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Chapter XXVIII: Aftermath
Chapter XXIX: Mirror, Mirror
Chapter XXX: The Hollow in the World

 
 
 




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The shattered violin rested in the center of Vex’s living-room-cum-kitchen table. The heavy faux oak-finish had seen its share of strange artifacts; its surface pitted and scarred by countless experiments and observations. Here, a jagged line that matched an aluminum foil tin, which CLR and other caustic substances had sloshed over; there a few fine white dots revealed holes that seared nearly through the wood where a particularly nasty magickal bug had been slagged into magnesium embers. The tabletop served as a roadmap to many of Vex’s successes and failures at divining the meaning and purpose behind the use of many varied items.

The legs straddled the line between living-room carpet and kitchen tiles; one semicircle over white, the other over black. A homage to a domestic yin-yang, suggesting balance. Runes inscribed along the very edge of the table contained, sigils painted onto the bottom focused, and the very surface had been painstakingly mirrored with oils and sealants to create an unwavering reflection.

The broken violin refused to give up its secrets—assuming it had any to reveal.

“Fists first, words after,” Alex said as she applied a cold compress to Vex’s knuckles. “I think you bruised a rib. Nothing serious. You can pull your shirt back down again. Those are going to be some ugly bruises come sunrise.”

Vex nodded.

“That’ll be a fun police report,” Patrick said. He sat on the couch, thumbing through a book he’d grabbed from a shelf. “Yes, officer, she was wearing dark clothing and black eye-liner. The woman who caused this ruckus.”

Everyone chuckled. Things had been very tense on the way out of the Bash on Ash after Vex had hit the wall. Pulling the fire alarm did create the desired effect—it got those people the hell out of Dodge—but it also had the added benefit of summoning the fire department and hot on their wheels, the Tempe PD. Six squad cars. Like they had nothing better to do.

“Lucky for ya’ll,” Alex said, “the cops seem to totally ignore taxi cabs.”

She drove—against Nathan’s protestations—and it went exactly so. The squad cars rushing to the scene raced past the cab without notice.

“Don’t I know it,” Nathan said. He sat nearby. Trying to stay near Vex in case Alex needed extra help, without appearing to act so. Offers which she had refused multiple times.

Nathan had always been a wuss about injured people, especially Vex. Unless, of course, it was a bully suddenly on the receiving end of one of her less gentle gestures. No stranger to bruised knuckles, she took the cold compress and Alex’s well-meaning admonition in stride.

“Just last a week someone robbed the bank on Mill. The newspaper said he arrived in a cab and, after doing the robbery, he climbed into another and made his escape. They still haven’t caught him,” he said.

“Glad it wasn’t my cab,” Vex said.

Alex’s fingers pressed along her spine in an almost-massage and she let her head roll back a little, eyes closed. “I understand…with how much you hate the cops, hun.”

“You hate the cops?” Megan asked, her first words since the incident at the club. She sat on the couch next to Patrick, clutching her kitty-cat backpack and staring at nothing.

“If Friday is any indication,” Patrick said, “I think she has a history.”

“They get in the way—ow!” Vex jerked her arm away from Alex.

“Let me see that shoulder.”

“Are you going to hurt it again?”

“If you don’t let me see it.”

“The security guard at our school didn’t like her very much,” Nathan added. “As you might guess, Vex kinda stood out. She got a lot more of her fair share of attention… Getting in fights. Not just with students, but also him and the janitors.

“I can’t say that I blame her. The cops haven’t ever done right by either her nor I ever in our lives… However,” he looked at her directly, “I think you put way too much blame on anyone who is a cop for the bad acts of a few. But that’s just my opinion.”

“Gee, thanks… Nathan.” Words breathed through clenched teeth.

“There,” Alex said. “How does it feel now?”

Vex looked up at the girl warily, cradling that arm. She moved her shoulder around in the socket a few rotations and then nodded. “Thanks.”

A hush fell over the group. The night’s events had been rough on everyone. Especially her. Patrick seemed excited and disappointed at the same time—she hoped he didn’t think she was upset that the date was ruined. Although, in a way, it wasn’t. Transcending humanity and picking fistfights with musical sorcerers could stand in for a trip to Castles & Coasters anytime.

“What about the violin?” Nathan asked, anticipating Vex’s thoughts. “You’ve been staring at it for almost an hour now. Anything?”

The violin, now crushed and torn, lay helplessly ruined on the table. The neck had been shattered at the body, white splinters frayed from dark stained wood; and the body itself had been caved in, bits of the belly board were missing, opening gaping wounds where the f-holes would have been. Strings curled like fingers grasping in death-rigors, twitching morosely whenever someone at the table shifted. The instrument once had been beautiful, possibly handcrafted; now it was the wreckage of poetry.

“It’s a normal, mundane violin,” she said. “The only thing special about it is that the missing girl, Darlene, was playing it.”

“Wait,” Patrick said. “Darlene? I saw Madeline, my ex-girlfriend…she tried to kill me with a knife.”

“Hanna,” Alex said. “Except she’s either dead or in Europe. Thank goodness. And she can’t play the violin.”

“I also saw someone I knew,” Nathan said.

Vex paused.

“That certainly explains some things I experienced,” she said. “Everyone saw a woman or a girl?” Nods all around. “And they had some sort of relationship with you? Darlene for me because I’m looking for her. Patrick’s ex because she tried to kill him…” More nods. “An illusion. This gets us exactly nowhere.”

“We know that Darlene does play the violin,” Megan said.

Patrick and Nathan nodded together.

“But it doesn’t necessarily mean it was actually her,” Patrick said.

“You know what?” Megan said. “Yesterday, I had a long phone call with Tom, a friend of mine. He was all butt-hurt that he didn’t get to see Rasputina when they were in town. The club they would be playing at cancelled an earlier show and then shut down for the day. I didn’t think much of it at the time.”

“I want to know more about what bands have cancelled.” Vex chewed on the idea as she spoke. Obviously this meant it wasn’t an isolated incident. Darlene, after all, had vanished from a violin recital on Mill Ave—taken into the unknown right on Vex’s own watch. Violins or music in general had something to with what was happening.

“I can help there,” Alex said. “I have a lot of friends in the scene.”

“Me too,” Megan added.

“Good. I’m grateful for your help, you two,” Vex said. “Meanwhile. I’ll be chasing my own demons on this matter. I have some errands to run tomorrow.”

“Are we going to see the voodoo guy again?” Megan asked, her eyes sparkled with anticipation.

“No,” Vex said. She slid her gaze to the book she’d bought from Those Were the Days. It lay quiet on the shelf, waiting to be opened. The memory of the specter of her mother still echoed in her mind, words suggesting explanations. Explanations she carefully set aside to pursue other paths. “We’re tired. We should call it a night.”

“But things were just getting exciting!” Megan said.

The little gathering dissolved quickly after that. Patrick excused himself to take Nathan home, and make a brief stop at a convenience store. Alex offered to give Megan a lift back to her house—a gesture which Vex appreciated because it gave her a little more time alone with Patrick—but first, Alex drew Vex away into her room for a brief meeting.

“Nightmares,” she said. “We didn’t get a chance to talk on Saturday. I don’t think we can let that slip much longer. My clients—well, the four I’ve seen since then… It’s been getting worse. I need you to tell me about yours.”

Vex took a deep breath and let it go slowly.

“Well,” she said. “They’re not my usual kind. Most of my dreams involve them in one way or another. Even with all the wards layered through the walls, I just cannot get rid of their voices…”

“What are they about?”

“Any of your clients dreaming about the end of the world?”

Alex nodded. “And worse. Being devoured alive by bugs, darkness, chased through the wreckage of their apartment complexes, the places that they work. I would guess this was just hysteria if I didn’t know better. Especially because it’s not just one or two, it’s almost all of my clients. And they’re not sick. I’d know.”

Vex leaned back into a shadow and thought silently for a moment.

“Tell me about your dream.”

“I always wake up in the same place. In the middle of a crater, right outside of ASU. You know where Mill turns around and becomes Apache? Everything is blackened and smoldering and it’s midnight. I can see stars through the smoke. The few buildings that I can see are blasted out, charcoal ruins. Sometimes I feel like there are other people with me, watching—except that I’m not sure it’s people watching me. It’s like the stars have eyes. Or the smoke.

“In fact, this Sunday I saw something that reminded me of the nightmares. A dark thing living in the bleak afterimage of a dead girl’s life… It was almost déjà vu. I haven’t had the nightmare again since then—Patrick’s been keeping me company at night.”

A corner of Alex’s mouth turned up in a smile. “I told you he should be your boyfriend.”

“He is now.”

“I’m glad that he’s doing good for you,” she said and reached out to touch Vex’s hand. “You kinda need it, you know? You’ve been alone for too long.” Her black manicured fingertips lingered for a moment. “It hasn’t been good for your psyche. So, how is he in bed?”

“Hey now!” Vex said. “I’m not going to kiss and tell.”

“Oooh,” Alex mouthed, winking “Must be love. You’ve always been forthcoming about that before.”

“He’s different.”

“Howso?”

“He’s…” Vex paused a moment, letting her voice soften. “Innocent. Not from our little incestuous world of drama and one night stands. I’m trying to take it a little slower.”

“Good for you,” Alex said. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m okay.”

“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, whatever’s going on, it’s getting worse. There isn’t much else I can do here… This sort of gig is your shtick, as you’d say.”

Vex could tell where this little conversation was going. “People are already leaving. I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to take a vacation.”

“I have family in Boston. I might be going to see them soon.”

“Stay safe out there.”

“You stay safe out here.”

“Oh yeah, there’s something you need to ask Megan about.” Vex said. “She’s been seeing things in mirrors. I haven’t had time to introduce her to the dangerous side of her talents. Could you?”

Keys jingled in Alex’s hands. “I think I can do that. Enjoy your evening.”

They embraced. She watched the smaller girl open the bedroom door, slip through and close it behind her. Quiet and alone, Vex sat on the edge of her bed, smiling in the dark.

Megan found Alex’s car a little bit cramped after the leggy space of the front seat of the taxi. The girl obviously did very well for herself being a dancer, she noted as she glanced around the cozy, but lush interior; indigo readouts came on all across the dash as Alex opened her door and slid across the leather into her seat. A brand new stormy blue mica Mazda Miata. The top down, a warm, dry wind blew down from the open blackness of the star filled sky, pawing through Alex’s hair as she turned the key in the ignition.

“Your car is gorgeous,” Megan said.

“Pull the dragon’s tail right off, this baby can.” Alex patted the dash. “Two years of savings and—” She winked slyly as the car reversed out of the parking spot. “—a close friend in the business.”

The scent of desert air filled the road and only the stars remained stationary, yet even they danced merrily to the whispered rhythm of the wheels. Streetlights whisked stretched paintbrush lines of light across the curves of the car. Megan held tighter to her backpack with one hand and reached the other gingerly over her head. The sensation of the air rushing through her fingers felt amazing. She could understand why Alex wanted a car like this.

“How are you doing?” she asked. The sound of the wind roared at the edges of Megan’s hearing, but Alex didn’t have to raise her voice much to be heard.

“It’s been a weird few days,” Megan said.

“Vex tells me that you’ve been suffering the odd visitations since your experience with the houngan,” Alex said. “Stuff in mirrors?”

“Yeah…”

“Like what?”

Megan paused a moment, thinking back to finally talking to her mirror-haunt in the bathroom. The experience put a shiver through her. The woman in the mirror happened to be a real person. With actual fears and desires, and she even went to ASU. They had classes in common earlier that year. Tiffany asked Megan to keep her a secret a little longer until she could tell her whole story.

Megan couldn’t refuse her that.

“Birds,” she said. “Sometimes people.”

“I know, it’s really scary having some sort of talent,” Alex said. “Yours is the worst. You’re a seer, right? The witches of old often had that. You have to be really careful with it. Mirrors are a sort of portal into other worlds.”

“I get that,” Megan said. “But…my visions don’t come through mirrors. I just see things that aren’t there. Like a bird out of place or a face, a person. What’s the big deal?”

“Things can come through.”

“What kind of things?”

“Bad things. Trust me. Vex and I have had to deal with the stuff behind mirrors before, and it’s not pretty. You be careful with mirrors.” Alex took her eyes off the road to cast a significant look in Megan’s direction.

“I’ll be careful,” Megan said.

“I have an amulet in the car I can give you,” Alex said. “It should close up any mirror you set it near. You can use it until you get stronger.”

“Thanks.”

They sat quiet for as the car slipped onto the freeway and Alex pressed the gas on. The wind keened.

“I noticed you didn’t say exactly who you saw on the stage tonight,” Alex said. “Who was it?”

“My mom,” Megan said.

Megan looked up into the rear-view mirror and saw the image of dead Tiffany sitting between her and Alex; the image stared back with a quizzical expression.

You know that wasn’t your mother you saw up there,” she said. “It was me.

Megan turned in her seat. “Do you mind if I stand up?”

“Not at all,” Alex said. “Did that the first day I got this baby. Go for it!”

Megan unbuckled her seatbelt, and stood up, keeping one hand tightly on the back of the seat.

The wind rushed caressing fingers through her hair and she closed her eyes, inhaling the night. This had to be what independence felt like—wind, motion, and the empty road easing into the lonely night.

 
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