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DARKNESS PRESSES AGAINST the windows of the car. It’s not my car, just one that somebody left unlocked. I needed to sit for a moment after wishing myself here. Using magick can really suck the batteries dry.
Here is Arizona. I’m assuming anyway. Most of the license plates on the cars in this lot are Arizona. I’m no detective but seems like a good sign that I’m in the “Grand Canyon State.” Through the windshield I can see people in the lake of neon light thrown off the sign for the bar. They walk in twos and threes and tens, most of them laughing or talking. The ones going in move with purpose against the chill of the night air. The ones leaving are more aimless, some actually stumbling, the cold held at bay by the alcohol in their bloodstream.
It’s a country-and-western bar, DOC HOLLIDAY’S sprawling across the front of the place in swooping neon letters next to a ten-foot-tall backlit sign of a cowboy in a long coat. It’s a big, gaudy, public place. The kind of place I try to avoid now.
But the thing I’m hunting is in there.
So I will be going in.
Soon, I said.
My thumb swipes the phone screen and it flares to life so bright I have to blink. Scroll call list and hit the button and the phone is ringing on the other end.
“Hey.” The voice that answers is warm and a little raspy. I woke him up.
“Hey, Lionel,” I say.
“No change in John. He’s still the same.” I’ve trained Lionel to not waste time on small talk. By John he means John Doe and that’s Daniel, my … someone I care about a lot.
Someone I love a lot.
“I know. I’m just checking in.”
“Are you going to come see him anytime soon?”
“Soon as I can, Lionel.” It’s been almost a month. “Anyone by to visit?”
“Only us at the hospital.”
Something inside me unclenches. “Good.” If Daniel is still off the books then he’s still safe. And it lets me know the magick I used on the administration to make him that way is still holding.
“If we knew his name we could contact—”
“Not going to happen, Lionel.”
“Do we have to play this game again?”
“Can’t blame me for trying.”
“Don’t be so sure of that.”
Silence grows on the phone, but I don’t want to say anything or hang up.
From the seat beside me comes a rustling sound and I feel the soft brush of fabric against my arm.
Fine. Okay. Fine. I’m coming.
“I’ve got to go.”
“Okay,” Lionel says. “Call and be cryptic and vague anytime.”
“Take care of him.”
“I have been.” There’s an edge to his words.
“Hey, Jane?” Lionel doesn’t know my real name either.
“Yeah?” I know what’s coming.
“Take care of yourself.”
I hang up.
Yeah, right, Lionel. Where’s the fun in that?
I take a deep breath and step out of the car. The wind kicks, cutting through my thin T-shirt. It’s freezing. I thought Arizona was supposed to be hot, but the air bites and the metal collar, the torc given to me by a fallen love goddess, the thing that allows me to wish myself places, around my throat goes cold against my skin. I hold my hand out and a darkness slithers across the seats, sliding over my arm and around my body. I shrug into it and it shifts and adjusts against me until it becomes a long black coat, still tattered on its edges but mostly healed. The chill is cut off sharply. As the coat settles, a soft alien song begins to trill at the edge of my mind.
The coat is eager, ready to go.
I try to let some of its enthusiasm infect me.
The effort makes me say aloud to it: “Don’t get your hopes up. The last six of these have turned up nothing.”
It coos, full of reassurance in my head.
I wish I could actually understand what it says, but it speaks some language I don’t know. It might not even be a language. It’s nothing I’ve ever heard. Half of it doesn’t even seem like I “hear” it now; some of what happens is a feeling, akin to emotion but not quite. The more I wear it the more I understand by feeling, but it’s still a bunch of gibberish most of the time. Sometimes it’s like music in my head, sometimes like static between stations.
Bumping the car door closed with my hip, I stick my hands in its pockets and start walking toward the nightclub.
Sooner rather than later.
Copyright © 2017 by James R. Tuck