Michaelmas daisies bloomed around Pete Caldecott's feet the day she met Jack Winter, just as they had twelve years ago on the day he died.
That day, the unassuming tomb in a back corner of Highgate Cemetery was overrun with the small purple flowers. Jack crushed them under his boots as he levered the mausoleum door open.
Fear had stirred in Pete's stomach as the tomb breathed out bitter-smelling air. "Jack, I don't know about all this."
He flashed a smile. "Afraid, luv? Don't be. I'm here, after all."
Biting her lip, Pete put one foot over the threshold of the tomb, then the other. A wind whispered out from the shadowed depths and ruffled her school skirt around her knees. She backed out of the doorway immediately. "We shouldn't be here, Jack."
He sighed, pushing a hand through his bleached crop of hair. It stood out in wild spikes, gleaming in the low light. His hair was the first thing Pete had seen of Jack in Fiver's club three months ago, molten under the stage lights as he gripped his microphone like a dying man and screamed.
"Don't be a ninny, Pete. Nothing in here is going to bite you. Not yet, anyway." The devil-grin appeared on his face again. Jack held out his hand to her. "Come into my parlor."
Pete grasped his hand, felt where the ridges of his fingers were callused from playing guitar, and used the warm shiver it sent through her to propel herself into the tomb. The stone structure was bigger than it appeared from the outside and her hard-soled shoes rang on the stone when she planted her stride firmly. She hugged herself to ward off the chill.
"I'm not a ninny."
Jack laughed and tossed the green canvas satchel he'd brought into a corner. "Sorry. Must have been thinking of your sister."
Pete punched him in the shoulder. "That's your girlfriend you're slagging off. You're wicked."
Jack caught her hand again and folded it into his, eyes darkening when Pete didn't pull away. "You don't know the half of it."
Pete met his stare, listening to them both breathe for a moment before she disengaged her hand. "Thought you said we were here to do some magic, Jack."
Jack cleared his throat and moved away from her. "So I did." He pulled a piece of chalk from his pocket and began drawing a crooked circle on the flags, one that quickly grew lines and squiggles radiating toward the center. "And we will, luv. Just got to set up some preparations to ensure everything stays nice and nonthreatening for your first time."
The way he said it could have made any of Pete's classmates at Our Lady of Penitence blush. "Jack, why'd you bring me?" she asked abruptly. "This pagan demon-worshipper crap is MG's thing, not mine. I shouldn't even be alone with you. You're far too old."
"I'm twenty-six," Jack protested. He finished the circle, which had grown into something that resembled a cage, giving Pete the sense of flat, cold iron. Jack took two fat candles, black and white, from his satchel. "You act like I've got one foot in the sodding grave, you do."
And I'm sixteen, Pete had whispered to herself. And if MG ever found out the two of us have been alone— if Da ever found out . . .
"I asked you to come along because I need you," Jack said, sitting back on his heels. His serious tone pulled Pete back from imagining what if MG witnessed the scene. Her sister could throw a fit akin to a nuclear explosion. And Da— he'd send Pete to a convent, or a tower, or wherever angry fathers sent recalcitrant daughters in fairy tales.
Pete blinked. "Why on earth would you need me?"
Jack brushed the chalk dust off his hands and stood, patting the pockets of his battered black jeans. "Let's see— you're sensible, cool in crisis, rather adorable. What bloke wouldn't want you about?"
"Shut your gob," Pete muttered. "What'd MG say, she heard you talking like that?"
"MG," said Jack. "MG knows what I'm about. She wouldn't say a bloody thing, because she won't ask and I won't tell her." He searched his studded jacket next, without fruition. "Bloody fucking hell. You got a light?"
Pete dug in her school bag and found her Silk Cut and disposable lighter, hidden inside a tampon box. MG might treat Pete indifferently at best, but she did teach her a few good tricks.
"Cheers," Jack said when she tossed it to him, lighting the candles and placing them at the head and foot of the circle. The longer Pete looked at it, the more her eyes hurt and her head rang, so she looked away, at the bar of light that was the door back to the world.
"Almost there . . ." Jack muttered. He pulled his flick-knife from a hidden pocket— or maybe it just appeared, in the dim light Pete couldn't be sure— and pricked his finger, squeezing three precise droplets over the chalk.
Pete had watched Jack work magic before, simple street tricks like disappearing cards, the queen of spades slipping between his thin fingers, or small conjurations like a cigarette that came from the packet already lit.
But here, in the tomb, Pete remembered thinking, it was different. It was real magic. Silly, of course, that, through and through. She was the daughter of a police inspector, and the Caldecott family— less MG— didn't put stock in that sort of thing. But Jack . . . Jack made you believe, with his very existing. He crackled the air around him like a changeling among men. People looked into his eyes and believed, because you could see a devil dancing in the bright flame of his soul.
Jack Winter was magic.
"Ready?" Jack asked from the head of the circle. Pete felt something wild and electric settle around them, like a phantom storm brushing her face with rain.
"What should I do?" Pete asked. Jack beckoned to her and hissed when she almost scuffed over some of the markings.
"Mind the edge, luv. Wouldn't want you lopped off at the knees."
"Bloody hell, really?" Pete asked, eyeing the circle circumspectly. She wasn't her sister, nattering on about "the energy," but she knew, in a way that was deep and brooked no logical argument, that she had stepped into something otherworldly when she came to this place with Jack. He radiated a power she could taste on her tongue.
"The circle won't hurt you," Jack admitted, stroking the darker stubble at his jaw. "But don't disturb the sigils. You don't want what'll be inside on the outside. Trust me." He took Pete's hand as she got close and raised the flick-knife. Pete jerked, but he was too quick, scoring a neat crosscut on her palm.
"Ow!" Pete said in irritation. All of the questions she should have asked raced to mind in a sick sensation of falling and the excitement of a moment ago washed away on a red tide of fear.
She hadn't asked why they'd come here, sneaked past the admissions booth at the cemetery gates and broken into this tomb, hadn't pressed Jack on purpose, because then she'd get scared, and Jack was never scared. Not when a pack of skinheads made trouble in Fiver's. Not of Da, DI Caldecott himself, who had chased off every one of MG's previous deadbeat boyfriends. Jack just extended a hand and a smile and people would throw themselves off Tower Bridge to stand next to him, to reap a little of the danger that seemed to permeate everything he touched.
As the chalk soaked up her blood, the sigils fading to red like a blushing cheek, Pete knew she didn't want to pull back. Questions be damned. Jack wanted—needed—her here, and she was here.
"You all right, luv?" Jack said, pressing a tattered handkerchief over her cut and closing her fast around it.
"I'm fine. I'm ready," Pete said. She wouldn't think about what might crawl out of a tomb under Jack's deft hands, nor about how mad her believing that Jack had power was in the first place. She'd just know that he picked her, Pete Caldecott, who never had friends or friends who were boys, and bollocks to a boyfriend— if she had one of those, she'd go buy a lotto ticket. Jack Winter, magician and singer for the Poor Dead Bastards, needed Pete with him in this old dark place.
Jack guided Pete to the black candle at the foot of the circle, and she made sure to stand ramrod straight so he'd know she wasn't scared, not a bit, wasn't thinking this was a bit dodgy and odd. Not Pete.
"Now you hold on to me," Jack said, lacing their fingers together in a blood-smeared lattice across the markings on the floor. "And what ever happens, you keep holding on—all right?"
"What might happen that'd make me let go?" Pete's stomach churned into overdrive.
Standing at his spot by the white candle, Jack flashed her the devil-grin one more time. "That's what we're going to find out."
He started to speak Irish, long passages, rhythmic. It sounded like it should be solemn, intoned by robed priests over a stone altar, but Jack half slurred through the stanzas as though he were reciting lyrics to one of his songs and had a few pints in him while he did it.
For a moment, nothing happened. Pete looked at Jack through her lashes, half feeling pity because he seemed so set on something odd or spooky taking place.
And then something did.
Pete felt the pull, the separation of things that were comfortable and real from the dark place behind her eyes. Something was swirling up, through the layers of the veil between Pete and Jack and what lay beyond, and she could almost see it, a welter of black smoke growing in the center of the circle as Jack raised his voice, chanting rhythmically now that the fruits of his spell were visible. The chalk lines clung like bone fingers, holding the smoke-shape in place.
Jack's eyes flamed blue as the spell snapped into place, and the fire traveled over the planes of his cheeks and his arms and hands and blossomed all around him as Pete gasped, and the thing in the circle grew more and more solid.
The shape was human, a wicker man of smoke. The chalk lines did not hold it for more than a moment, and it fixated on Pete, eyeless but staring through her all the same. And then it was moving, in a straight and inexorable line, right for her. The primitive cold in her gut told Pete something was horribly wrong.
"Jack?" Her voice was high and unrecognizable to her own ears. The wicker man had a face now, and hints of silver in its eye sockets, and hands with impossibly long fingers that reached out, clawed at her. Whispers crowded Pete's brain, and a pressure fell on her skull so unbearable that she screamed, loudly.
And Jack, where was Jack? He stood watching the smoke with a measured eye, as if Pete were the mouse and he were the python enthusiast.
"Jack," she said again, summoning every steady nerve in her body to speak. "What is it?"
He bent to one knee and quickly chalked a symbol on the floor. "Bínasctha," he breathed.
The wicker man stumbled, like a drunk or a man who just had a heavy load thrown on him. But he walked still, one foot straight in front of the other.
"Ah, tits," hissed Jack. He rechalked the symbol, and still the wicker man walked.
"Jack." She said it loudly, echoingly so, the first fissures of real panic opening in her gut.
"Shut it, will you!" he demanded. Pete saw from his expression that he was finally catching on to what she knew—never mind how; it had fallen into her head when that terrible pressure had eased, like waking up and suddenly knowing the answer to last night's math homework. She just knew, as if she'd experienced this ritual a thousand times before, that Jack's magic was awry and now the smoke man was awake and walking the world.
"Is that all you can say?" she cried. "Jack, do something!"
He tried. Pete would always say that, when she had to talk about the day, even though her memories of the whole event were thin and unreliable by choice. He tried. And when Jack tried to keep the wicker man from her, all that he got for his efforts was screaming, and blackness, and blood.
Excerpted from Street Magic by Caitlin Kittredge
Copyright © 200p by Caitlin Kittredge
Published in June 2009 by St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.