A single ray of sunlight broke through the heavily black draped
windows of the room and crept slowly across the carpet. When it touched the
foot of the bed, Vex’s eyes fluttered open. The clock on the wall read nine a.m. in large, green numbers. She at up
in her bed and stretched. Nine in the morning was a bit early, especially on a
Saturday, but she didn’t feel like sleeping any longer.
The events of the night were blurry, but judging from the
fact that Patrick was not asleep next to her, she figured that they were rather
The bed was an antique thing made of wrought iron, with
twirls and pirouettes of metal rising at the head and feet. Four posts of black
iron rose up from the corners and held the canopy in place. She cast the veil
aside and rested her feet on black carpet. She had designed the décor to suck
as much light out of the room as possible, a lush black carpet, grey painted
walls, and blackout curtains on the windows. Yet still, almost as if it had a
mind of its own, that one ray of sunlight always found its way into the room.
Vex flung open her closet and pulled out a specially
selected outfit: a sleeveless, black laced dress with a ruffled skirt and crisscross
bodice section, an opening in the waist for her to secrete a wallet and a
knife, and enough pinning that it wouldn’t get caught in doors or underfoot.
The black dress coupled with a long-sleeved red shirt, and its smart silver
buttons down the side finished off the effect nicely. It was Saturday. With no
work, it was time for play.
She slipped out of her nightclothes and into the red
shirt, leaving the dress to wait for her on the bed, and went into the bathroom
to take a shower and then prepare her makeup. As any morning went, the
application of her makeup was always the most important.
Without further dawdling, she pulled the bathroom door
closed behind her and hit the shower. Recollection of the previous night clarified
slowly and she remembered that Patrick had decided to sleep on the couch in the
living room. Even slightly drunk, he had been extremely strict with himself,
and really closed off when she had attempted to coax him into her room. Of
course, she hadn’t tried very hard at that—when they’d arrived home she actually
felt rather tired.
Except, the night actually started out okay. Patrick, distressed
and upset from his experience with the police and the murder next door, relaxed
quickly once he had two glasses of heady alcohol in his system. Soon he was
loose and smiling, and she hung on his every word as he recounted his childhood
in Montana—or maybe it was South Dakota, Vex had never left Arizona so it was
hard for her to keep states too far in the East separate in her head. He grew
up with everything she didn’t. Loving parents who were still together, brothers
and sisters tumbling around a warm home, and two dogs. She could almost imagine
the mountain vistas rising up into a crystal blue sky, with pinprick stars
twinkling at midnight and buttery yellow light melting over the hills as the
sun rose in the mornings.
From the stories of his picturesque childhood, Vex wondered
what possessed Patrick to cause him to uproot himself and crash land in Tempe.
Whatever it may have been, he wasn’t telling.
If he had any flaw it was that he was too much of a Boy
Scout. At the end of the evening, there it was, glimmering through the cloudy
murk of the alcohol. He didn’t relax his old fashioned hard-nosed upbringing
for a moment—he even held the apartment door open for her, minutes before
stubbornly demanding to sleep on the couch. And at his height, she didn’t envy
him the couch.
In the end, she couldn’t blame him. After all, Vex mused,
even though he was on the rebound, his last girlfriend did try to kill him.
As steam began to rise from the bathtub, she hoped that
Patrick was doing okay on the other side of the door.
Patrick awoke to the sound of running water. The second thing
that surfaced through his bleary return to consciousness was the pain. Not a
headache as would have been common after a night out carousing and drinking,
but instead a sharp spike piercing his neck. He rubbed at the sore crick to
soothe his complaining muscles and mused. He didn’t get a chance to really look
around the night before, but now he noticed that it was quite dark. Sitting
upright brought the twinge of a hangover to his head, so he paused a moment
before getting up to find a light switch. The scent of burnt incense and
leather mingled with the odor of the musty rags stuffed under the air conditioning
unit to prevent it from dripping on the floor.
After hitting the light switch, he stretched and wandered
around the room a little. Vex had a strange and eclectic taste for the objects
she kept in the living room. A glass skull sat alone on a shelf, a clutch of
books on magic held between bookends designed to look like unicorns graced
another, and next to the television there was a series of pictures. One
peculiar photograph, sepia and fading, displayed a scene of scruffy
mountain-men wearing cowboy hats and brandishing rifles as they stood over the
prone body of an extremely large bird. The strange part of the picture that
caught his eye rested with the bird—the wings were leathery and veined like
those of a flying dinosaur. The other pictures had equally strange subject
In the next room, Vex bumped around in the shower.
He hoped that she wasn’t too angry with him over the previous
night for turning her down when she not-so-subtly asked him to spend the night
with her. He just couldn’t. Patrick had felt too tipsy from drinking and didn’t
want to take advantage—although now he realized like there was any advantage to
take: she didn’t drink anything. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she’d explained, “we
shouldn’t need to call a cab when I just happen to drive one.”
She had to be the strangest girl he had ever met, and
since his impromptu move to Tempe he’d met a lot of strange girls. Except,
unlike most, he felt like there was something trustworthy about her. For all
her flashy nature—especially the flagrant outfits and overdone Goth makeup—and
brash, no-holds-barred attitude, she wasn’t pushy. She didn’t ask more of him
than what he offered, listened more than she spoke, and presented a solid and
responsible exterior. Something that few of the college girls going to ASU
seemed to have going for them. Unflappable, his mother would have called her.
The previous night, after the visit with the police he
really needed to unwind. He groaned when he realized that after a single beer
he must have gushed monstrously about everything—which for Patrick usually
meant his childhood. Miraculously, Vex took it all in stride, she listened
intently, nodded at all the right times. She didn’t chide or snicker. But it
did make him realize how little she spoke of her own family or her own
childhood. In fact, the previous night he’d managed to do almost all of the
talking, with the exception of ordering more beer.
Nothing like a double murder next door to make him
If the shower was running, he expected that Vex would be
out of her room soon.
He wandered into the kitchen and opened up the fridge. It
seemed to contain the essentials of single life: milk, orange juice, wrapped up
tomatoes, bacon, and blueberry juice (he had to read the label to tell what
that was.) The lowest shelf, however, held two lone plastic containers, both
marked: perishable, do not open until full moon. After a moment of
consideration, he decided that he was willing to let the red liquid inside them
remain a mystery.
Among the crockery he found a few workable pans and, after
going through the cupboards and drawers, he recovered a spatula and two clean
plates. The stove worked, so Patrick went about making some breakfast. It was
the least he could do to pay Vex back for letting him sleep at her place.
The shower turned off, Vex toweled off carefully, making
especially certain to dry her face, and when she was done she wrapped her hair
in the towel to keep it from dripping water onto her forehead.
Inside of her apartment, Vex was safe from the voices. Her
craft at warding had advanced greatly since her early days of study and now
wards laid over the entire apartment could have stopped the metaphysical
equivalent of a locomotive. However, exiting the apartment left her once again
vulnerable to magical maladies of many sorts, the voices included. So she
devised her favorite warding magic technique yet: specially crafted makeup.
Ground together with certain magical reagents such as rutilated quartz, mica,
butterfly wings, and finally a mixture of rowan and elder essences.
For ordinary days she used a makeup that looked subtle and
more flesh toned to hide it from the fares. However, for days that she had to
herself she could go with her full style, using shades of black over a stark
foundation. Today, she decided to paint an Eye of Isis around her left eye
using a special batch of warding makeup. It had accidentally been mixed with
too much mica—the final effect produced a black that spontaneously glittered in
the presence of any light source.
After a time of tedious, careful applications, Vex surmised
that she had done it properly. She went back into her room, shrugged herself
into the dress, drew the laces tight, tied them up, and opened her door into
the rest of the apartment.
The smell of cooked bacon greeted her as she stepped
through the door.
“Good morning,” Patrick said from the kitchen.
Curious, she padded around the corner and peeked. A pan
and a spatula poked out of the sink, discarded, and Patrick held two plates. On
each was a toasted sandwich.
“And you cook?” she said, incredulous.
“My mother liked to expect that we’d be able to feed ourselves,”
he said. “I hope you don’t mind…”
Vex chuckled and shook her head. “What is it?”
“Bacon-egg-tomato. B.E.T. You don’t have any lettuce, and
it is breakfast, so the eggs made sense to me.”
“Works for me,” she said. “Let’s eat. Then I have to make
a phone call…and after that we can hang out for a bit before I have to run an
“What kind of errand?”
“Remember that strange message on the back of the Tarot
card that I told you about? I have to get that translated.”
“Ah,” Patrick said. “You sure have a strange life for a
“Not unlike many hacks before me, no doubt.”
In the rising heat of the morning, the few street rats who
hadn’t slept the night before clustered together among the shaded tables of
Coffee Plantation overlooking the intersection of 6th and Mill Avenue
while they gabbed about drama and nonsense. The green trees dotting the
roadside up and down the Ave shivered in the passing wind as cars rumbled past,
creeping sometimes to an impatient standstill for the stoplight. Three
red-bricked, green topped buildings clustered themselves together there,
awnings extended to block out the brilliant sun for paying customers. Most of
the other clientele at Coffee Plantation positioned themselves in the
thoroughfare cut between the coffee house and the empty hollowness of Duck Soup,
hidden from the street.
Security guards dressed up in green and purple uniforms
kept a wary eye as they walked past, but bothered nobody.
A young woman walked past Fat Tuesday, a restaurant that
sported loud music and drunken dancing after dark, placed right next to the
coffee house, weaving through some disused fountains as they burbled. She moved
surefooted along the warming red and grey brick of the open mall. She wore no
shoes and the rough texture bit at the soles of her feet. With each mincing
step, the expensive material of her dress swished about her pallid, white
ankles. If her shoelessness seemed out of place to anyone, it drew no eyes. Two
guards wearing Proguard uniforms, lounging against the red wall, roused themselves
at her approach.
The trio spoke in whispered tones for a few minutes before
parting ways; then she wandered out among the assembled tables and past the
scattered coffee drinkers. They paid her no attention as she slipped past, as
if she were an invisible apparition. There, she stopped in front of one of the
“Come to me,” she said softly, reaching into the trash.
“Come to me, dear heart. Ah, there you are.”
She withdrew a closed hand, opened it momentarily to examine
the contents, and smiled. A small, irregularly shaped crystal rested there, a
bluish glow emanated from within like a tiny candle flame. The young woman put
the soulstone into the black purse slung over her shoulder, right next to an
empty can of pepper spray, and walked away, disappearing from sight into the
shadows of the buildings beyond Duck Soup.