I turned around to the cashier.  Yes, standing there in a worn denim vest and blue jeans that had holes in the knees was a woman with an art portfolio.  Her hair was shaved on half her scalp, and what was long was this mermaid-like blue-green colour.  She had an eyebrow piercing with a curved barbell and wore just a bit of make-up.  She looked around for a place to sit.

I had taken a big armchair with some kind of faux leather finish, and across from the tiny table was a tall wooden chair. I figured the size of the armchair gave equal psychological weight for the height difference. “Hey,” I said, weakly, waving my hand.  I made sure to raise up my creamy rose drink so she could see the stylized ‘E’ on the cup.

She came over quickly, looking relieved. “Hi.  Um.  I’m Janet.  I realised I might not have told you.  You’re E?  You look…”

I waited for it, gauging quickly the words that might follow in a quick bullet point list in my head:

 Most Unlikely:

  • suave
  • debonair
  • dashing


  • fizarneek
  • purple
  • edible

Most Likely:

  • as expected
  • human
  • less wizardly than made out to be

She smiled and completed the sentence, “Normal.”

I didn’t know whether or not to feel insulted.  “Were you expecting googly eyes?” I asked.  “Maybe a hunchback?”

She laughed, sitting down. “I guess I didn’t know what to expect.  Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.”

“None taken,” I said, magnanimously.  “`Normal’ doesn’t sound like I’m some kind of ambushing grotesque, so we’ll go with it as a positive.”  I grinned to take away any sting.

She gave a little grin in return. “You didn’t have a beard. Somehow I thought you would have a beard.”

“Give me a couple weeks, I can try to scrape up some fuzz,” I said. “Or we can beard the lion in its den right now.” I waggled my eyebrows to emphasize the pun.  “Want to show me your little problem?”

She scoffed. “Little.” There was more fear in her eyes again.  “Here.”  She pulled up her portfolio, popped the two snaps, and I heard the screaming in my head before I even had to look at the page.

I forced myself to look at it.  “You said,” I pulled up the memory under the assault with great difficulty, “that you were discouraging someone from stalking your sister?”

By itself one might say it was just an abstract ink drawing. I saw somewhat more, being of the magical persuasion (if reluctant to be magically persuaded, no matter how magically delicious.)  I saw pain, and familiarity, and a broken promise. I smelled a faint hint of gunpowder, a drop of blood, some coffee, and a whiff of sweat.  I heard the gate, whistled open, screaming its inability to close.

“Yeah,” she said.  She wasn’t looking at it, but at me, carefully.  I realized I had been gripping my own hands together, and the knuckles were turning white.  I was surprised that I hadn’t been trying to plug my ears but knowing it was a psychic scream, it was nothing my ears would handle on their own.  I relaxed them consciously, stretching them out.

“You knew him?” I asked. I tried not to make it sound accusatory, but all sound in the coffee shop, the clinks of mugs against the tables, the tapping of laptop keys, the low murmurs of conversation, the misophonically discordant sipping of the drinks, all were like grating pain in my ears against the knowledge that this page held a gate to something unpleasant.  Something that danced and blurred as I tried to hold it.

“Close the book, and it will stop,” something told me.  I don’t know whose voice it was, but that wouldn’t be enough.  It would still be there.  It needed closing.   I needed to know why the anguish remained.

“Yes,” Janet admitted.  Her voice was a clarion, a harmony of clarity against the riot mere inches away from my hand.  I thought for a moment of pouring my cup into that hole, or sticking in a finger into the maelstrom.  “We dated for, well, I guess you can’t call it dating.  We had a couple interludes and then I called it quits.”

It was truth. I could tell against the edges of the wrongness that there were words. They drifted together, a secret tide along the fjords of the storm.  Words said in anger, words accusatory, I saw them dance along the lines like they would dance across her lips.  I saw fire in her eyes.  She wanted him to hurt.  She wanted him to taste a little punishment.

Whatever hellish landscape she held within herself, she had tapped it slightly.  I could see that this was personal, that this was an artifact of her pain and protective feeling towards her sister.

“Can you close it?” she asked.

“Yes.” I didn’t even have to think about it.  “Do you have a pen?” I reached out for it.

I knew before looking that it would be a brush pen, a fine black tool.  She took the cap off before handing it to me.  I found myself humming as I placed the ink against the paper. I felt a reluctance, a strange pulling, and I realized Janet hadn’t actually let go, and she was humming with me.

Was it a song? I didn’t ask. I caught one or two glances, but it wasn’t weird enough to really stand out among the rest of what was so important to each person’s personal space. I just filled in the picture. Drew the resolution, drew the unfortunate apology, the remaining anger, the closure of the door, closing the feelings away.

I felt her begin to flag as what I thought of as my power began to rise. Strands of her own ability braided the ends, focusing my new design.  I heard the sounds of the shop begin to recede, to become normal. I felt the anger leave me, and it left me exhausted.

And then there it was, just some lines on a page, just a closed circuit.

“E?” Janet asked, as things began to go black at the edges of my vision.

“I’m…” then suddenly darkness.