The girls clear the area as completely as possible; packing everything that will fit, into the cauldron. In an effort to escape further harangue, Jodi offers to take the burned wood and disposable items to one of the large waste containers outside the cemetery keeper’s house. As she is returning to the mausoleum, a grey fox steps out from behind a bush. Jodi is startled by the animal at first and freezes; with a murmur full of trepidation she says softly,
“Hey--little fella--what are you doin’ out here--so late?”
The animal looks up at Jodi, tongue hanging from its open mouth, breathing slowly. Jodi stares at the fox, it’s luminous pupils roil in onyx and crimson.
“Wow! That is so weird, the eyes are different colors!”
She continues to stare, transfixed.
“Well--goodnight--little--one--you--should--you should go find your mother!”
Still facing the animal, Jodi backs away slowly, not wanting to startle it. When she’s about forty-feet away, Jodi turns around and runs to catch up to the others. The fox sits on its haunches, watching Jodi run. The animal stands and walks slowly towards where it entered the scene, stops abruptly, and turns around once again, spying the girls make their way across the expanse of cemetery. While watching the departed girls, the pupils of the fox roil in onyx and crimson luminosity. The animal withdraws its tongue; it’s slow pant becomes a fang-baring leer. The leer drops away; the fox dips its head, turns tail and almost as if
laughing in mock, begins yipping as it trots into the darkness, completely out of sight.
Vic and Hillarea stagger down North Street, stopping periodically; Vic hugging Hillarea in a consoling manner punctuated by gentle kisses on the head and face.
“So doll, are you finally over those twerps?”
“Know what--I’m so in love with you because you’re alwaysthere for me! That’s why I wanna jump your bones all the time; it’s such a turn on. Know what else, I’m gonna jump you bones when we get home--and I ain’t taking no for an answer lover!”
“Well, why are we walking so slow? Get a move on! Our bed waits!”
Hillarea smiles and pushes Vic up against the wall of a shut-up business. Vic giggles, turns the tables on Hillarea and pins her slack, submissive body against the wall. Their eyes lock, Vic hovers in slowly and gently initiates what quickly becomes a passionate kiss. Hillarea breaks the kiss and whispers raspily,
“If you don’t get moving, I’ll do you right here!”
“My girlfriend an exhibitionist? Not likely!”
Vic releases Hillarea and offers her a hand; they clasp and start walking again, this time more quickly. Within a few minutes, they walk up the driveway to the apartment house, follow the path around to the back and climb the wooden stairs; Hillarea says.
“If he’s up, be polite and say hi, okay?”
“Fine, I can wait a few more minutes, can you?”
“Ha, ha; very funny. No!”
From the second floor landing, it is possible to look into the kitchen of apartment 2-L. The man sometimes leaves the shade up and the girls have stopped to talk with him on many occasions. Tonight, he is sitting at the kitchen table reading a book with a black cover; he hears the girls coming up the stairs and stops reading. He looks towards the window, and a smile spreads across his face as Hillarea peers in.
“Hey, how was the party? I got so engrossed in this here book my daughter gave me; I sorta forgot to go. Hey Vic, don’t hold that against me when you put me in your will, deal?”
Hillarea giggles musically; Vic smiles sheepishly as she drops to a squat position, to see the man. With her head just inches from Hillarea’s, she puts her arm around her neck to steady herself, the pair almost taking a tumble down the stairs.
“Nice! Get me killed; that works!”
Vic turns and faces the man.
“Now where were we? Oh ya, dude, no problem, the invite wasn’t etched in stone; it was just an invite! I want to see you get laid more than once a year; you have to use it so I can still call you woody!”
“Nice one Vic! You’re just jealous cuz you don’t have one! I can always tell when you’ve had a night; smut just flows out of your mouth! Now listen to daddy--it’s time for bed! Go on now; I know I’ll be hearing the thump on the stairs tomorrow when you’re both late for work. I can hear it now--”
The man says with animated gestures and a little chuckle.
‘Why didn’t you set the alarm for six? Now we’re gonna be late!’
“Or something to that affect!”
Vic replies in a playful tone.
“Yikes! I guess you can hear everything, upstairs and outside! There’s no privacy from you, is there?”
“Hey, I just have really good hearing, part of my job. I have to hear everything, that’s all. I can tune you out if you want, but I just find you two fascinating. I have never lived in the same building with a couple of cute chicks so into each other. You can smell the lust in the air!”
Hillarea nudges Vic,
“See, I told you we smell!”
The man laughs hard and says,
“Nice! Good one! It’s probably coming through the vent!”
Hillarea opens her mouth wide in mock surprise, not sure, if he’s jibing her; they can never tell, he’s the master of the poker face.
“Dude, I am so sorry!”
“Hillarea! I’m the one that should say sorry! I went wayoverboard! But, it’s not like I haven’t sme--Ohhh! That’s--.awkward! Umm, really, okay, I think I hear your bed calling; 6:00AM comes quickly in these parts!”
Hillarea, always the composed socialite, says in an affable tone.
“Goodnight sir! Happy reading! And we’ll try to make lots of noise for you upstairs; for the vents!”
The man shakes his head.
“Unbelievable--bye--go to bed!
The girls walk the rest of the way up to the landing. The man goes back to reading his book with renewed interest. On the landing outside 3-L is a green trash bag tied crudely upon itself.
“Oh! Hey baby, I forgot to put the trash out ‘cuz we went out the front way. I’m gonna take it down now so we don’t have any fragrant visitors overnight?”
“Good, that’ll gimme time to make the bed so I can give you my reward!”
“Make the bed? Why bother, we’re only gonna mess it up!”
“Naw, remember, Tuesday-change the bed day!”
“Yes, I know! I’m the amazing wonder woman, I’m an amazing friend--and if you hurry with that trash, I’ll give you amazing head!”
“I am so glad you’re my honey, Jane eat your fuckin’ heart out! I got the best piece of ass around!”
Vic shakes her head in wonder, turns and starts down the stairs; trash bag in hand. Rounding the corner, she comes upon a reddish-grey fox. It sits in the corner where the light is subdued in shadow cast by the fence and tree there. Vic stops short and looks at the animal quizzically; in the obtuse light, the eyes appear to be different colors. Multiple colors march across the cornea like infantry. Vic half-expects the animal to turn tail and run away, startled. Instead, the fox sits on its haunches, unafraid, and watches Vic walking slowly, skirting it.
“Some of these things look so docile, just sittin’, but I’ve seen ‘em attack for no reason!”
Vic is but five feet away from the animal now, every time it blinks, the hues undulate as if feeding a depthless patina. Vic shakes her head in a tic, chasing the possible hallucination away.
“Okay then, now I’m seein’ kaleidoscope eyes!”
Vic continues to skirt it cautiously, backing away in the direction of the barrels. Her eyes drawn to it, she turns, both, to avert its eyes and to continue toward the barrels, the fox tracking her every move. She rounds the fence, and drops her burden into one of the barrels there. Vic retraces her steps, expecting the fox to be there; it’s not. Vic looks around; she hears a voice, like someone spoken aloud,
“DARK IS LIGHT, PRAY BY NIGHT;
A CURTAIN TORN, FEAR IS BORN;
FORSAKE THE NIGHT YOU SET ME FREE;
SOON ENOUGH YOU’LL CARRY ME!”
Vic looks around for the source of the voice one last time before running the stairs to the apartment; she enters it hastily. The animal comes out of the shadows, looks up the stairs after Vic; with raised head, it sniffs the air for her lingering pheromones. Seemingly satisfied, the fox lowers its head and trots away into the darkest of shadows, pupils roiling in onyx and crimson luminosity.
Vic walks into the apartment not looking directly at Hillarea as she speaks,
“Hey the weirdest thing just happened! I got to the bottom of the stairs, and when I hit the corner, there’s a little fox, like, just sitting in the corner, by the fence. I didn’t wanna get too close and scare it, so I sorta backed around the corner!”
Vic is aimlessly walking around, still not noticing Hillarea.
“It didn’t run away from me like you would think, it just looked at me. I could have sworn the eyes were changing colors and every time--.”
She finally glances at Hillarea and watches her unbutton her jeans slowly, teasingly. Hillarea steps out of her jeans purposely slow, leaving them in the middle of the floor. She steps toward Vic, maintaining a compelling gaze; broadcasting her desire.
“--it did--I felt--like I had to--keep staring--at it. God you’re so fucking hot!”
Vic clears her throat,
“So where was I, oh, so I kept backing up ‘til I was far enough away to walk normal to put the trash in the barrel. Then, listen to this, when I started walking back, the thing is gone!”
Hillarea murmurs in a sultry voice,
“Since when are there foxes in Salem?”
She’s mere feet from Vic; Hillarea pulls off her t-shirt and lets it drop to the floor at Vic’s feet. Vic replies slowly, her smile inhibiting her steady flow of words,
Hillarea is standing mere inches from Vic in nothing but her panties. She leans in, rubs Vic’s ear teasingly with her lips and whispers,
“Ya-- you’re probably right--darling it must be!”
“That’s all I get?”
“For right now, yes!”
“Come, I made you a promise I intend to keep!”
Hillarea pushes her underwear off her hips slowly, Vic watches them fall to the floor. Vic bends over to pick them up,
“Ma’am, I believe you dropped these!”
Hillarea places her hand gently over Vic’s and takes them teasingly out of her grasp. Hillarea leans in, her lips pouting as if waiting to be kissed. She is but and inch from her girlfriends mouth when she stops abruptly and steps back. She roguishly waves the underwear in front of Vic’s nose,
“Egad Hillarea, he’s right; you are a stink ball!”
“F-you! I’m fresh like summer rain! Wanna see?”
“Ya and so’s the pope!”
Hillarea pushes Vic back playfully and runs past. Vic quickly takes off her t-shirt and snaps it at Hillarea’s backside. Hillarea throws her underwear in Vic’s face. Vic recoils and says jokingly,
“You better quit! I’ll bite your--!”
“Oh you’re so dreamin’ girlfriend!”
“C’mon twitchy-bitch, let’s go squirm!”
They run for the bed, Vic tackling her as they reach the edge of the mattress. Hillarea lands in a straddle over Vic,
“You’re so blond!”
“You forgot to shut off the light!”
“Oh shut this; yank the plug!”
“Anything else you want yanked?”
“Shut up and kiss me you fool!”
It’s a wonder those two get any sleep at all.
The alarm clock buzzes incessantly, Vic reaches for it with one eye barely open to strike the snooze button. She rolls onto her back, Hillarea remains on her side. She says in a very groggy voice, eyes closed.
She rolls onto her back and lets her left arm flop over her eyes.
“Ahhh! What the hell----”
Hillarea’s eyes spring open completely despite how she feels. Vic says dreamily; her eyes still closed.
Hillarea responds in an alarmed voice,
“There’s blood all over my face!!”
Vic, in a continued dreamy voice,
“Oh! Das nishe! Ya neverr complain ba--fore! An you didn’ notish a diff-a-ren? Mannnn yer slip-pin’! Min-sh na-ta ness we anywayzzzzz!”
Vic’s suddenly twitches fully awake and sees Hillarea’s face covered with congealed blood. She lifts the sheet and looks down at herself, no blood. She looks up and sees Hillarea studying her tattoo. Vic inches over to Hillarea’s side; together they study the tattoo closely. Vic says with a quizzical and concerned tone of voice,
“There it is! It’s coming from the skull head! That’s weird, it’s like--drying as it’s oozing! I’ve never seen anything like that before! I think you should wash it off and see if keeps bleeding!”
Hillarea springs off the bed and walks to the kitchen faucet. She runs water over her arm and immediately screams out in pain,
“Vic! C’mere! What’s happenin to me!!!??”
Vic runs to the kitchen and comes upon Hillarea holding her arm out, a fine mist rising from it.
“Oww it burns! What the hell’s happenin to me?”
Vic pulls a paper towel off the dispenser, folds it upon itself and dabs over the spot where the steam is rising. Dabbing gently at the moist blood-water mixture. Vic looks down and notices blood on the floor. She retrieves another paper towel to drop over the blood spots. Vic bends over to wipe the blood and recoils as if scalded. A whisper in her head commences,
“Shadows of light! Hecate foretold!
Shade in fray no radiance forth!
Still of blackness, curtain creased!
Exposed truth, of fear beneath!
Warned and bore in what design?
I seize true blood in hallowed light!
Release the dark in morrow’s night!”
She looks at her hand where the blood touched her skin. Vic stands up; she continues to look down at the hand. She looks up; her eyes meet Hillarea’s troubled gape. Together they look at Vic’s hand; her expression one of pain, confusion, and fear; all at once. Vic attempts to wash away the blood using water from the tap; she screams out in pain. Steam emanates from where the blood moistened her skin. Their eyes meet; Hillarea’s express confusion and abject terror. Vic bellows,
“What the hell! Are you possessed? First you bleed; then it burns us both!”
Tears well up in Hillarea’s eyes; in a fear-laced, and shaky voice she replies,
“I dunno but I’m--scared! Vic, I’m scared!”
The waiting room door to the lab flies open and shudders noisily as it hits a chair behind it. Krystyne looks up in surprise to see Vic standing in the doorway, foot outstretched, holding the door open. Hillarea goes running by, and in as calm a manner as possible, given the circumstances, Vic calls out,
“Krys honey! I’m sorry but we got a little situation here! I think we might be tied up for a bit in ER! Tell George to hang tight! If he needs to run off to get his wife again, call Crystal if anything needs immediate attention!”
Vic releases the door and runs after Hillarea. Frank looks up with a baffled expression,
“Hey where’s the fire!”
“Here--on my arm Frankie!”
Vic arrives seconds later and stands beside Hillarea; extending her hand. Frank is alternately looking at Hillarea’s burned arm and Vic’s scalded fingertips. Hillarea is rambling nonstop, Frank nods, still wearing a confused expression.
“Frank--this happened when I touched her blood this morning, when I was wiping it off the floor. Her arm was steaming when she put water on it, to clean off the blood that was coming out of her tattoo that started to bleed for no reason this morning--!”
“Vic, breathe; deep breathes now! No need to get worked up! We’ll take a good look at this and come to an answer, okay!”
“Ya, sorry, lost my head there a sec!”
Frank examines Vic’s hand closely.
“Hmmm, interesting, it’s not like your typical scalding burn. I’ve never seen anything like this. Does it still hurt?”
“Come to think of it, no, it doesn’t; that is weird, now, wow!”
He looks at Hillarea’s worried expression, then down at the tattoo on her arm. His brow furrows, and again, the dumbfounded look in his eyes. He shakes his head in a tic and opens his mouth, as if about to say something, snaps it shut, opens it again,
“How old is this tattoo Hillarea?”
Vic anticipates the question, and before Hillarea has a chance to respond, she says in a brusque tone.
“No Frank, I know what you’re thinking! Its way over six months old! It shouldn’t be oozing anything at this point!”
“Well--I’ve heard of tattoos, ummm, bleeding, after a long time because certain parts--well the ink--seems to go deeper in some places than others and----it kind of gets into----!”
Frank trails off,
“I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m talking about and they know that, and they’re both being really polite; I wonder what they’re thinking!”
“I really don’t know squat about tattoos, so I ‘m probablytalking out of my butt you know!”
He looks at Vic’s face, trying to read her, and says while pointing to Hillarea’s arm.
“Well it doesn’t appear to be doing anything right now. So I will put some sulfadiazine cream on it and cover it with some gauze. Then come back at the end of your shift and we can look at it again. Does that make sense to you?”
Before Vic can interrupt again, Hillarea speaks in a playfully sarcastic tone.
“That makes perfect sense Frank! You do what you think is best and I‘ll be your most compliant patient!”
“Hillarea! Egad girl, you are such a wise-ass sometimes!”
Hillarea looks away from him, appearing to be ready to burst out laughing. She looks up at Vic and studies the expression. She sees what appears to be a mix of worry and distance in Vic’s eyes; not so much distance though, that she doesn’t notice Hillarea’s furrowed brow. They lock eyes for a moment; Vic wags her head in a tic, in the direction of the exit. Hillarea nods in acknowledgement.
“Ok honey! That should take care of it. Look at it off and on, and if you think it will be ok, just pull that bandage off before bedtime and carefully wipe off the excess cream. If--on the other hand--it starts to get funky again--hustle on down here and I’ll take care of it again--cool?”
Hillarea slides off the gurney and says,
“Thank you so much Frank!”
She leans over and kisses him on the forehead.
“You’re a doll! You’re the best! Whoever you marry will beblessed; seriously dude!”
Frank blushes, Vic smiles at his reaction.
“Awww Frank is sweet on you Hillarea!”
“Oh stop! He is not!”
“Girls; don’t you have someplace you have to be?”
“Yes sir! We’re going, we’re going!”
The girls leave the ER.
“V it’s always good to have a friend in the ER so if I have to kiss up a little it’s all worth it!”
“Ya, that’s true ! You’re so smart baby!”
Krystyne looks up as Vic and Hillarea enter the laboratory.
“So what happened? What was the big emergency?”
“Oh, well, her arm started to bleed this morning on the tattoo and it freaked us both out! Plus, I burned my fingers, so I had Frank look us both over!”
“Oh wow, that is weird! It all ended well right?”
“Yup! So, any fires to put out?”
Hillarea shakes her head, rolls her eyes, Vic laughs,
“What? What’s the prob’ mine dudette?”
“Never mind! You are so blonde!”
“Oh duh; fires, soor-ry! Bad choice of words?”
Krystyne and her troupe are sitting at their usual table eating lunch, talking quietly about the cemetery incident. Jodi sits quietly listening, waiting for a chance to relate the experience she had with the fox. There is a short recess in the conversation; she starts to speak of the fox as if they had been talking about it all along.
“So it was weird when the fox came out of the bushes--like out of nowhere and it just looks at me--like it wasn’t even afraid of me! Aren’t they afraid of people?”
Jessica stops chewing; through cupped hand says,
“Ya as far as I know--I mean, that’s what they say on the Discovery Channel!”
“So I look at it, and it’s like I can’t look away at first; like it’s drawing me in. And it looks like the pupils are shiny black and then reddish like alternating; and they glow. But when I keep staring, it has regular dogs’ eyes; like it’s supposed to! It’s weird, like a hallucination almost. And it just sits there watching me throw the stuff away! Then I back away some, then turn around to walk away. And when I walk away, I turn around to see if it’s still there--and--it’s gone--poof----weird!”
The girls look at each other, dumbfounded and quizzical, yet say nothing. Crystal shrugs,
“Yes Jodi that is really strange!”
She gazes at Krystyne and says,
“Anyway, so Krysy, remember you said we were gonna go talk to Meg later. We still doin it?”
“Yes, we are, right after work!”
As they sit in the back room, waiting for the centrifuge to finish processing, Hillarea lifts the edge of the bandage and peers in. Vic says,
“How’s it look, lemme take a peek!”
“It’s fine! I think we can just pull it off tonight and chalk this up to another weirdo day in the annals of the VHS.”
“VHS? What’s that?”
Hillarea replies through a crooked smile,
“The Vic and Hillarea Story--staring none other than--like it? I made it up myself!”
Vic rolls her eyes.
“Oh brother, why me?”
Meg is pacing back and forth, clutching the cordless phone on her ear, listening to it ring. It engages. The voice on the other end says.
“Hello Mel, what’s up?”
“Hi Myr, you know I hate to bother you with this stuff, but I gotta. You know what last night was right? Well yesterday, a new witch was in my shop buying stuff for it and we got to talking and--”
“Really--.hmmmm----who is the girl?”
“You wouldn’t know her--she’s new-new; her name is Krystyne-- ”
“And this Krystyne talked about?”
“She found her ancestors’ Grimoire and discovered she is reallypowerful beginner. Well anyway, like I said, we got talking and we started talking about blood rituals and love potions. Before you know it, she starts telling me how she wants to do a blood ritual to scare off her friend and she insisted I tell her how to do the ritual you know the blood ritual that will end all rituals and shake off her friend!”
Myryun interrupts angrily.
“What in blue blazes did you do Mel?”
“Oh nothing bad, I just told her what to use and what to say; she has the rest in her head. Myr, she’s really bright and waypowerful. I’ve seen some of the stuff she’s done right in my store when no one was around and she didn’t think anyone was watching. So I figured she wouldn’t have any problems!”
“So what’s the problem then?”
“Well my gut tells me it didn’t go a hundred percent right. I gave it some thought and if it was ever interrupted, somehow--you know what I mean?”
“Oh Christ Meg, which one did you give her?”
“The one with the ghost-ghost!”
“Mel, you’re going senile on me! Whatever possessed you totell her that one?”
“Hey, don’t yell at me! She’d a found out sooner or later anyway with her ability and her book! Seriously now Myr, think about it, how long was it before you discovered it? Besides that, you can go on the internet and find anything you want good, bad, or indifferent!”
“Well I guess you’re right! Mel, here’s what I want you to do, gather up all the stuff she used and the set of the crystals you gave her originally--and the written spell. Do you remember anything else at all about your conversation?”
“Ya, she had a friend with her and they were talking about getting a bird over in Beverly!”
“Oh shit! A dove no less?”
“Umm, yes, I think so!”
“Mel, you’ll have to close early today! You do realize what we’re dealing with now; don’t you?!”
“Myryun I’m so sorry to drag you into this! I know I should have thought more about it before I decided to help her!”
“Mel don’t beat yourself up; I know you’re way excited every time someone comes in with anything out of the ordinary to do, I’ve been there myself!”
“No, no buts this time. Just--get out here okay?
“I’ll be out back, in the gazebo, studying. When you get here, just use the side walkway, please!”
The women disengage. Meg scurries around the shop, gathering all the items to recreate the spell.
Satisfied she’s forgotten nothing, Meg flips the sign;
“CLOSED! PLEASE COME AGAIN!”
--and quickly leaves the shop to walk towards her car. When she’s within a few feet, a fox jumps down from the roof of the vehicle, to its hood,
“It’s never a good idea to lie!”
The fox jumps down to the cobble walk and regards her one last time before running away; it’s yip-barking sounding like a taunt. Meg stands frozen for a few moments watching the animal run away. She shakes her head as if coming out of a dream and gets in her car. Moments later she is driving in the direction of the highway. Myryun’s home in Newburyport is about forty minutes away; she makes it in thirty.
At around 4:00 PM Salem time a car pulls up in front of The Witches Broom-Closet. Krystyne and Crystal get out of the car and approach the shop, only to find it shut-up. The girls look at each other mystified. Crystal looks at the hours of business listed in the window and sees the shop should be open until 6:00 PM. Krystyne says,
“Hmmphh! That’s odd! I wonder why she’s closed!”
“Does this happen often?”
“Not since I’ve been coming here!”
“Well, we can come back tomorrow again.”
“Ya! I suppose. Well, I can walk home from here Krysy. Okay--I’ll see you tomorrow--alright?”
“Okay--ya--that’s fine. You sure you’re alright? I can give you a ride you know!”
“I know you can but I told you I’m fine! I think I just need to get some air!”
“Crys c’mere, tell me--what’s the buzz!”
“Krysy, I’ll tell you what the buzz is; I’m fucking scared okay; I’m really, really scared! Maybe I watch too much TV but what if anything does happen? I know you’re really a good person and have a really clean aura. But what if jerk-off really did stir up some bad shit? Do you know how to stop it?”
“Okay, Crys, totally valid concerns! I appreciate you telling me exactly what’s in your head! Crysy listen, in my gut I feel like everything’s okay. I’m here to find out for sure for bothof us! Yes, guess what? It’s true , I’m not too cool, calm, and collected either!”
“Well you could have sure-as-shit fooled me babe!”
“Listen Crysy, long shot, if anything did go sour; she’s the one to tell me how to undo it. More than likely though, everything’s cool and we can just chill with a chamomile tea!”
“Okay fine, at least I’m not scared alone!”
“You’ll never be alone as long as we’re friend’s honey! Don’t forget I love you like family!”
“I know you do; I love you too Krysy!”
“So you still need that air or do you want a ride?”
“I’ll get my air from the open window! C’mon pooky, take me home!”
“Home it is queen Crysy! Climb aboard mine chariot and relish the senses along thine way!”
“You’re such a goon!”