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Chapter Six: End of the Beginning
The waitress looked attractive in some hard to define way, and Mitch found his attention diverted from the conversation the other guys were having.
"Are you guys ready to order?"
"Yes, yes we is."
John turned to Doubting Thomas. "What?"
"It's we are, not we is."
"Who are you, the grammar police?"
"Yes, but I'll let you off with a warning this time."
"I'll warn YOU."
"Warn me of what?"
"Why would you need to warn me of nothing?"
"Because you can't stop nothing. It is invincible."
Mitch motioned for the waitress to come closer. "Don't give them anything with alcohol in it."
Dr. Vague looked up from his burger and started tapping the table with his fingers.
"Doc, the table is not stressed. You need not give it a massage."
"Oh, har har har. Ass. Why don't you put that lateral-thinking brain to some use for once and help me freaking track down my mortal enemy."
"Why? You haven't helped me track down MY mortal enemy!"
"What? You don't HAVE a mortal enemy!"
"Yes I do! You just never asked!"
"Gah. Fine, now I'm obligated to ask. Who is your mortal enemy?"
"Rodney the Periscope."
Dr. Vague stared at John for a few seconds. "Are you telling me that your arch-nemesis is the captain of the college swim team?"
"What? No no no. He's an actual periscope. Installed on a nuclear submarine. He killed my father."
"But- but- I- you said you killed your father!"
"Oh. You're right. I always get the two of us confused."
Dr. Vague stared at John for a few more seconds, then put his head in his hands and stared at his plate. Mitch saw the man's frame shake a bit.
"Uh... is he... crying?"
John shrugged. "It happens from time to time."
"To everyone, sooner or later. I guess I'm just a natural downer."
Doubting Thomas held up a fork. "Even if he is in the grip of depression right now, he has a valid point. This mystery man has managed to stay out of sight for quite some time. He has no name, no indentifiers, no distinctive features except for a glowing eye. How did he become so ghost-like? Just by hiding behind his machinery? Having his creations do everything?"
"The events in that safe house seemed to say so. Machine to clean up, machine to fix up, machine to keep it legal... he just has to get stuff from the store."
John scratched his head, then snapped his fingers. "I think I have an idea. Unless he's wearing gloves and a hairnet every day of his life, he's going to leave fingerprints and hair follicles here and there."
"We've already handled almost all of his papers and books. We'll have to cancel out all of our own prints, which means creating a comparison template of forty different prints. That will probably take too long for Dr. Vague's taste."
"So that's our Plan B. Tom, you thought it up, you get to do it if it comes to that. When we get done, we head to my apartment and we go through all of this guy's stuff. Look for bloodstains, hair fibers, anything. Trust me, I'm not a lawyer."
Mitch looked at Dr. Vague again, who still hadn't snapped out of his funk. He was beginning to sympathize with the man's overtaxed brain. The attractive waitress appeared and started re-filling drinks. "Hey, what's wrong with him?"
"Uh, he's still upset that the Scifi channel stopped running Mystery Science Theater 3000."
In the back of the truck, John dug at his teeth with a toothpick and kicked his leg up and down in time to some strange beat. The proverbial beat of a different drummer, the music nobody else could hear. Or at least Mitch thought so. He had some convincing evidence in that sometimes the man would open his mouth and belt out some strange line in a demented harmony.
Powers over reality or not, he still couldn't sing worth a damn.
"Hey Mitch, what do you know about boozehounds?"
"Define the word boozehounds first."
"People who get their magickal rocks off by getting wasted."
"I know they exist. That's, uh, that's about it."
"Aha. Since I can't teach you more about our way for a while yet-"
"Why not? What's stopping you?"
"You are. You've got all the things I told you so far, but you need to be able to go back home to your so called normal life and see how it actually applies first hand."
"Oh. I guess that makes sense."
"Of course it does. I am the Horseradish Inspector. I inspect horses for signs that they've eaten radishes. That's illegal in six states, you know. Gives them terrible breath. Where was I?"
"Yes! There are three types of drunks, you see. There's the Mean Drunk, who gets hammered and then wants to hammer everyone in the bar. Its the alcoholics like him who are the most likely to kick the crap out of their kids."
"I've met one or two of those."
"Then, there's the Sorry Drunk."
"What do you mean, Sorry? He wakes up with a hangover and starts apologizing for his behavior?"
"Hardly. He doesn't wait. As soon as he gets sufficiently intoxicated, he starts crying and bawling. He apologizes for everything. For shit he hasn't even DONE. Keep giving him drinks and about five in the morning he'll probably grab your foot and beg you to forgive him for causing the fall of the Roman Empire. That kind of alcoholic is the kind that eventually shoots himself late one night and they find him with a half-empty bottle of tequila next to his bleeding head."
"And the third drunk?"
"The best, as far as I care. The Silly Drunk. Get him loaded and he laughs at everything. Everything. You know how people will laugh at anything on pot? This guy is very like that while drinking alcohol. You could insult him, his mother, his dog, and his religion, and he'll just grin and say something about you being his best friend or some shit. It's the Silly Drunks that do that dancing with the lampshade stuff."
"And how does all of this mix with magick?"
"Well, the Mean Boozehounds, you just want to stay away from. They're usually not very powerful, but you can never tell for sure, and they're angry enough to make up for it. Reality gets fuzzy. Invisible pink unicorns jump out of closets and impale you. Stuff like that. The Sorry Boozehounds won't attack you unless you try to make them feel better. It's the difference between guilt and shame."
"What difference? I don't see a difference. Is this like the Pepsi and Coke taste test?"
"Har har. Look, in both cases, you want to beat up the person responsible for you feeling bad. It's guilt when you feel bad about something YOU did. It's shame when something somebody else said or did makes you feel that way. You want to pluck out the eyes that saw your failings. And no matter how guilty the Sorry Boozer is over whatever happened as a kid, or last week, or whatever, he's quick to go after you if you make him feel shame for not being able to cope. Which is what happens if you don't just leave them the hell alone."
"Oh. Well, I'll keep that in mind then."
"Good. The Silly Boozehound, that's a different case. Somebody who likes to buck the rules and hide away from the world in a bottle generally isn't your best choice as backup, but you could do a lot worse than a Silly Boozehound. They don't take a lot of situations or problems seriously, laughing and stopping to light a cigarette in the middle of a fight, stuff like that. Their spells and effects tend to be more for shock or joke value than actual effectiveness. Also. Beware of Puns. Still, you can trust them to not stab you in the back. Sometimes."
"Okay. Anything else about fighting hostile mages?"
"Yeah. Let's see. If you're screwing a woman who's reciting words under her breath, and they aren't instructions, your name, or the names of other guys she likes more than you -- and that kind of ego-deflation WILL happen, no matter how good looking you are -- if what she's saying sounds ANYTHING like lines from a movie script, get the hell out of that bed. Trust me."
"Like 'Faster.' Or 'Don't Stop.' That seems to be common."
"What about swearing? Or invoking God?"
"That's okay. Unless it's Kali or some of those really dark gods like her."
"Oooo...kay. Anything else?"
"Once you get to where you can control skin markings, you might want to leave yourself notes. Magick tatoos or something. In case you have partial amnesia, you can double check what they say against what other people tell you."
"What about total amnesia?"
"Well, then you're screwed."
The truck rolled, or rather, jerked to a stop. John sat up lightning fast.
"Ah, home sour home."
"Well maybe if you cleared out the suspicious foodstuffs and hypothetical liquor that came with the place it would smell better."
Mitch looked at the clock, long and hard. He'd been trying to keep track of how long they'd gone through the mystery man's notes, looking for "forensic evidence" and had realized too late that the clock was either broken or had no working battery. His nearest guess was roughly three quarters of an hour.
He went through a yellow legal pad filled with very vague maps. They could just as easily lead to buried treasure, buried bodies, or a secret underground lair. Except that "easily" was not the right word. None of the maps had any landmarks or outside references. There was a compass rose, but that was too little, to late. Or early.
Mitch had also found that thinking in linear terms was becoming harder.
"Hey! I have hair!"
"Good for you, Tom. Your head will stay warm in the winter."
"I will clarify. I found strands of hair between these pages." Doubting Thomas held up a notebook in one hand and a trio of small black fibers in the other. "Now suppose John will tell what he wants them for...?"
John hopped up from a road map with circles drawn on intersections and carefully took the hair fibers from Doubting Thomas. "I'm a master of organic operations and structure. This means plastic surgery is easy for me. But I need to know what I need to become."
Walking over to his desk, John spread the fibers out between his fingers. One of his feet hit the side of the desk and a drawer slid out.
Doubting Thomas pointed in a non-accusing way. "How did you do that?"
"I used my foot." The mage reached into the drawer and came back with a small ziploc bag. Carefully, he dropped two of the three hairs into the bag and sealed it, stuffing it back in the drawer. "Okay. Nobody say nothing. Or anything. Or... just be as quiet as you can. I need to concentrate here."
Mitch was half expecting John to close his eyes and squeeze the hair between his fingers. What actually happened was that John reached up and started twirling the hair in with some of his own. His eyes started taking on a glassy look. His lips moved silently for a half second, and he ran his tongue over his teeth.
One tooth fell out.
It hit the floor, but John didn't seem to notice. Mitch decided to go for broke and reached down for it. John didn't comment on that either. His skin started tanning a bit, getting a bit darker.
Getting back up, Mitch sat down on a semi-stable chair and watched the rest of the transformation. He was almost hypnotized as the dimensions of the face, shape of the nose, and posture of the man he'd... well... known for less than twenty-four hours, was replaced by somebody else.
It was almost ten minutes later when John looked around with one eye. The other didn't move. It was somehow more disturbing than seeing one person change into another, at least to Mitch. "Hey John, how's your depth perception?"
John reached up and pried out the eyeball. It seemed perfectly fine, for not being attached to the body. "Well, I guess this confirms the guy's glowing eye isn't a nmatural occurance. Probably a clockwork replacement."
"Hold up John. I didn't see ANY wind up eyes in that invention list. And DON'T say it was steam powered or some dumb shit like that. Nothing resembling an eye was in there."
Mitch stared at the eye, then looked towards Dr. Vague. "The list was probably HIS inventions. Maybe he didn't make the eye. Somebody else made it FOR him."
"The guy who taught him, maybe?"
"Either that, or he DID make it and doesn't remember, so it's not recorded in there. Does that eye still work?"
John shrugged. "It's not dead. Peripheral magick effect, I bet. Better put it in some water so it doesn't dry out. Excuse me, gentlemen."
John examined his new form in the mirror. The only similarity to his own body was the black hair. The mystery clockworker was shorter by a few inches, skinny enough to be carried away on a slight breeze, and had long, lean fingers and hands. The word "spiderlike" applied rather well.
Oh yes, the missing tooth was also prominent. Upper right canine.
"From what I can feel, he's had his appendix taken out... he may have broken his left shoulder at some point... also the left leg. Left eyeball gone fishing, obviously."
"You mean he got critically injured in a fishing accident?"
"Doc, if you follow my train of thought that close, you're going to tailgate me. And I don't think your insurance will cover that."
"Then tell me, oh asshole-who-won't-give-me-a-straight-answer."
"I meant that the eye is missing. You know, like those signs that say the occupant of an office has gone fishing somewhere. But I don't think it's all the same. The timing."
"So it didn't all happen at once?"
"Yeah. The leg thing... recent. Compared to the other stuff. The shoulder probably goes way back."
"And the eye?"
"Much further than the shoulder. He wasn't born like it though. I'm guessing something bad happened to his eye just before he entered high school, but I could be off by at least ten years." John walked away from the mirror. "Okay. Here's the plan. Tom, you take a picture of me as I am now, front and sides. We'll make copies and do this the old-fashioned way for a short time, maybe flush him out."
"I don't have a camera on me, but there's one at home. Dr. Vague, may I impose upon you for a ride?"
"Do I LOOK like a taxi service?"
"...well, the light in here is very bad."
"Oh hahaha. Fuck you and your nearest blood relative, okay?"
John waved his hand. "Doc, this spell is only going to last maybe twenty more hours. And we have only two spare hairs from this guy. We need to hustle. But not DO the Hustle. Disco is a blight upon the earth. Ferry the man with the photographic memory to his photograph maker, if you please."
"...alright. Fine. You coming?"
"Uh, I gotta hit the can first."
John held up a hand. "The plumbing in here is out. You could probably piss off the roof into the alley though."
"Fine. Which way to the roof?"
"Down the hall, left turn, door at the very end, says Roof on it."
John held up the tooth that had fallen out of his mouth. "Okay, the question is, did this tooth get fed up and run away from bad oral hygiene, or did it get evicted by a fist, foot, or lead pipe?"
"Can't you tell? You were able to tell the guy broke a leg and gave a wide but finite timeframe for it."
"The trauma was in the bone structure. I could feel it. But mouths are trauma from the cradle to the grave. Teething, losing the first set, cavities, so called modern dentistry with the drills and the mercury in the fillings... it's a constant. Like a thousand bad songs all playing at once and all as loud as the stereo speakers can handle."
"The symphony of the body is out of tune, eh?"
"Always. It's not a perfect world-"
There was a rapid knocking on the door, and Doubting Thomas's muffled voice. "John, it's me. We gotta talk quick."
John jumped up, grabbed his gun from the table and carefully opened the door, making sure that Doubting Thomas was himself and not accompanied by a thug with a gun. He undid the safety latch and opened it up. "Having trouble pissing in a public place? I assure you, that high up-"
"I never had to use the bathroom. I had to talk to YOU guys, ALONE, without Dr. Vague. I'll make this fast. There was a small notebook, a journal or diary type thing. mitch already knows about that. The guy would record what he did, anything important, minor details, everyday stuff, a roadmap to his past."
"So when he got out of that magick-inducing stupor, he'd know what he'd lost to build something."
"No, he wouldn't know. The book would give him a background when he woke up with a gaping hole in his memory, but he wouldn't remember all the nuances, or possibly even motivations, behind those events. I've talked with about seven clockworkers and it works different for each one, but based on that book, this man... this guy who murdered Dr. Vague's wife... has much bigger problems than Dr. Vague coming after him wanting to peel off all his skin and roll him in salt."
"Yum. Salt cured long pig. Just like grandma used to make."
"Whatever! Look, I'll go down there, go get the camera, and we'll go along with whatever plan your paradox-riddled brain comes up with, but if you don't take into account the contents of that book, we are all screwed. Mitch, you guys read amongst yourselves. I gotta run before he comes after me all impatient like."
"Alright. We'll study for the final exams. You get the camera."
I can't fucking sleep. There's this... lady. Woman. Ghost. Thing. She glows all blue and hangs around my bed, talking and talking. Showed up two days ago. Er, nights. And apparently I killed her. Not only did she tell me to my face, but she told me the exact page number in my old journal, the one made by the other me, the earlier one. The exact page where I/he records it. Of course, she may just be going through my stuff, but I tried to cut her with the vibroblade and it didn't do anything. So I assume she's not lying about THAT.
Still, she's not angry about me killing her. Not that much. Which is kind of weird. You'd think that she'd be trying to set my place on fire while I sleep. Or something. She's all concerned about her husband. Cassidy Vargus. Who's still alive. And very, very upset with me. Which makes about fifty-five that I KNOW of. I swear, if I ever meet me, I am going to kick my ass for getting all these people on my case.
Something about me helping her, to stop HIM, from dying obsessed with revenge. She says that'll turn him into a demon and he'll never pass beyond the Veil, whatever or wherever the fuck that is. Cryptic ghost bitch. I guess it's either help her or build some sort of Ghost Trap machine... and start all over again, AGAIN, with a dead woman hounding my steps.
I really, REALLY hate my life.
John and Mitch looked up from the page at the same time.
"Does this mean that while we've been looking for HIM... he's been looking for US?"
John shook his head. "From what's been written down, it looks like he's just looking for Doc. I didn't know his first name was Cassidy."
"So he wasn't running when he left that safehouse. He was going out to track him, and by extension us, down."
"And I bet those clockworks in the attic weren't just wrecked in a fight, they were cannibalized to make some gear."
"What makes you say that?"
"When you're a mage, your first instinct in every problem is to use your magick, because you see the problem through the lens of the magick, just like you see everything else. He probably thinks everything can be solved with a crescent wrench and a can of WD-40."
"...think he'll come here?"
There was a knock on the door. John jumped up and grabbed his gun and dove behind some furniture.
"Never, ever say that!" he hissed at Mitch. "Don't tempt the gods of irony!"
Peeking up over the ratty chair and aiming at the door, John cleared his throat. "Who is it?"
"I asked you first!"
"Look, I'll make this quick. Is there a man named Cassidy Vargus in there?"
"Uh... yes! In fact, we have three dozen Cassidy Varguses in here! Would you like to buy one? They're as low as ten dollars and they come with telekinetic powers!"
"...are you on drugs?"
"Oh, I WISH! This would all be a lot funnier if I was on drugs!"
"Listen, I'm, uh... I'm a man who's trying to turn his life around. I did some bad things to Mr. Vargas, and as part of my 12 step recovery thing, I'm going around apologizing and making up for my screw ups."
"Are you sure you're not just an insomniac doing this at the behest of a dead woman who won't let you sleep until you help her rescue her husband from becoming pure concentrated evil when he dies?"
"...okay, fine, yes. That's it exactly. Will you open the frickin' door now?!"
John stared at the man in the doorway, who stared back at John. They could have been identical twins. Except for the gold tooth and bright blue eye belonging to the nameless man.
"Two questions Mr. Reeso."
"First, can I come in? Second, you mind pointing that gun at a body part that doesn't start with the letter P and end with talking in a high pitched voice?"
"...that seems fair. You have a lady friend coming in?"
"She's already here."
"Really... very sneaky, that."
"You can't see her?"
In the next room, concealed and with his spiked knuckles on and ready, Mitch suddenly felt the temperature plummet. Looking away from the doorway, he came face to face with a very faint -- but impossible to miss -- outline of a face in the air. The hair on the back of his everything stood up.
"Don't be afraid."
The voice seemed totally solid, even if the form obviously wasn't. Mitch carefully moved one foot towards the entryway.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Mitch."
"...heh...yeah...sure." Mitch swallowed, trying to lubricate his throat with saliva his body no longer had. "I'm not scared. I'm... hungry. So I'm going to the kitchen. Where the food is. To eat it."
"Mitch! Stop flirting with the dead lady and come in here!"
Mitch blinked, swallowed again, and headed unsteadily after John's voice. Around John's card table, he and the other man with no name were sitting. The bottle of suspicious fluid that might be alcohol-based was there, along with the shot glasses. Mitch's flagging spirits rose immediately at the sight of something familiar and concrete, even if it was just from earlier in the day.
"Oh, there you are. I take it you saw the woman?"
"She... sheh... she said not to be afraid."
"And are you?"
"I'm... not good at following instructions."
"Excellent. We have a starting point. So when is this mystery lady going to make an appearance? I'm all a-quiver with anticipation, and I'm loaded with arrows of enthusiasm."
Mitch looked to his right, but only see a faint distortion. "I think she's here... fainter than before."
The nameless man pointed at the light switch. "Turn off the light. It interferes with some of the manifestation effects."
John shrugged and motioned to the light switch. Mitch walked over and turned it off, while staring at the distortion, half expecting it to jump out like one of those "screamers" on the Internet. Contrary to his expectations, the apparition appeared slowly and glowed with a light that didn't seem right somehow.
John looked around. "Well? What's keeping her?"
"She's right there. I could touch her if she had a body to actually touch."
John looked at Mitch, then at the nameless man. "...wait a minute. I'm a mage with mastery over the flesh and the blood and the bone and the jelly inside the eyeballs. And I can't see the ghost, while my apprentice CAN?"
The man shrugged. "She doesn't have any flesh. Maybe that has something to do with it. Try this." The man reached into a pocket and held up a shiny metal sphere that looked vaguely like an eyeball. John took it carefully.
"It was never intended to work like a normal eye, so it doesn't have to be grafted to the optic nerve. Plug and Play, Hip Hip Hooray."
Very carefully, John placed the false eye in his empty eye socket, and jerked back as the iris started to glow blue. "Holy SHIT! She's here! And she's HOT!"
Mitch rubbed his arms. "Says YOU. Does the thermostat here work?"
"Okay. Let's put all our cards on the table. Which is appropriate, because this table is for playing cards. The man I've been working with, who I know as Doc Vague, is your husband. And he's become so obssessed with killing this guy -- and it's very awkward not having even a nickname to call you by, nameless guy, make a note of that -- that it has endangered his soul to the point that he'll become a mind of pure hate and rage and so on. Right?"
The apparition nodded.
"Okay. And this has so upset you that you've come back, but not as a demon, which is what Doc will become if he dies before he kills nameless guy. And you need our help. Fine. Question time. Why can't you just appear in front of him and tell him to get a hobby or something?"
The woman looked sad, and the nameless man picked up a shot glass of the mystery drink. "I asked her the same thing. She said she tried, but the guy is so fixated on ME that he tunes HER out. Completely. She's, well, like a ghost to him."
"Okay, there's our answer right there. When he comes back, I'll grab him, pull out his eye, we pop in this magick mechanical eye, they talk-"
"I already considered that. It won't work. While the Metal Eye WILL allow him to see Mrs. Vargus, he won't allow him to beleive the evidence of his senses. He'll think it was a trick by me, and he'll just be even more pissed off."
"Oh. In that case I got nothing."
"That's okay. I theorized that if enough other people could see her, then she wouldn't just be real to us, but she'd be real to him THROUGH us. One lug nut will not hold the tire on. Once you get two of them on, though, it lines it up for everything else. If he walked in right now, he'd HAVE to see her."
"Oh shit." John reached over to the kitchen counter and grabbed the gun.
"I just had to warn Mitch about this. Never tempt the gods of-"
There was a knock on the door.
"John. It's Thomas. Dr. Vague and I are back."
John looked at the nameless man and raised an eyebrow. "See what I mean?"
Mitch motioned to the door. "Should I open it?"
"Right now? With his mortal enemy sitting across from me?"
"AND his dead love in the room, also seen by three other guys, so he should see her also."
"I like the way you think. Go ahead."
Mitch nodded and undid the latches. Dr. Vague walked in, followed by Doubting Thomas.
"Hey, why did you have the light..."
Too late, Mitch and John both remembered that John was wearing the nameless man's skin.
Dr. Vague took in the picture, opened his mouth, and growled like an animal. His nostrils flared and he pulled a revolver out of his jacket, lined up with John's heart, and pulled the trigger.
There was a crack, and a flash, and John jumping from his seat. The bullet tore through his lung, leaving nothing more than minor ripples and an oozing sore or two as it passed through and lodged in the wall. Mitch swung out and landed his hand on the revolver, the skin of his hands blocking the hammer from triggering a second shot. Dr. Vague reached out and backhanded him, but Mitch held fast to the gun and dragged Vague down with him.
Before the hammer was freed and the gun could go off again, John picked up Dr. Vague and threw him roughly to the side, then reached in to grab the gun. Dr. Vague screamed in rage.
There was the sound of someone being slapped in the face, and the screaming stopped.
Mitch opened his eyes, tuning out the replay of his life. He wasn't dead, at least not as far as he could tell. He looked around. John had the revolver, Doubting Thomas was fiddling with his camera, the guy with no name was standing up, holding what looked like a tazer in one hand, and Dr. Vague was kneeling on the floor, looking up at....
Mitch blinked, and slowly got up. The ghostly lady did not seem nearly so ghostly. If it wasn't for the weird light around her, she'd seem totally solid and normal.
Dr. Vague opened his mouth, shut it, and opened it again. "Rachel?"
"Yes honey. I'm here."
"No," came out of Dr. Vague's mouth, but it wasn't an enraged statement of denial. It was much softer. Almost childlike. Like what a kid would say when you tried to explain that his dog was gone, or that mom would never come home again. "It's a trick. It has... it has to be."
"No tricks, Cass. No lies. Just you and me, and we're going to talk, okay? Because that's what you've been wanting all this time, isn't it?"
Only a croak came out of Dr. Vague's throat, but he nodded his head.
"You know killing this man won't bring me back. You want to make him pay for what he did to me."
Dr. Vague nodded again.
"But that's not the whole truth, is it? That night, we had a fight, a yelling and screaming fight over who was having an affair."
To Mitch's amazement, Dr. Vague seemed almost to shrink within himself, the complete opposite of the personality that Mitch had seen the man express.
"And when the time came to take out the trash, you ignored me, so I did it myself."
Tears started to gather in Dr. Vague's eyes, but he didn't break eye contact with the specter.
"And when I went out, that was the last time you saw me alive."
At long last, Dr. Vague looked away, grimacing and clutching his torso with both arms like some demented medical instrument was inside his body, drilling at every vital organ. A hand whipped out and the nails drew long, bloody furrows on his face.
"You felt guilty, didn't you."
Vague's mouth opened, but no sound came out. He inhaled shakily, raggedly, and sobbed. " ...sorry... I'm so sorry, Rachel, I didn't KNOW... so sorry..."
The ghostly woman knelt down and held her hand out to caress her husband's face, but he cringed and backed away to sit up against the wall, as though the hand was intended to gouge his eyes out.
"IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME! OH GOD! WHAT HAVE I DONE?! I DIDN'T KNOW RACHEL I SWEAR I DIDN'T IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN-"
Dr. Vague was cut off as his wife embraced him and kissed him. His eyes opened wide in surprise and terror, then slowly closed, still leaking tears. He brought up his arms and embraced Rachel back.
It seemed like a long time before they pulled away from each other, and Dr. Vague looked down, confused and clearly very tired.
"It wasn't your fault. You didn't do anything wrong. I will be waiting for you... when the time comes. But you have to let it go. You have to live before you can die. So... live."
As her words sunk in, Dr. Vague nodded, not raising his eyes to meet his wife's gaze.
Mitch automatically scrambled back a bit when the woman's form faded and dissipated. The man called Dr. Vague took a deep breath and slowly pulled himself up to a standing position. He shoved Doubting Thomas out of the way and walked out the door into the hallway.
John, looking down at the gun in his hand, ran to the doorway. "Doc! Doc wait up! Where are you going?"
Dr. Vague replied in a broken voice, but without turning or slowing down. "Home. I'm... going... home."
The alarm clock went off and Mitch flailed at it, knocking it off the dresser. It was more the clatter than the beeping that woke him up, and he looked around his own apartment. Smallish, but with all utilities. Furnished cheaply, but clean.
And on the desk in his bedroom, a revolver.
"Oh. So it WASN'T a dream. I guess I can still eat nachos before bed."
He crawled out of bed, pulled himself to the shower, and eventually got dressed and checked his phone messages. Rebuffs from women, check. Mom checking in on him needlessly, check. Pre-recorded telemarketing message even though he was on the do-not-call list, check. Looks like all was right with the world.
"Bullshit." Mitch got his coat and shoved the revolver into an inside pocket.
The hallway outside the apartment was, as always, littered with trashbags and other trash which was not in bags, which Mitch carefully stepped around. Mostly out of worry of what might be hiding under or in the refuse, such as rats, or ghost rats, or severed hands that ran away from their arm. Eventually, he came to the correct door and knocked three times, waited, and knocked two more times.
After a few seconds, the door shook a little as locking mechanisms on the inside were undone. It pulled back a few inches, held by the short security chain typical of apartment doors everywhere. A part of a face poked out from behind it, showing some skin, an eye, some hair, and a big poofy chef's hat.
"Guess what you remind me of."
"Riff-Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, competing on Iron Chef."
"Close enough. What the hell are you doing?"
"Frying bacon without a shirt on."
"Actually quite the opposite. Hold on a second."
The door shut, and the latches on the inside were undone. John swung the door open and let Mitch inside.
"That was quite an experience last night, eh?"
"What, the ghost appearance?"
"No, the guy getting lots of unresolved issues resolved. A somewhat happy ending. That does not happen often in the underground."
Mitch crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "In all my experiences in high school, college, and working for a living, I've just seen people get screwed up more and more. There seems to be a rule for the mundane world that unless extroardinary circumstances get involved, there is no happy ending. In the Occult Underground, extraordinary circumstances can be made to order, no pickles, grill the onions, would you like something to drink with that. People ignoring that rule that says no happy endings, just like they ignore the rule that says when you fall from ten stories up, you die on impact."
"So why don't people have happy endings more often?"
"Because they're after power or revenge or the perfect cake recipe. And they usually find what they're looking for. It's all about knowing what you want, and taking your life into your own hands to add what you want."
John slowly grinned. "You did it."
"You figured out the final rule of magick. Personal responsibility. No matter how much you talk about beleive and exchange and restriction and energy and symbolism, it all boils down to getting off your ass and doing something."
"I knew that before I ever met you."
"Yeah, but you didn't know that you knew."
"Whatever. Is that burning bacon I smell?"
"Crap! Abbandon hot plate! Women and children first! Batten down the hatches! Blow me up!"
The mage sprinted back into the apartment, and Mitch followed, taking off his coat and his shirt. "Is there a story behind this bacon grease thing?" he called out.
"Actually yeah, some guy from Minnesota got his mystic rocks off by tempting fate, so he'd get a big pan and lots of big fat greasy bacon strips and fry em up au naturale, so to speak. He told me about this and I figured..." John's story trailed off when he looked back and saw Mitch without a shirt.
Mitch shrugged. "You can't trust bacon. It'll try and run off. Sometimes with your wife. Two guards are better than one."
"Yes." John laughed. "Yes they are."
The author would like to thank the people who made this story possible. You know who you are.
Hmmm. I wonder if Mitch'll take up Entropomancy instead of Epideromancy... it seems like a better match for him.
Bicornis | profile | Aug 20, 06 | 8:23 am