circle of the group. With all the ‘cult’ talk from evangelists, the group insisted on meeting parents and getting permission for the kids to attend open rituals and basic classes. Parents were certainly welcome, too; belief had nothing to do with it, and simple education of a different cultural group was always a good thing. About half would agree. The kids of the other half would get a small list of books and websites to explore. “Is it too strong for her? She isn’t really old enough to be dealing with that kind of stuff.” He didn’t like the teens helping with stuff, but sometimes the kids were the only ones in the area. He knew Becky, though, and trusted her with the work.
“Too strong,” Shara said. “She tried, but it wore her right down before she even got going. I was going to send Terry after it.” Severance signed off on it. All the odd energy coming off the astral plane had been getting stronger the past couple of years. A magician was always around to offer a little cleansing and blessing, but whatever was going on had them jumping to organize clean-up details after one too many people began screeching over slamming doors and open cabinets. Not knowing what else to do, and yet needing to help, the group began keeping records of the incidences and assigning ‘jobs’ to people who could direct ethereal energy.
Shara put the papers down and looked at him. “Is she the one?” he asked in his usual quiet, calm voice.
“Oh, yeah,” Sev breathed, not having to ask which ‘she’ Shara meant. He took a rubber band off the desk and played with it.
“What are we doing about her?” Shara asked.
Severance lifted a hand and shrugged. “We cultivate her,” he said. “Wolf says she’s supposed to be with us. And I point out that Rick went to her, not us, to deal with that poor girl. I could have handled it, but after watching Ninah, I know it would have taken me a hell of a lot longer. Irra could have done it, but he can be a bull in a china shop, at times,” he said thoughtfully.
“What concerns me is her inexperience,” Sev told him. “All the far-sensors are referring to her as an Adapt, but what I saw was a talented exorcist not too far removed from intermediate teachings.” He shook his head. “No, that isn’t right. What she did was Adapt level, but it was as though it was instinctive, not actual training. You’ll have to see for yourself. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Shara studied him. “Thayer said when she was putting all those wards on the store it was as though she were in a deep trance, not really conscious of what her hands were doing, and she chanted under her breath.”
“Yes, that’s it,” Severance said, swinging a finger through the air. He crossed one leg over the other, his dangling, socked foot jiggling in the air. “It was as though her instincts and her conscious mind were not in line. If she isn’t done growing, she needs a reality check before all hell breaks loose.”
Shara agreed. “And we really should look into Rick,” he commented, leaning back, thoughtfully tapping a pen on the desk. “He shows no signs of magic and yet he knows what we are. And now he goes to Ninah Adams, a stranger, for a major event?”
“I know,” Sev said, rubbing an eye. Shara smiled, not bothering to tell Sev that he looked like his kids when he was tired. “I know there’s something there, but damned if I can figure out what it is.”
“Want to ask Irra to do one of his top secret background checks?”
Still not asking how, the men knew Irra came up with the oddest information on people who caught his attention.
“I wonder if he’s already done it, but hasn’t had a reason to mention it?” Sev wondered. They wouldn’t put it past Irra to already have the information; Irra discloses information when Irra wants to disclose information.
Later in the evening, Severance stood on the deck of their home and looked at the nighttime sky. It was usually hard to see stars in the
Pacific Northwest because the
evening skies were almost always overcast. Once in a while, though, stars
peaked through. Watching them glitter, Severance was sure there were more stars
than usual. He shook his head; it must have been longer than he thought since
he had been able to stargaze. He knew the basic constellations, but not all
magicians used or even believed in astrology, so he wasn’t sure that the sky
was anything other than normal. He did know some towns were trying to cut down
on light pollution; maybe the darkness of the night caused him to think there
were more lights twinkling up there.
“Dadu, come to bed,” Shara called out. “You’re letting the bugs in.”
Severance once more called for the cat. When there was no responding “Wrow?” he went into the house, shutting the French doors and locking them. Idiot cat was probably terrorizing the pit bull the next block over. He put his robe on the chair and slid into bed, pulling the covers up. Shara curled up into his back, warming him.
“Don’t forget that Danny is coming up for the weekend,” Shara murmured sleepily.
“No Kerry?” Sev asked, reaching up to turn the light off.
“What seventeen year old girl wants to spend weekends with her old man and his partner?” Shara countered.
The kids had been coming up for weekends since they were small; Daniel still came up, usually, and once in a while Kerry would. The two older boys rarely showed, forcing Severance to trek down to
Seattle a couple times a
month just to remind his children of what he looked like. Sometimes Severance
would tweak them by taking a picture with his cell phone, grinning like a
hyena, and send it to all four of them. It was good for at least one of them
calling to bitch at him. At least he got to hear a voice. Once, when he went an
entire month without hearing from them, he and Shara sent each of the kids a
voice mail. Hearing the dads singing ‘I Got You Babe’ in their ears got all
four kids to call and check in.
It wasn’t that they didn’t have a good relationship; they had a great relationship. It was just that Shane and Morgan were twenty-four and twenty-one, and starting their own lives. The last thing they wanted was their father hounding them for affection. At least he could still count on Kerry and Daniel for camp-outs. Although, at eighteen, Kerry was breaking away, too. One left in the nest, one with her foot out the door. Severance was feeling all forty-seven of his years.
The phone rang. Severance groaned as he reached. Please no emergencies…
“Yeah,” he croaked.
“Sorry for calling so late, Doctor,” he heard. It was his answering service. Jan had been his graveyard voice for many years. She was also a member of their outer circle. “Mrs Hernandez is in labor.”
Severance considered the message. “I’m not her
OB,” he finally decided.
“Yes, Sir, but Mr Hernandez was insistent that we call you. I don’t know the word he used… um… sounded like… coorindaro. I think. Sorry, Doctor.” Mexican magics weren’t well-known so far from the southern border, so Severance wasn’t surprised at her ignorance of the word.
Severance rubbed at his eyes as he sat up halfway and leaned on an elbow. “No, it’s okay, Jan,” he said. Curandero. A shaman. “I know what he wants. What’s his number?” He scribbled on the note pad lying on the side table. He hung up with his service and redialed. “Hector, esto es Dr. Allen.
esposa?” He listened, trying hard to keep up with his C+ high school Spanish.
“Si, si.” He hung up and groaned as he sat, swinging his legs to the floor.
“What are you doing?” Shara murmured into his pillow.
“Mr Hernandez wants a little mojo for his wife,” Sev said. “They have five girls. He wants a boy.”
Shara cranked open an eye. “Isn’t it a little late?”
“He doesn’t understand how genetics work.”
“Well, it is too late,” Shara told him, snuggling in deeper under the covers. “Mrs Hernandez had me rattle her cage two months ago. It’s a girl.”
Severance paused in dressing and then slid one leg into his sweats. “I’ll tell him some kind of message from the gods.”
The basement wasn’t the normal washer-dryer mold-smelling room at the bottom of the house. The room had been fixed up; the walls insulated against the damp of the
Northwest and changed into a private work room. Cabinets and rows
of small drawers held herbs powdered, crushed, and whole. Some drawers held
small pouches already prepared for whatever they were meant to be used for,
other drawers held talismans. Homemade oils, his sister’s specialty, released
fragrant scents, taking away any bad smells of the day.
Sev took out a pre-made bag from one of the small drawers and added a few pinches to it from other drawers, fixing the small mojo bag for a specific use. He cupped it between his large hands, closed his eyes, and gathered the different energies of the various herbs, mixing the energies, blending them until they hummed nicely, and set them to the tasks of strength, stamina and paternal wisdom. A lot of magical herbalists simply mixed herbs, and maybe set them out by the light of the moon; Severance actually did the work.
When Mrs Hernandez’s mother knocked on the door thirty minutes later, Sev gave her the bag, explained what it was for, and that the gods had already decreed that they would be blessed with a girl. Mama put on a face while Severance sensed her inward happiness at another girl for her to make pretty things for. She handed him a plate of homemade tamales in payment, thanked him, and hurried off to get to the hospital.
Normally the local Hispanics didn’t hold with white devil magic, however they found nothing untoward about Dr Allen other than his choice of life-mates, so they decided that he was a curandero which was something completely different than devil magic. They even had him come to their homes, from time to time, to chase away evil spirits and bless the home and family. Of course, they didn’t tell their priests anything about it during Confession.
By the time Sev returned to bed, Shara was already asleep. Oh, well, no playtime for him that night.
As one of the few openly pagan physicians in the area, Severance had a lot of patients who came from out of town. The majority of the pagan population, from SeaTac to
came to him for their treatment. He could say, modestly, that he was doing
well; he kept a private practice, a home just large enough for his and Shara’s
needs, kept his kids in clothes, his ex-wife in their ex-house, and still had a
little left over to send his kids to college.
Next to the bed, on the side table, there was a family picture of Severance, Shara and the kids. One of the few group shots taken in the nine years of their togetherness. It was understandable that Shane and Morgan didn’t visit much anymore; the last time he whined about the lack of love they told him to discuss it with the girlfriends. Severance mailed the 20-somethings each a box of condoms. At least he got dinner with each of them a couple weeks later. Kerry hadn’t visited much lately, either; she had a part-time job, and friends. Sev looked at the youngest of his kids, Daniel, fifteen.
He worried for Danny; the boy was pretty, and keeping his red hair long and perfect wasn’t helping. One of the few things Shara butted in between Sev and Nancy about was in making sure all four kids had at least a basic understanding of self-defense. Sev knew Danny could take care of himself; that didn’t stop the dads from worrying, though. Well, Danny would be with them for the weekend, so he’d make sure to check in. He knew Kerry could take care of herself; hell, she’d kick ass. But Danny? The boy was… delicate.
In the morning, Severance got up, showered and dressed, and made toast. Shara was still asleep. They had all been tired lately, sleeping in. Sev considered giving them vitamin booster shoots. He looked on the porch; still no sign of the cat. He hoped something from the mountains didn’t come down for a visit.
As he considered his cat, he got the sensation of expectancy that he usually got when a premonition hit. Since he didn’t often have premonitions, he decided to follow-up on it. He pulled a light-weight coat on and left the house.