After Severance had left the previous day, Ninah changed her clothes, took another potassium pill and a pain reliever, and went to the city planner’s office. It was a small office housed in the same building as the mayor’s office and the school board. When she told the woman behind the desk what she wanted, the woman looked at Ninah as though she had grown another head.
“That house has a history, you know,” the woman told her. She was an older lady, gray hair cut short and styled. Her half-glasses perched on the end of her nose as she looked over the tops at Ninah.
“I’m aware,” Ninah said. “I’d still like to see the plans. They are in public domain. Who do I need to talk with to buy the place?”
“The town council,” she was dubiously told.
“The town owns the property, Miss,” the woman said. “Too many people ended up missing or hurt on that property, so the city bought it to keep it out of public hands.”
“Why didn’t someone just bulldoze the place to the ground?”
The woman looked around cautiously and then leaned over the counter. “It’s haunted,” she whispered. “Whenever a vehicle got close to the place, the cars or trucks or whatever just stalled in place. A few folks went on foot and they were never heard from again.” She nodded knowingly, tapping a finger on the side of her nose.
Ninah pushed money across the counter and waited. Since the plans were public domain, the clerk was forced to make a copy for Ninah. While the copy was being made, she filled out the necessary forms to let the town council know she wanted to buy the property.
Happy with what she saw in the plans, Ninah went to the copy store, had them scanned on their large document scanner, and emailed them to Karrin Cooper.
Her cell phone rang twenty minutes later.
"This is beautiful!" Karrin announced enthusiastically over the phone. "I think I'd knock out a few walls, open up a couple of the rooms, and….."
"I want a vaulted ceiling," Ninah told her. "Get rid of the middle of the second floor, and the attic, and build a wrap-around hallway for bedrooms and baths at the north and south end of the house. Open the fireplace wall in the living room so that the library can be seen through it. Share the fire pit between the rooms. Make the floor above the library part of the library by building a circular staircase between the floors. Make the second floor library open and airy with a large picture window.
“Leave the east side of the house open with large windows and the front door, make sure the second floor hallway wraps around that side, too, and make sure there's space between the windows for artwork. I want four bedrooms on the second floor, with two full baths to connect rooms.
“I want the wall between two of the ground floor bedrooms on the north side to be knocked out, making it one master bedroom. On the west side of the bedroom, there's a smaller bedroom which I want made into a large master bath. On the east side of the bedroom, I want that room made into an office. Take out the door connecting it to the entry way, and put in a door that connects through the master bedroom's closet. A large closet.
"Opposite of the library, on the east and west sides, I want four bedrooms, two on each side with a full bath connecting them. Make the corner rooms into sitting rooms with large, picture windows and window seats.
"Next to the kitchen, I want a half-bath for guests. Make it roomy. In the kitchen, I want a breakfast nook with a picture window. I want an island in the middle of the room, and make the storage room larger. There's a mudroom off to the side of the kitchen; make it into a laundry room with a door connecting it to the side yard. We can take care of small details later."
Karrin was silent for a moment. "Okay, I guess you know what you want," she said with a laugh. "Your wish is my command. I'll get the new plans back to you in about a week."
"Great!" Ninah happily crowed. "Gives me time to exorcise the place."
Karrin laughed again. "That would probably be a good idea," she said, surprise coloring her voice. "Before my boys start falling from ladders and getting beaned by nail guns.”
Ninah liked Karrin, although she hadn’t seen the woman much while the store was being renovated; the CEO of a company didn’t usually accompany the crew to a site. But Ninah appreciated the woman’s sense of humor, once she got past Karrin’s haughty nose which Ninah learned had nothing to do with class wars and everything to do with the world not running on her schedule.
Back at the store, Ninah pinned the house plans to the wall where she could study it. "Cool." Ninah jumped at the voice in her ear. "Sorry," Thayer said. "Is that the old place out back?"
"Yes," she said. "I have to petition the town council to buy it. It seems the town owns it. It's haunted."
"I know," he said with a nod. "I've been by it. It kicked the crap out of me when I tried to get near, and I’m not even Talented."
"I'll take care of it," Ninah told him, determination setting her jaw. No house or be-spelled piece of land was going to stop her. "I already sent the plans to Karrin; I want changes made."
"Karrin is going to love this one," he commented, taking a closer look at the plans.
“Do you know Karrin?” she asked.
Thayer looked at her, confused. “Of course,” he said.
Ninah waited. “Why of course?”
“She’s a clan-sib.”
Ninah was confused, too. “Back up,” she said. “What clan?”
“Sev’s clan,” he said. “Our clan.”
Ninah wanted to shake him.
“Thayer, I’ve been tossed into the deep end,” she told him slowly. “I have no idea who else is in the pool or who the pool belongs to. I’m new here, remember?”
“Severance, Shara, Terry, Irra and Karrin are the inner circle of the group,” he said. “We refer to the group as the clan mainly because they never bothered to name themselves.”
Thoughts went flying around Ninah’s brain at light-speed. “Severance never mentioned his sister by name, and Karrin never mentioned him. They have different last names.”
“They each probably thought the other said something,” he considered. “They are brother and sister, and they tend to assume with each other a lot. And they have different fathers.”
They did have the same color brown eyes, she considered. “They’re a working coven?”
“They work,” he said. “But they don’t like the term ‘coven.’ Issues with the negative energy attached to the word from historical misuse.”
“But you’re not in the inner circle?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m psi-blind. The others are Talented. They’re all magicians, so only the Talented get into the inner circle. Public rituals are usually run by Oak and Willow in the outer circle.”
Ninah leaned back against the wall, crossing her arms and studying him.
“Thayer, tell me something,” she began. “I don’t understand your position in the clan. I mean, what do you do?”
“Because I’m not like them?” he asked. He smiled. “It’s okay. After seeing some of the crap they go through, I don’t want the Talents.” He began to straighten books on a nearby shelf.
“I take care of them,” he said. “Most of the clans have someone like me; we are technically part of the outer circle, but we serve the inner circle. Cleaning, cooking, taking care of appointments –whatever they need. Oh, they can take care of themselves, but they usually don’t have time for the mundane stuff. Someone needs to do it.”
“That must take a lot of trust on their part,” she said thoughtfully as she studied him. “Private information that the outer circle isn’t usually privy to.”
“Yes, I hear and see a lot,” he agreed.
“Do you get paid?” she asked. She had met a few psi-blind people before; not even a hint of instinct gets through their mind shields. They could walk through a house filled with jabbering ghosts, and not twitch an inch.
“Not as such,” he said. “I get room and board from Terry, a nice apartment over his garage, and free medical from Sev. When I need something, all I have to do is ask and they either get it for me or they give me the money to get it myself. Sometimes they just give me money; if I don’t need anything, I put it away.”
“What about time off?” He had a nice iPod among other electronics, nice clothes, played when he wanted; Ninah didn’t see him wanting for anything.
“Whenever I want it,” he said. “When the guys aren’t in town, I lounge around or go hiking or something.”
Ninah wasn’t sure she liked the idea of him not getting a paycheck, no matter how open the men were with their wallets. “Do you need more from me?” she asked. “Is your paycheck enough?”
Thayer laughed. “Ninah, you’re too generous already. I’m fine, really.”
She demurred. “Well, okay, but tell me if you need to be someplace else or you need more money.”
The next morning, Ninah woke up to find Irra making himself at home in the store. How did he get in? Black sneakers had replaced the black boots, the blue jeans were a bit rough around the edges, which he filled out almost as nicely as Severance filled his own jeans, and a black t-shirt with its stylized sun and flames declared his preference for Godsmack.
He was setting new wards and adding energy to the old ones. She noted how he didn’t force himself onto the wards, but expertly fine-tuned their matrix and slid his additions into the mix. He then stood in the center of the room, faced north, the palm of his right hand raised, the left facing the floor, the stand of pledge and praise, and breathed a white cloud octagram into the aether. “Great Enlil, Lord of Air, separate this place from harm, calm any turbulences that come this way.”
He turned to the west and sent a black octagram into the aether. “Ereshkigal, Great Lady of the Underworld, my Mistress, cast your all-seeing eye upon this place and watch over us.”
To the south, “Father Enki, Lord of the Earth, God of Water, whisper spells of protection into this matrix and guide us on our journey.”
To the east, “Great Inanna, Rising Star, forever we honor you, leader of the armies, leader of the heart, as you defend us, your children.”
He was silent for a moment and then turned to face Ninah. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t, thank you.” Although he still had that strange shimmer, his aura was spiking red. Something had happened. “What’s going on?” she asked. Something must have happened, if it caused him to put a matrix on top of hers over the store. Normally she would have been pissed at the presumption of her space, but his aura was too serious for her to consider a deliberate insult.
“Karrin and Terry were in a car accident early this morning,” he said quietly. “Terry’s a little scratched, but Karrin is no longer with us. Severance and Shara are picking up the kids to head out to Tacoma.”
Ninah’s jaw dropped. “Oh my god, Irra, I’m so sorry! Are you alright? Can I do anything?”
“I’m fine,” he said. His clenched jaw said otherwise. “I sent out a message to the clans; some of the leaders will be coming in for the Remembrance in a couple days. Will the temple be ready by then? If not, we’ll just go for a hike.”
“Whatever you’d like,” Ninah promised. “The temple is ready; just some murals need to be painted. You’re welcome to use it. Just let me know what you need, if there’s anything I can do to help.”
Some of the outer circle began coming into the store as the news hit in-boxes. Looking lost and bereft, they latched on to Irra who sat with them, holding hands, offering his shoulders, and simply listening. His darkness became not so much dark, as it was deep and centered, a black hole pulling in from all around and changing it into something else, giving back a cool, calming air.
Later in the afternoon, after Irra left to find a quiet corner for himself, Ninah’s cell phone rang, startling her from her observations of the day.
“No problem at all, Mr Somers,” Ninah said into her phone. “Aaron. No, I understand completely; I’m sorry for your loss. Thank you.”
Ninah hung up and found Thayer waiting for her, his eyes red, sniffling into a tissue.
“Some of our friends from other clans are coming in,” he told her. “We don’t need to do anything special, they know their way around.”
“I know, Irra told me; let me know if there is anything I can do. How’s Terry?” she asked as she pulled a ladder from the wall behind her. She stuck a pencil in her mouth, climbed up, and made a scribble on the wall of the store where a new mural would be painted.
With the front door locked so that no one opened it and hit Ninah on her ladder, a woman in a sheriff’s office uniform went around to the back door with an armful of soda and a tray of something, and went into the kitchen. Thayer went to meet her and accepted a hug. He then brought out a soda and a handful of veggies, sent by the sheriff’s office, to nibble on. “Haven’t heard,” he said. “I’m sure Sev would have said something, if he was hurt.”
“His heart is hurting,” Ninah said. Thayer agreed. “And how are you?” she asked. The young man was quieter than usual, which was to be expected.
“She was a big sister to me,” Thayer said. He sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “I think I need to go out.”
“Of course,” she said, reaching down to touch his hair and give him a stroke. “Do you want to go to Tacoma?”
“No,” he whispered, shaking his head. He left the store. Ninah knew he was heading for the horse ranch across town where he liked to ride. She mourned the loss of such a bright life, wishing she had gotten to know Karrin better, but not having an emotional attachment gave her room to help the guys during their period of mourning.
Three days later, she knew guests had started to arrive when the door opened and two women walked into her store. They paused as the sigil beneath their feet glowed brightly.
“Pretty ward,” the older of them said to her with a pleasant smile. “Your design?”
“Yes,” she admitted, finding it interesting that neither of the women found the sigil unusual. The two women were dressed in jeans and t-shirts. One of the women had light brown dreadlocks reaching almost to her waist, and the second woman was older with short, snow white hair. Ninah felt an instant attraction to the older woman and wanted to curl up at her feet with milk and cookies.
“I’m Ninah,” she said. The women stepped into the store as though walking through a curtained boundary. The sigil relaxed, accepting them.
“I’m Waterfall,” the woman with dreads said. “This is Grandmother. We are from Clan Dragon. Irra told us to come straight here.”
Clan Dragon was from the Northwest Territories, if Ninah remembered correctly; mostly native and shamanic magics. The guys sometimes mentioned someone named Wolf who lived up there.
“Yes, of course,” Ninah said, stepping out from around the desk. “Please come in. Let me show you around. Would you like something to drink?”
Thayer heard the voices and came down from the loft, wiping his hands and arms with a rag to get the white gypsum dust off his skin. Some of the construction workers had come in, needing to work even though their office was still closed for mourning; Thayer decided to take out some of his pain with a hammer and nails.
“Grandmother!” He gave a tired smile and hugged the old woman, pecking her cheek before greeting Waterfall.
One by one people came in, Tychon from Greece, Oliver from Australia, Morag from Scotland, Steve from Utah, and John from Alabama, and introduced themselves to Ninah until seven guests sat and quietly talked with each other and some of the local outer circle that had come in. Willow and Oak, the high priests for the outer circle, took over as hosts, with Ninah’s permission, since it was her store. She didn’t mind at all. She wasn’t sure what she should be doing, never having had to deal with a death, before. She whispered to Willow about it, and was assured that there wasn’t anything she needed to do; they were all self-reliant and used to taking over whatever space they found themselves in.
Severance called to check in late in the evening, sounding completely drained; as the executer of Karrin’s estate, he had a lot of work to deal with before he could begin to relax.
“How are you?” Ninah asked him.
“Managing,” he said, sounding weary. “Thanks for hosting, Ninah; I appreciate it.”
“Don’t worry about anything here,” she told him. “We’re doing fine; you take care of yourself and see to your family.”
Instead of crying for Karrin’s loss, everyone spoke of memories, laughing at experiences with her. Several people commented on Karrin’s energy signature around the store, specifically the loft, and were complimentary of the work.
Eventually, someone broke out a guitar and other people took the drums and instruments that were on the shelves. Music, singing, and dancing started. Thayer walked around with a camcorder, conducting interviews. People spoke directly to Karrin, sending best wishes and hopes of her returning to them. Ninah swallowed past the lump in her throat; never had she seen such a memorial.
As the evening advanced, people began to drift out, heading toward sleeping bags. Camp was set up in the field behind the store; they stayed close to the wooden cattle fence, rather than drift off toward the forest. Ninah felt a little guilty about letting people stay in tents, but Irra and Thayer assured her that people preferred it; they had the option of houses and a hotel; they wanted the ground.
When the store was empty, Ninah closed up. She looked out the window at the field out back. Tents had been erected, and a fire pit carefully dug out of the damp ground and lined with rocks. People were sitting on logs and camp chairs, quietly talking or communing with nature.
Uneasy glances over shoulders toward the dark forest a couple miles away told Ninah that she wasn’t the only one to sense whatever it was. She went downstairs to her temporary apartment and prepared for bed.