Archive for the ‘ Chapter 01 – Closer ’ Category

(1) Introducing the Doctor

I’m not a wizard. Wizards are generalists. They like to straddle a number of different disciplines, showing off thaumaturgy out of one hand and meditative feats out of the other. Sorcerors are even worse, usually because they talk a lot more. Sorcery takes a lot of discussion, feeding bits of the aetherworld gossip in exchange for favours on the more material dimension. Me? I’m a specialist. A wizard cures a lot of ills. I’m the plumber you call in to fix your drains.

They call me the Portal Doctor. Portal Dr. E.

The E stands for something east European that’s kind of hard to pronounce. I was teased a lot about it as a kid, until I just told them to call me “E.” Fifth letter of the alphabet, a pretty common vowel, bad time to pass the last gas station. Just call me “E.”

Oh, “Portal Doctor” you say? I’m a closer. There’s a lot of open windows in this world. Let me explain.

Any time you hear something that starts, “There’s two kinds of people in this world,” or anything so binary as that, it’s a joke. But I can still use it as an example. There’s two kinds of people in this world: people who go around closing cabinet doors in kitchens because it really bugs them, and people who just leave them open. It’s not a value judgment; you probably turn the light off to save electricity, after all, but to you, it’s no big deal. You’ll close the cabinets in a minute. They’re not letting out energy or anything, it’s just an aesthetic thing. Asymmetrical.

I call it “sloppy,” and it is. See, that’s just the kind of thinking that lets them in. Literally.

Them? Oh, they’d be the wee beasties wot bump in the night, of course. Rarely anything to worry about. It’s like the plumber metaphor I was alluding to a while back. Most of the jobs a plumber gets called on are pretty quick fixes and if you knew the right place to tap, you wouldn’t be out the hundred bucks, right? My quick fixes are usually goblin nests or the like. I know where to tap, you see.

And sometimes plumbers have the big jobs. The ones where they need to call the city. (Or in my case, I try to keep tabs on wizards. There’s one up in Chicago who is usually willing to lend a hand, or send one of his fellows. There’s also some under-the-radar practitioners who I generally try to stay on the right side of favors with, just in case.)

Like last night.

I tell you, college towns are the worst. I know I sound like some kind of cranky geezer when I say it, but the truth is, it’s a twice a year occurrence that some drunken coeds are going to play with a ouija board or prance around in little, “I want a vampire to eat me,” undies without knowing what kinds of steps to take to protect themselves. I don’t recommend you flush rock salt down your toilet, but if you’ve got a septic tank (or a haunted campus [most of them are, these days]) there are regular precautions you’d expect to make.


Take a quick poll around your office or classroom or whatever. We love ghost stories. It’s just that while everyone has a little mystery of some sort, no one wants to actually believe them. While our culture thinks of them as entertainment, it’s not so long ago that they were told as warnings. Don’t scratch the surface of the mirror in the dark and invite something nasty into your house. Maybe I’ve lived in places where they don’t lock their doors, but there’s the other side of it – in those places, we knew our neighbors. And in both cases, sometimes something goes terribly wrong.

There are times I am glad that kosher salt has made it big. Thanks, wizard Brown. It means I find it in more and more kitchens and don’t have to order it by the truckload. It doesn’t actually have to be kosher, but most times I need the rock more than the fine grain. Of course, sometimes the thin dust is nice, and then I have some fast food packets in the car. I’ve been adopted by the local Wendy’s. Their BBQ sauce is nice, too.

Water and salt and will. Tools of the trade. Yeah, there’s a mystical component to boot, and while everyone has something of it, that’s what makes a magician a little bit different from mortal man: not just the ability to manipulate it, but the training, too. It’s this ubiquity that makes it dangerous, though. Vampires attracted to energy more than blood, wonder opening doors to mischief. That kind of thing. The question asked that makes the opportunity. Actually, that’s part of what it says on my business card. “Doors closed, curiosity satisfied.”

But I don’t bring cats back. I’m smarter than that.

Just like I should have been smarter last night. The fact that I’m telling you this means I survived. Score one for the good guys. But I’ve been doing this for a while, and that means I trust my gut. My gut says, it’s going to come back.

I’ll skip the plumber metaphors when it comes to talking about what someone’s guts say. And all the puns that come from such toilet humour.

So, because this is important, let me focus for a moment. Set the scene. Denver, Colorado. Kind of East of the city, actually, in a suburb that ate Denver’s face that we call Aurora…

There’s a street at the heart of the city, and I know it well. Colfax Avenue winds its way for more than 26 miles from West to East, and it is a boundary of a sort. A weirdness magnet. In places it’s respectable, in others, it’s the place parents fear their little girls hang out on street corners. It’s concentrated, so much so that being even a block away can make a difference in how you are approached. There’s art, wild art, and the taste of many different cuisines, bookstores and thrift stores, fast food chains and beautiful churches. It’s its own landmark, part of the map of an earlier, primal time. A crossroads a thousand times over in its own crossing.

I was busy fixing a leak. I have a friend who is an exterminator. A little home-grown service called “Unwanted Houseguests,” and he hands out pens with cute little sayings like, “Get out! Don’t be a pest!” when he’s looking for new business. In this case, he’d been called because the landlords had had reports of something scurrying around, and presumed it was the common cockroach. He sprayed, recommended the usual caulking and anti-pest measures (like cleaning up after yourselves) and then found something a little more unusual. A feather.

Not a pigeon, although he handles those, too. Nor a seagull (you see a lot of them in landlocked Colorado) or even something he would have considered someone’s songbird companion. It was dark with green iridescence, with bone-like spurs towards the end of the quill, and a pattern he didn’t recognize. He found a few of them, and called me up.

“Goblins, again?” he asked.

I wasn’t too sure, so I went out. The ratio of children in the building was something like 3 to one adult, and kids like to open things. Leave a closed box in the middle of the room, and watch from a distance. It’s like some kind of magnet. And then come in and watch their hands go behind their back and suddenly, the word, “Nothing,” happens a lot denying everything you saw.

If you were to take a look at my library, you’d guess I was a gamer or a space cadet of some other nature. I buy art books, particularly mythological art, and maps like I was some sort of amateur cartographer. They’re really one and the same, and you can draw some interesting (if Fortean) comparisons with them if you try. But, libraries are often inconvenient to carry. I couldn’t get enough wi-fi signal to be sure, but it looked too clean for goblin spoor, and I’d never seen cherubic fewmets, so I was guessing.

As I said, I’m not an exterminator. Most things that have managed to survive on this side can thrive fine, and well, like we’ve been labelled before, they’re mostly harmless. The ones that aren’t would generally prefer to go home. This is a cold and scary world, and not just because humanity is prone to a wee bit of overreaction when faced with something of which they have limited understanding. Which isn’t to say when faced with a dark being from R’lyegh I wouldn’t oust it with the best of them, but I’d rather no one opened that door in the first place. (And if I understand right, it takes the opening of several doors under special circumstances, and well, I know people and I know guardians. It’s not happening.)

There are some predatory exceptions. I have a great respect for vampire hunters because I hate the parasites. Even with the fabulous PR they’re getting these days in books and movies, they’re all overblown mosquitos to me. My garlic repellent doesn’t pick up chicks (and doesn’t work most of the time anyway) but I also don’t invite them in. That’s the key. DON’T INVITE THEM IN. Spider, meet fly. Remember what happens to that poor old lady…oh no, wait, that’s a different story.

I suspected the children. That’s probably what kept me from seeing the obvious.

Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to turn the cover of a book with particularly graphic art away from you? Or surrounded a book with art that was particularly evocative with perhaps, gentler, kinder books? This is paranoia. Mostly.

I’m talking about girlie mags.

I hate to sound like the sexist pig I am, but there’s a definite level of energy and intensity a fellow can focus on a picture he’s particularly fond of…combine that with sex and, well, you’ve got an act of will. For most people, this isn’t actually a problem. (I hate to say it, girls, but most of you don’t fixate the same way.) For someone with just the rawer bit of talent…

Heterae helix. The Lola with the green feathered hat. Not your garden variety nymph, more your bird of paradise, if you catch my meaning.

It was a giggle that tipped me off, actually. After introductions were made and I was brought into the apartment as a contractor, I noticed the bedroom door was closed. I did a quick check of the childrens’ room. Only a bit of potential. I stuck a standard bogeyman ward over the closet and under the bed – they like dark places just like the exterminator’s foes. Make your kids clean their rooms; entropy is one of those things that are inviting.

Ed kept them talking, and I knocked on the bedroom door. I let myself in after the silence continued.

She laughed, and then blinked off the bed. I knew better than to play the chase game. Most nymphs were meant to be chased (and no, never chaste, if you insist on asking.) The best way to trap one is either to sow it yourself, or draw it in. But she wasn’t my problem.

Ah… it was an issue from the 1980s. Too much crazy hair for me. Also, the blue eyeshadow reminds me too much of my mother. I admired the form, though. Not too bad if you didn’t focus on the face. It wouldn’t be until the 90s that there was less sneer and more natural look in the models. Um, not that I knew.

Admittedly, I would have been hard pressed to explain why I was muttering a charm over a smutzine, but I’ve been in stranger situations. I opened and closed drawers and made as if I was inspecting things. Nymphs are fascinated by innocence, which is probably why the kids saw her in the corner of their eye, watching them. They need sunlight, though, being at least part of the plant kingdom. No sour grapes here if I say I like my salads with a little more dressing, eh?

I could feel the door close after a moment. It’s a strange sense of loss, sometimes. When I was younger, I hated it. I hated the feeling that that potential was gone, that some small bit of wonder was trapped and the world a slightly lesser place for it. It’s all stuff and nonsense, really. Magic is all around us. You don’t have to open the door to everything to look outside, or even to appreciate what you have.

I turned around to do my cover-up check of the bathroom, when the nymph bit me, hard. Well, she stuck spines in me, at any rate. They don’t exactly have teeth, you see. That’s when it went dark. At least it wasn’t from the sudden attack of sneezing. I’m allergic to a lot of flowers, after all.

A quick vision. Something hit my system badly at that point. I could have sworn I had seen a collar around her neck, attached to…something. Something I had just cut off and wanted its houseplant back… like a missing piece of furniture. I woke up maybe a minute later, rubbing my stiff neck and hand from where it stopped my fall, muttering aloud, “Just don’t plant her.”

Ed will never stop laughing at me. Fine. I can wait to get even. And I meant it – without being cared for, a nymph fades like cut flowers, turning into dry petals on the wind.

“You went down like you were punched by a girl,” he said. Yeah, that’s what he said. I’m guessing he had sisters, because it isn’t usually how I hear the line, but it was appropos.

“In a way.”

“So, come out to Boulder with me. Have a drink or two. I’ll bill the management company for something sinister and you can recharge or whatever it is you do after a job.”

Second mistake of the night.

You have two opposing poles in Coloradoan cities. While many who have merely glossed the surface of the culture (such as it is) would immediately think, “Ah, Denver and Colorado Springs,” the truth is, it’s actually the cities of Grand Junction and Boulder. This is just a tidbit to show how far towards depravity my sights had fallen.

Perhaps it was just the third drink of the night. The first is just to whet things down, numb them a bit for the coming torrent. The second is to get your taste ready. The third is to drink. I’m a teetotaler when I’m by myself, but drinking is a social habit. The worst kind; some part of you thinks, “Oh, my friends won’t let me get snockered,” while your friends are thinking, “Alcohol cometh before the fall.”

Maybe it was the fourth. The fourth drink is the philosophical one. The one that asks, “Do I take the fifth, or do I do the responsible thing?” when the responsible thing was done after the first drink. You don’t see quite clearly, except maybe to the bottom of the glass. Or the bottom rung of the chair. Or the ceramic glossy bit of the toilet you might have missed if it wasn’t so big and round.

…and gaping like a hole straight into the aetherbits.

Really, I should have been a plumber.

I managed to wobble to the edge of the stall and throw in a piece of toilet paper. It just sat there on the surface of the water, like it wasn’t a maw straight to the underworlds. I considered kicking the toilet, but then considered that just rude. After all, it was just an innocent bystander. Something else had sat on this throne.

So to speak.

Sometimes someone’s sins need to be washed away, I supposed. “An end within an end, let it be,” I spoke some of the ritual words. I was having a hard time concentrating, what with a big vat of nothingness hanging…under me. The words started to do the trick; I could see the portal closing, when the drunken part of my mind reminded me…I still had to pee.

And so I did.

The second dumbest thing I did that night. Go to Boulder.

See, this was a bar not too far from campus. Kids, full of big ideas, minds wide open and ready for just about any little passing flit to possess them. To exacerbate, just add alcohol. Lower your resistance. Wobble into the darkness of a men’s bathroom and allow the passing of your liquids to be a shower of gold upon the altar of will…

Well, some people worship porcelain gods, anyway. You thought that was just a phrase?

So, yes, second dumbest thing I did that night. Pee straight into the aetherworld.

But that’s all water I passed under the bridge. Let’s go to dumb thing number three. Because dumb things, like many other situations, come in threes.

I wobbled out, feeling a little more sober. Which was good, because I managed to look straight at my ex-girlfriend three times before recognizing her. If I hadn’t been that together, I might have gone over and introduced myself.

“So, E.” She slid onto the seat next to me. I remember her legs. It helped that I stared at them in recognition, but they weren’t the kinds of legs you’d forget easily. They were attached to her knees and hips in some sort of fabulous manner. Not to mention the calves. The calves were hidden under boots, but I remembered them fondly.

“Up here, E.”

Oh, yeah. I moved to look at her like I was going to listen to her or something. I had never been good at that, which is probably one of the things that moved her to the “ex” category.

“Are you listening?”

Wait, I know this cue. This is the time to nod vigorously. OK. I did that.

“Good. Because I’ve got a problem. And it’s 37 minutes to midnight, which is when it becomes your problem.” She had witchy fingernails. I laughed at my little joke, what with the spells and all.

She snapped her fingers and I paid attention.

“I hate when you do that.”

“It works, doesn’t it?”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t hate it.” I sighed. I kind of liked being that drunk. Made me forget what the nymph reminded me of… especially combined with not having had a date for a few months.

“I thought Ed would be bringing you here. Look, I think we’ve got a demon.”

All hopes of being drunk faded. I looked at the melting ice cubes. “What do you want me for? You know I don’t do exorcisms.”

“I just want you to keep out its friends.”

I hate demons. This was sounding better and better.

The term “demon” is a sloppy one. Most practitioners in the city will use it as shorthand for “cross-dimensional nuisance,” but it’s important to note that some people are more specific. Magda, my ex-, is a hard one to read right. Her pages are…taut.

Focus. Yes. “What kind of things are we really talking about?” I asked.

“Certainly not about our relationship again,” she taunted. Looking at her, I can remember why I was attracted to her. Listening to her, I was rarely tempted to try again, and often curious as to how we lasted so long together.

One of the places those books of myth are seriously lacking is an organizational system. Modern media has it right; we ought to have some index so we can refer to things like a “Type Five, Multilimbed, Soul Splitter, with Extra Fire Magic for that Just Barbecued Feeling.”

By the way, I’ve seen one of those go down, and they’re not kidding about the “Crispy Corpses You Can Bag Yourself!” giveaway. I still have a scar on the back of my right hand from it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Magic is dangerous. Magical healing is virtually unknown; some of the tough guys (the wizards, people like that) can tap into their own resources and accelerate or otherwise make the processes more efficient, but I’ve never heard of a real healing potion, or someone laying on hands and making everything better.

I thought about Maggie’s hands. Let me amend that.

So when we get something really nasty, I run.

Let me amend that, too. See, some of my favourite heroes, they talk about working out and learning to run so that they’re just faster than the monsters. I’m, um… well. I’m not a couch potato. I’m even attractive to the wrong sort of woman. I certainly do get up more than to change the game in my Xbox, but I really ought to go and start a routine for that.

I have to work smarter, not harder. I run way in advance sometimes. I call people. When I think I’m out of my league, I don’t go to the party at all… if I can avoid it.

I’m not a coward. I’m a specialist. The tough guys can do what I do, too. Maybe not with the same panache, but I’m not a fighter. I can’t throw fireballs or, heck, knives. I once threw a potted plant at something, but it was what was handy. One of my colleagues in the business is convinced I could probably learn to do exorcisms, and I agree, but I haven’t gotten that under my belt yet, so to speak. But these aren’t aggressive get-out-and-kick-some-demon-butt kinds of magic, so, to bring this whole digression around, I was needing to know what I was up against.

She leaned back and sipped from my ice cubes. “I think you can handle it.”

I rolled my eyes and moved my drink back pointedly closer to me. “You’re leaving me a choice of bad or gross. Since you’re smarter than to enlist my help except as cannon fodder for `bad’ and by the way, I’m smarter than that, too, it has to be gross.”

“It has been a busy season for Nyquil.”

“Oh man. Snot demons.”

She laughed. “No, not Phlegmnauts.” See? Even between the talented there’s no consensus of what to call things. “Besides, they’re a myth.”

Shows what she knows.

I sneezed. And winked…’cause that’s the kind of guy I am.

“No, I thought you’d like this one. Incubi.”

I groaned. “You know I don’t have a girlfriend, right?”

She smiled. It would have been a pretty smile if it didn’t show so many teeth. “As much as I’d like to remind you that I don’t inquire into your personal life, yes.” She slid off the stool, showing off those legs again. “You know, dear, you don’t actually have to sleep with them.”

Since calling them up requires some somnambulistic tendencies, I would tend to disagree. But she was right. She usually was. Except for her thinking she broke up with me… it was totally the other way around.

(6) Second, Do No Harm

If I haven’t already given you obsessive-compulsive nightmares, let me tell you about the -cubi. Those intense sexual dreams allow them only the slightest entry into the world, and most of the time, they prefer to flirt (so to speak) with the edges, because they feed off that need. They’re naturally neuter, taking on form based off the desires of their summoner, and the stronger that will, the better formed they can be. Most of the time they’re nuisances because most of their summoners end up losing their will once sated, and they slip right back to where they… uh… came from. It’s those unfortunates who for whatever reason cannot reach a comfortable level of satisfaction that end up drawing too much attention.

“An army base,” I guessed.

She shook her head.

“It’s not a convent is it?” I asked Maggie.

She laughed aloud. I had always suspected nuns. “Seminaries and sentinels?” she mocked me. “Where are we?”

I groaned. “College town. That means only one thing.”

She nodded.

“Roommates,” we said together. I finished the dregs of my drink with a sigh.

If you’ve ever had to room with anyone you weren’t sleeping with (and in this case, I mean the kind of intimacy that comes with sexual relations) you might have noticed that it can have a deleterious effect on your aforementioned romantic life. From experience, sisters can be the worst. (They notice EVERYTHING.)

So get a bunch of hormone addled youngsters together in a competitive environment that has them ready to learn while their bodies say, “Let’s start reproducing!” (Just add alcohol! Oh wait, I used that joke already.) Then make it so they have someone they’re not really comfortable with near them. Sure, if you’re particularly motivated, you find ways to make it work. (Why do I suddenly have the urge to keep a package of wipes with me wherever I go in this town?) If you’re only partially motivated you get frustrated.

Hence, -cubi. Truth is, I’ve heard stories about frustrated wizards and what they summon up that would curl your toes. Wait, maybe that’s not the phrase I’m looking for… or maybe it is. [wink]

I flagged Ed from where he was telling one of his favourite stories (if you haven’t heard the one about the seventh best thing to do with honey, you’re missing a particularly sticky situation) and indicated Maggie. He raised his eyebrows. I shook my head. He waggled his eyebrows. I rolled my eyes. A couple of manly grunts would probably have gotten the impression across faster, but he was across the room and entertaining a coed. Instead of keeping him honest, I was going to get myself into trouble.

Maggie looked at me. “You done with your smoke signals or should I just wait in the car?”

I handed the bartender his tip along with the bill to cover the bill, and strode out. I bet myself I could guess what Maggie was driving today faster than she could point to it.

She had a thing for flashy cars. I couldn’t tell you makes and models without the ‘net nearby, but I can do my own basic maintenance. I drive a foreign made car about a decade old. Reliable. I try to avoid religious wars, so I won’t tell you if I’m using a Mac or a PC, either. I do suspect a few different OSes have paranormal influence, but people in the know have told me most of it is a rumour. (Alright, it’s only one of the reasons I want to learn exorcisms.)

She didn’t like the colour red. It had too many associations to it, she told me. So she’d have a white or green car, it would have been recently washed…

I strode over to it while she was busy getting her keys from the shiny little black thing she calls a purse. She didn’t even mention how clever I was to guess.

Forget all that white witch and black magic you hear. Magda’s a practical witch. She uses her powers for good, sure, but she also uses them to get what she wants. “You have to be able to live the life you want to lead. That’s the point of focusing will,” she explained to me, once. “Besides, being poor and selfless doesn’t get me any rewards that make me want to continue doing things. I can be far more generous when I’ve got things to give.”

One of my teachers would argue the point, but I have to admit, it makes some sense.

I got into the car, adjusting the seat a bit for my legs. She spun out of the driveway and drove like a maniac down the street, breaking uncountable numbers of laws as she did. I finished putting my seatbelt on with a pointed click. Remember what I said about healing magic – I also didn’t have the kind of spell power that would let other cars bounce off me.

She laughed. “First, do no harm.”

“Second, do no harm, third, do no harm, but by the time you’re in fifth, you’ve driven past harm and are into really sorryville,” I muttered.

“I heard that.”

(7) For Once, It Was Dry

She tore off towards the back roads into the hills. I was glad, for once, that it was dry. The mountains mess with our weather. I know a lot of subtle weather practitioners (many of them unknowing, some of them deliberate) who have nothing but curse words for the natural proclivities of the Rocky Mountains. I am aware of a little of the weather workings as some of it has to do with natural boundaries and ley lines and the like. I’m not into meteorological metaphysics and manifestations, but I’ve felt it, particularly in places with high levels of weird. Boulder doesn’t have as much as, say, down south in Manitou Springs, but for those deliberate weather witches who tell me that weather is a malevolent force angled against mankind, I’m glad Boulder has a bit of its own shielding with the wild mountain magic. At least, I’m glad during those times when I’m in Boulder. Not so much on the Eastern plains where the winds whip through with that seeming intent.

Yeah I bleeping read into things. You can’t be magic and not do it. That’s like a quick route to suicide.

Things get dark pretty quickly here. I was trying not to be too surprised that she moved away from the main college drive, especially since it sounded more likely a set up between someone official making a choice of roommates, but maybe it was a case of friends gone sour. Oh, boy. Another chance to sit in uncomfortable silence, as if here in the car with my ex-girlfriend wasn’t bad enough.

I’ve talked a little about college towns. We’ve got another one in the agricultural district. Greeley has its own weirdness, and I’m not just talking about the question of how anyone can breathe cow the way they do. (Not just cow scent, or the smells they leave behind… it’s like a whiff of all the things domesticated cattle has to offer, and honestly, it’s almost enough to put me off meat until the next time I crave a steak. I’m at the mercy of my desires. Ask the ex.) Places that have their own stories can influence the places where the aetherworld touches them. Like calls to like and all that. I’ve heard tell of parties that open gates to parties on another dimension…but I’d like to think I’m way too smart to attend that kind of party. Of course, there’s always Halloween.

Digressions passed the time well, and it was only a few minutes before we were sliding into a gravelly parking lot. “She got ahold of me over craigslist,” Magda explained. There’s a certain level of argument between technology and magic. Some of the tough guys just can’t do the fine work of interfacing required to link in to the modern world. I’m sure they talk “thees” and “thous” or, at the worst, Latin amongst themselves. They’re also a lot more able to tap into the primitive. Most of the witches I call friends have adapted to the internet age… but they also say there’s some cost to it. There are times I am glad I’ve got the small talent I have, because being without my e-mail for hours can make me twitchy. (And yes, I’ve known technomancers, and I will tell you they are all, without fail, unbalanced. Maybe there is something to the magic/tech argument.)

I slid out of the car with a move I’d describe as terribly smooth, if my ankle hadn’t caught a pebble at the end of it. I hopped away as I closed the car door, luckily not on my own hand. I checked the time.

Midnight is often referred to incorrectly as the witching hour. The truth is, the hour between 3am and 4am is far more sinister. I have that on high authority. Still, there is a boundary that’s passed at twelve in the morning, and I can usually feel it, especially out here in the cold, dark night.

Maggie knocked n the door. “Sylvie?” she called.

It was a moment before someone came down. The building was mostly wood, looking kind of like an old boardinghouse. I wasn’t surprised to see a number of cars in the lot that were nicer than mine. I never could figure out how students had money.

I’d gone to school, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t finish – I had to drop out when the things I saw were more important to me than the reality the schoolwork lived in… I’ve made my money on odd things since. If I had a couple more career changes, I could become a writer.

The smell hit me first as the door opened. Sex. It smelled like sex. I remembered sex.

All too well.

This was not good.

(8) The Tiniest Bit of Brimstone

You know how sex smells. You noticed it the first time you came back into the room and thought, “Oh [epithet deleted]! My parents/roommate/sister/janitor/whatever is totally going to know what was going on here!” It smells so totally unlike a locker room that all of those weird fantasies in high school suddenly seem completely hysterical. You open up windows, light candles, maybe some incense, no, not incense because now your parents/roommate/sister/janitor/whatever is going to think you’re covering up for drugs. You jump into the shower. You realize that at some point, this could be a turn on but right now you’re still in panic mode and you’re out of air freshener and going for mom’s perfume is going to totally look weird so put it down now.

Your sister is still suspicious.

The door opened to more than a whiff of sex. That was like the smell of sex the day after spring break ended. You know, when you got that first chance to stay wherever you wanted with your snugglefoofoo of choice? It smelled like that.

And maybe the tiniest bit of brimstone.

Bleepin’ demons.

I tried to focus on the girl who opened the door. She was dressed in an oversized man’s shirt, half-buttoned, and a pair of wrinkled jeans. Her glasses were a bit larger than is stylish now, but I don’t get how they’ve kind of devolved into a thin line of sight anyway. Her hair was mussed. She had thrown on clothes because, even in the midst of things, she was modest.

But she was smiling.

“Sylvia?” Magda asked.

The girl nodded. She had streaks of brassy gold in otherwise tawny brown hair, and large blue eyes. Typical GND looks, wouldn’t have drawn attention anywhere west of the Mississippi, but I was never a “Girl Next Door” fan anyway, so what do I know?

She smelled good.

Bleepin’ demons.

I realized I was in trouble when I was thinking to myself, “I can almost taste her.” Maggie gave me a Look, a withering one, if you know what I mean.

“How many people are in there?” Maggie asked.

“Eleven, including me,” the girl whispered. It was one of those husky whispers, and her voice was gold. I fantasized briefly about her talking dirty to me. Like, right now. I wanted her to tell me how much she was…

I leaned over and pulled the pebble out of my shoe. If the house had this much of a field, there was more than one of the -cubi in there. Looking away helped me focus.

I looked up at Maggie. Her mouth was slightly open, and her cheeks had flushed. Oh good, it was getting to her, too. She adjusted her beige jacket to show more cleavage, and then turned to glare at me.

Fine, fine, all an act. Whatever you say, dear.

Maggie was too good looking for her own good. She looked like a professional business woman. Those legs that reminded me of fields of gold in capris, smart beige shoes both practical and dressy, matching jacket and white undershirt, hint of gold in the jewelry, it was all carefully calculated. It went well with her short-cut dark hair and liquid brown eyes. She had full lips. I liked full lips on my women. Full everything, usually, but I wasn’t particular. Magda liked attracting attention.

Whereas me, I was good to blend in. I’ve got green eyes, a cut Magda said looked good on me given my mouse-brown hair, and I can almost dress myself without looking like a fool. I did some basketball and swimming in high school, but I’m really not an athlete. Average height, ordinary guy. I do have some unusual scars, but they’re reminders of Stupid Stuff I Should Have Run From…and getting less and less common, promise. Nothing to complain about, but I wasn’t getting calls from modeling agencies.

Or lots of pretty women, I might add.

Pheromones. That’s the word I was trying to remember. The hall reeked with them, I’m sure.

“Making us thirteen. Stereotypical,” Magda said in an undertone. “Will you let us in?” she asked the girl.

“Oh, yes,” the girl said, way too quickly. You know, this is just a rule of thumb, but anything that waits for an invitation needs to be carefully thought out. Of course, if I was right, “Sylvie” was simply being used as a ride for something that wanted a taste of more willpower. It wanted us inside so it could manifest its Xanadu just a little faster. “Please, you have to help us.”

Bleepin’ demons. And bleepin’ bait. Maggie knew… and so did I.

I walked into the lion’s den. The spider’s lair. The orgy room. Whatever.

Sylvia stroked my arm as she led me towards the back. I could hear the sounds of soft moans and the liquid squish and thumps I had been predicting. Sex sounds funny. I tried to think of that, and not of the way her nostrils were flaring and her nails were starting to lightly score the inside of my elbow. Maggie followed, closing the door carefully behind us. The feeling of a boundary snapped against my skin, but endorphins don’t care now, do they? Not once the “turned on and ready to go,” point has been opened.

Her hands dropped to the top of my jeans as we got closer. She tried to pull me in for a kiss.

My brain interrupted. I was here to close the door, not keep it opened.

Her mouth was soft. She kissed like a girl. She kissed like a girl who was going to open more than her mouth to me, all giving and wet and melty and soft against what was becoming hard. Her hips angled against mine, and she smelled like salt and sweat and promises. I pulled away softly, trying not to hurt her.

She pulled with a bit more strength. “No, no, we need to join the others,” I said, doing my best to sound convincing. Because, “I’d totally do you against the wall here in front of my ex-girlfriend,” sounded bad, and adding on, “And maybe she’d be so turned on we’d–” just made it worse.

Withering. Think withering thoughts, E.

The human mind is turned on by the strangest things. It’s all a matter of mood, right? Why was I staring at the lamp shade like it was screaming, “Do me, baby!”

Maybe it wasn’t all in my head. I knew that voice. Where had Maggie gone?

And why hadn’t she ever said that to me?

(9) Caress of Quivering Flesh

I rushed into the backroom ignoring the pleading whimpers of our hostess, looking for Maggie. Call it chivalry. Lie if you have to, but don’t call it jealousy, because it wasn’t. Or concern. Concern would in some ways be worse than jealousy. Concern implied I still cared, and I could never live that down. Or up. Or whatever way you live.

The room was lit just enough to fuel the stuff of erotic nightmares. You get them too, right? You can see flesh moving, but are too distracted by whatever it is your brain is paying attention to to count limbs and you’re feeling all sexed up but extremely disturbed at the same time. The kind of dream that makes you want to evaluate later what’s going on in your head because if you were sentient at the time (and not just ruled by LizardMan in the back of your mind) you would have said, “Uh-nuh. Ain’t NO way that’s a turn-on.”

Please tell me it’s not just me.

Um. Anyway.

So, disturbing images, lots of soft movement, some hard pounding off to the right (bad time to point out, “Wow! She’s awfully flexible,” and then to follow up with, “especially given her age!”) the backdrop of slickness and moans and if it was all consensual it would have been a completely different story. I mean, except for the obvious lack of (spiritual, physical, ecumenical…wait) protection and that these people were probably neighbors who would need therapy for years, it was all fun and dandy and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

Bleepin’ demons.

I felt hands and voices call out to me, pulling at my clothing and psyche as I moved through the room, my eyes trying not to make sense of the scene. It was hard to breathe, and I could feel my pulse racing. My eyes watered, and I felt sick for a second between the heat and the smell.


I don’t pray. I mean, not to anyone in specific. Like everyone, I kind of make wishes to the universe, hoping they’ll be heard and granted in the sense I mean. You become a bit of a believer when you’re in the business. There’s things out there. But you wouldn’t pray to them.

She had found the incubus. It was, as the name indicates, on top of a group of women. You could tell it was one of the Lilu from its lack of a hat and/or blowhole. Um, it’s a parazoology thing. Trivia. I was not looking at the curve of its back, or the play of its gymnast-like muscles as it stretched, or the glow of its hand as it caressed the quivering flesh…

Taking deep breaths was going to make me pass out or throw up. Either one would have been bad right then, and I was quite familiar with the definition of a hero. It also didn’t help that my shoelaces had been untied, and I was quite sure that my jeans were being unbuttoned, and I did want to fight evil later today, as the phrase goes.

There’s one cheerful little footnote about the incubus, and I think it’s even made its way to Wikipedia. See, it doesn’t care about religious paraphernalia. Remember earlier how I said most of them were content with taking their fill and, once sated on those being sated, they’d leave of their own free will?

I use words like “most” not because I’m afraid of commitment. (I’m not! I swear!) I use them because they’re accurate.

Some of them you actually have to kick out, and I was going to do it here, in its place of power, while it completed the second most sacred act known to its kind. (Don’t ask about the first.)

Maggie’s jacket had been lost somewhere, as had her pants. She was wearing a set of very tiny white panties, and she was bent down to her knees in front of the incubus, which, sensing one of greater will, focused its attention on her. This helped point out the second one, taking the form of a succubus, as it pulled itself out from under another nest of entwined bodies. I felt confident saying there were only two.

Midnight washed over us, and I wavered. I saw it draw forth, gathering Maggie’s short hair in its left hand and pulling her closer to its glistening phallus, brought from whatever orifice it had been safely stashed. The succubus was pulled back with a cluster of hands, but it shook them off, moving closer to my ex-girlfriend.

I felt Sylvie’s soft, cold hands as they slid across my chest. They hesitated only a moment as they dove lower, and I hissed as they found their mark, caught between relief and tension. For a moment, I was lost in sensation. Too much, my eyes watching as Maggie’s lips were slowly moistened.

I elbowed Sylvia in the solar plexus, muttering an apology. I pulled away, leaving my shoes to whoever had been removing them, and buttoned my pants while I still had the willpower to do so.

OK, it might not have been the solar plexus. It was definitely that place just a fist-length below the curve of the ribcage (the sternum?) where if you’re hit hard, you feel like the breath is knocked out of you. I read it in a book. (And it makes me ask, is there a lunar plexus? Yes, these kinds of questions are what give me time to shake off the weirdness of wherever I am. It’s a defense mechanism that might just save my life someday.)

Pants. Shoes. Milk, bread, butter, and kicking the fellow in the eggs. Demon in the generating sacs. Something like that.

Look, when something wears a human form, it’s for a reason. It doesn’t have to look human if it’s aetheric. The incubus is generally the mature form of the succubus, meaning it has taken in reproductive fluids and turned them demonic to share with its hosts. (I’ve heard it’s a little more complicated than that, but I’m not a demonologist. I think you have to have an act of will and a level of ability for the magical conception to take place, but for all I know, it has something to do with DemoNA.)

So even though it hurt me to do, one square kick in the seat of where it should have been wearing pants was a possibility. And it’s hitting the beast where it hurts twice; once because, duh, and the second because if it was doing its job, I couldn’t have done that. Maggie and its ensnared should protect it at the very least.

Look, yes, I needed to get laid. Badly. I wasn’t really caring by who or what, but the -cubi didn’t have to get my ex- involved. My most recent reminder of why the bed was so cold and empty at night. I wasn’t horny, I was mad.



Bleepin’ demons.

[OK, in some alternate world I shoved Maggie out of the way and was the one insisting on taking the taste of him. She then does what I just did, glares the succubus down with Real Human Woman Sex Appeal, and tah-dah, saves the day. This is not the yaoi you are looking for.]

The creature made a noise of pain, and Maggie smiled. Sadist. She put her hands on its swollen member and then began to twist in a way that looked singularly uncomfortable. “Remember why we’re here?” she said in such a normal voice that it was a hundred times more effective than a shout.

Not to mention, I wasn’t going to watch. My residual desire shrieked and curled up on the inside saying, “Don’t let her touch me!”

Meanwhile, those around us were jolted slightly as the incubus suffered pain. See, endorphins work both ways, but -cubi don’t. You have to work at endorphins, and desire doesn’t want to be continually bombarded with nerve signals that say, “Ow. Ow. OWWWW.” You can push pain into pleasure, but it can also stay pain.

And pain can ruin the mood.

I began a chant of opening, as I casually started looking for my shoes and stepping on people’s toes and fingers. If we made it a good opportunity to go home, here as the night becomes darker, they might run for it. The demons, that is. I turned up lights. I hit the beeping thing on an alarm clock I found. I opened windows. I switched a radio up as loud as it went and made it mostly static.

What once was impressive was becoming pitiful. Here’s a cheap shot at the ex- I’ll skip because while she took things directly in hand (so to speak) she had let me lead. She trusted me to fix this.

I nudged the succubus who was trying to keep the interest going, while the humans were passing out, no longer possessed to test the limits of their indulgence. I mean, endurance. She gave me a little hip roll and an expression of hopefulness. I remembered not to focus on her too much for fear she’d become more than she was. A fantasy.

I shook my head. Return temptress to whence you came. Get thee behind me and don’t let the metaphysical door hit you on the way out.

They began to fade, just as my fear started to reach me. In the light, they looked so sad.

Maggie found her pants. Maybe they weren’t the only things looking sad.

“You know,” I mentioned off-handedly, “they really messed these people up.”

Maggie shook her head. “Get out.” She started closing the windows and turning off the radio that had me on edge.

I found my shoes. “You mean you’re going to do something definitely gray edging to black to make it all better? Ends justify the means?”

She sighed. “What do you want me to say?”

“I think I just said it.” No, I wouldn’t want to wake up naked, covered with sex, not understanding, not knowing.

“Close the door on your way out.”

“I’ll wait in the car,” I offered. But yes, I closed the door. Lots of them.

I hope she planted in some suggestions of getting tested for STDs. I worried too much. I was too responsible. I was way too grown up. And tired. And if she drove me home, she might still take me to bed and tuck a blanket under my chin.

But I knew something was going to come of this, pun unavoidable. A hostile environment is not the same as an exorcism. I didn’t actually know if Maggie could pull off this much of a jedi mind trick. I still had questions, like who was the one with the kind of focus to bring not just one, but two formed entities?

I still had stupid feelings about my ex-girlfriend that this wasn’t going to make easier to get over. Stupid feelings. Bleepin’ demons.

Long night. I almost felt safe enough to fall asleep in the car.