VOLUME INDEX



Chapter XXV: Family Matters
Chapter XXVI: Hopeful Words
Chapter XXVII: All the Night's a Stage

 
 
 




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Taxicabs, for all their apparent compactness on the street, capably contain a large number of people and luggage. Usually for trips hither and thither, taxis were the workhorses of the city, grounded and somber. Even with all that, however, Vex’s taxi barely contained the bickering that refused to remain only in the backseat. The backseat held Nathan—wearing a tight black shirt displaying a single slashing lightning bolt that he swore had nothing to do with Harry Potter—alongside Patrick who dressed in a band t-shirt she’d lent him and sported a days worth of rugged stubble, and finally Alex. Of course, it was Alex who planted the seeds of dissent and the argument revolved around, of all things, genres of music.

It took only a few minutes before Megan, who happened to be sitting in the passenger’s seat, joined in with her clipped replies and acute recall of band names and albums. She seemed irritated, distracted by something, and that tetchiness showed on her face and echoed in her tone.

Vex tuned them out in order to drive—a skill she had cultivated from years of listening to children whine, married couples lash each other with words (often no better than the kids), and a myriad of other reasons one might not want to get drawn into a conversation occurring only a few feet away. There were moments when she would cut in, adding her own thoughts on subjects to the heated discussions, attempting to diffuse—but now a long veteran of those conversations, she knew when not to bother.

Instead of listening, she reflected on her day.

In spite of hoping to offer herself a reprieve and a day off from the ongoing investigation, Vex could not wholly withdraw herself from concerns about what the future held. Alex invited herself along, in true I-just-want-to-help-you-chill fashion after Vex called to ask her about the nightmares she’d described. She’d refused to speak about them on the phone, and kept pushing away the subject the entire ride.

After that abortive telephone conversation, Vex decided to call her godmother, Madame Summer, to see what her cryptic message on the answering machine meant. Nobody picked up. A strange event—the Wanton Wand had a voicemail service. Instead of letting that dampen her resolve, she went there directly. And found the store closed. The message on the answering machine suggested as much would happen by the end of the week. But a closure during the day, on a Tuesday? This was not normal.

That was when Vex noticed a message to her carved into the trim of the door. Constantly being replaced and carved, any mundane passerby would have thought the trim around the door was just arcane decoration meant to reinforce the atmosphere of the Wand on the visitors. However, those who could read the Irish Ogham alphabet gained an altogether different insight from running their eyes and fingers along the long boards. About eye-level, on a bit of trim very recently replaced—so that there was only one message to be seen—Vex saw her name in the Oghams. Jenny, Madame Summer’s granddaughter—a girl whom often referred to herself as Vex’s niece—followed a Druidic spiritual path, and she took it very seriously. The Oghams were an outgrowth of that singular academia and she’d often left messages for her friends on the doors in this fashion.

This message was written by Jenny, but obviously dictated by Madame Summer.

Vexandra, goddaughter mine, there have been grave developments in the fortunes of man. My husband, Jenny, and I will be leaving the city sooner. We still need to speak. Return to the wand on Wodan’s Day—that was Jenny being cute: Wednesday—and we shall commune.

With that avenue closed to her, Vex decided that perhaps it would be good to just take the day off. Instead of returning home, she went to see Nathan during his lunch break at the Coffee Plantation on Mill. Returning home would mean she could peruse that book she had plucked from the shelves of Those Were the Days on Saturday, but that would indeed mean further work.

“What do you mean Evanescence is not goth?” Of course, it would be Alex to break Vex’s concentration. “Amy Lee sure dresses the part and the music is played in goth clubs.”

“Being played in a goth club does not make you goth,” Megan sniped back.

“They seem gothic to me,” Nathan said. “How can they not be? If Depeche Mode and other music gets considered that way, why not Evanescence?’

“Nathan,” Vex said aloud, an act that stunned the rest of the cab into silence. “Didn’t we have this conversation before?”

She could see him roll his eyes in the rearview mirror. “You hate Evanescence!” he said. “You’re not exactly the least biased authority on this subject.”

Patrick, bless his heart, decided that moment to add his own take. “Actually,” he said. “I think she’s the most authoritative person in this cab. Compared to Vex we four all are wannabes when it comes to what is goth.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I don’t think Evanescence qualifies as gothic because they’re trying too hard.” That elicited a snort and a headshake from Alex. “Sure, they’re influenced by it, but they lack the haunting sadness or the I-wish-you’d-die angst that’s at the core of gothic music. They’re too fluffy.”

“You’re a hard one to disagree with,” Alex said, “and I don’t mean to call you elitist, hon, but you’ve got a touch of it. Too close to the subject, I’d wager.”

“Fringe goth at best.”

“Tell me about who we’re seeing tonight, again?” Patrick said.

All eyes shifted to him, even Vex’s, who caught him looking at her in the rearview mirror.

“Crüxshadows!” Megan said. “Definitely goth.”

“Absolutely,” Alex said. “They’re brilliant. I use their music during work outs. In fact, I once thought of applying to be a dancer for them at one of their concerts.”

“They have dancers?” asked Patrick.

“You’ll see,” she said.

Twilight dimmed the sky as Vex turned off of the highway and onto surface streets. Streetlights were already beginning to flicker on as she guided the cab through intersections and past shadow-gripped houses. The bickering had subsided, at least, and changed into a discussion about the bands that they’d be seeing tonight.

The parking-lot outside of the Bash on Ash, the venue of the night, was thick with vehicles. Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult to find a spot further away from the entrance.

“Here we are!” Vex said, killing the engine. “Everybody out. The show starts in twenty, so we have plenty of time. And that’s just opening bands.”

The back doors opened as she unhooked her seatbelt. Megan hadn’t even touched her belt yet, she fiddled nervously. “Could you…stay a moment and talk, Vex?” she said.

Patrick raised an eyebrow, Alex shrugged, and Nathan closed his door totally oblivious.

“Girl talk,” Vex said.

Alex smirked and Patrick followed her out of the cab. When the door closed, Vex tilted her gaze across to Megan.

“I’ve…” she said. “I’ve been noticing things in mirrors.”

“Things?”

As part of the metaphysical world, mirrors were potent objects. They provided gateways for stuff on the other side to gaze through and sometimes reach through. The mirrors of the cab weren’t—Vex made certain of that—they were prisms which were then consecrated in a way that disrupted the flow of magickal energy through them. Only one mirror in her cab had a capability of being used in that manner and it was safely stowed in the glove compartment, wrapped in a dampening cloth.

“You know we talked about my visions,” Megan said. “I’ve been doing some of those meditation exercises that you told me to do. I haven’t had that dream again. I’d like to learn more.”

Vex shook her head. “Get a handle on what’s going on now. Then I’ll teach you about theurgy.” She’d totally forgotten about the girl over the past few days. Not forgotten precisely, but forgotten to look for a person in the city who could be an appropriate mentor. It would take time. “You’ll get there. Now, tell me what you’ve been seeing.”

“Birds,” she said, “and sometimes women.” Her eyes flickered to the rearview mirror for a moment, then she shook her head. “Not in your cab, though, but the mirror at home. I don’t know what to make of it.”

“I think your encounter with the ghost-world had an effect on you.” Having nearly been killed could traumatize almost anyone, and Megan didn’t react well to how Vex chose to handle it. “That girl could have wounded you. You should talk to Alex about this. She’s a healer.”

“Okay,” Megan said. “I’ll do that.”

“You think you’ll make it through the concert? If not, I can call Alex back and we can get this figured out right now.”

The other girl shook her head. “No. No. It’s alright. I’m just wondering. It’s weird. Seeing other people in mirrors.”

“Welcome to the surreal side of life,” Vex said.

People with newly awakened magick often didn’t handle it so well. Megan seemed extremely well adjusted. She absorbed the visions of horror and strife unfazed. This was exactly why Vex had chosen her to come along when she and Andre called upon the lwa to find those missing children—she might even be a valuable asset when Vex went for the last girl whom still remained “missing” in the ether.

“Alright then,” Vex popped her door open. “Let’s go enjoy our concert.”

 

Once they’d made it inside, Megan excused herself from the group and slipped into the restroom. She felt flushed, hot all over, and it wasn’t from the argument she’d gotten into. Sure, music was a subject she could carry on about and it was fun, but that wasn’t the biggest problem she had. Ever since Sunday night, things had gotten really strange.

Yes, she was seeing things in mirrors. But, what she’d left out when talking to Vex was that things were also seeing her.

A couple other women were using the restroom: washing up, applying makeup, barely registering each other’s presence as they checked clothing and fixed their hair. Megan found a stall and shut herself in. She pulled her feet up and stared at the back of the door.

The meditation exercises that Vex taught her were simple. They involved clearing her mind and imaging a ball of pure white light. Long ago, Megan had learned a similar thing for calming down when she was overanxious. It worked well enough then. Still, it was kids’ stuff. There were probably a lot better things she could learn, if only someone would teach her. Ball of white light affixed in her mind, Megan tried to relax and waited for her breathing to calm.

As well as this, Vex told her she could teach her how to control the visions, even gave her some ideas on how to ignore them. The information seemed slight, lackluster, just advise about how to let it slip by—like when her mother told her how to ignore the other girls teasing her at school, and equally effective. Ignoring the woman in the mirror didn’t do very much to make her go away.

She’d first noticed her Monday morning. Megan went to brush her teeth and the other girl walked into the bathroom by passing through the shower curtains. The toothbrush hit the sink, and the girl in the mirror glanced at it, but then she looked directly at Megan. For a moment, she felt like she could hear the breathing of another person in the room—she turned and there was nobody. She turned back to the mirror and the girl was gone.

For hours, she felt agitated, like someone watched her. Gooseflesh sprang up every time she passed a window, or the bathroom, or her mother’s room. That evening, as Megan was cleaning up the living room, she strayed past the TV set. It was off. The dark screen reflected the room, distorting furniture and sleeping cats. There, reflected as a part of the room, the ghostly girl appeared, also twisted by the curve of the television screen. As she watched, the ghost reached down and tried to touch her shoulder.

Megan screamed and fled from the room.

Her mother chastised her brutally for waking her up.

Tuesday, she took the day off of work and went down to Mill. There were too many mirrors and mirrored surfaces at work—no telling where the ghost girl might appear in them. Unfortunately, the windows of shops all along Mill Ave would have the same problem, as did the windows of the bus. With her iPod up loud and her eyes closed, Megan managed to make it from her house into Tempe without even a glimpse of the ghost girl.

Megan heard someone washing their hands, then the door to the restroom open. For a moment, while it was open, the sounds of an announcer could be heard loud and clear, suddenly muffled into quiet when it closed again. Empty. No swish of feet, sound of jewelry jangling. The concert was probably close to beginning. How long had she been sitting on the toilet?

How stupid she was to go into the bathroom, with a mirror! Surely, once she opened the door, the girl would be there. Steeling herself, she reached out and undid the lock on the stall door, it swung open slowly.

And the girl was there, reflected in the mirror, standing next to Megan. She spread her hands, pleading.

Can you hear me?

The voice was very quiet, weak and whispered. At first, Megan tried to ignore the apparition; she walked over to the sink and began to wash her hands. The girl spoke a little more, Megan could tell, but she couldn’t make out the words over the sound of the running water.

She turned it off and stared into the mirror.

—can help me. I… I’m a student. At ASU’s nursing college. My name is Tiffany Mains. And … I think I’m dead.” The voice paused for a moment. “Do I know you?

 
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