The steady ‘tock, tock, tock’ of the diagram was joined by confident voices, speaking in time with the ritual. Each jerking movement of the ‘hand’ of the diagram was accompanied by a ‘tock’. Less a sound, I realized, than a vibration, reaching through the floor and house.
I needed to know more. What was the ritual, what was the goal, and how the hell was I supposed to disrupt this without revealing myself or getting them to hunt for a culprit?
I searched the room. All eyes were riveted to the scene. As I circled around, pretending to be in search of a better look at what was going on, I looked at tables, cabinets and shelves.
One glass case had an assortment of trinkets, wands, a staff and a spike-studded scepter. Primarily, though, there were watches, hourglasses, and other timepieces within.
“Al mamlakah,” Sandra Duchamp spoke, startling me a bit. A loud, clear woman’s voice in the midst of the more baritone chanting.
“Al mamlakah,” the other Duchamps inside the circle replied, in unison.
Past the gaps in between people and in between legs, I could see the diagram shifting, as if it were an intricate device, tumblers falling into place, gears turning, components interlocking. A ‘tick’ joined the ‘tock’. Higher, faster, jarring my concentration. I could see the connection Sandra Duchamp had made. One word, an agreement or affirmation, leveraging some tie she already had to the grand scheme of things. She’d been the ‘crown’.
If each of the Duchamps had a part to play, that meant they were one fifth of the way through already. If I was lucky, there would be more tacked on at the end, or the Behaims might have their pieces to add.
If I was lucky. I didn’t want to stretch my luck. Not with this much on the line. My well being, the family…
How to deal with this? Priorities were information, tools I could employ, and getting out with my skin intact.
I looked up at all of the adults who held the pads of paper outlining the ritual.
The simplest solution was often the most effective.
I selected my position carefully, so I could be sure to be out of sight of anyone who saw the two kids playing under the foosball table, and I walked up to one of the Behaims. I tugged on her sleeve, insistent. She looked down at me.
“I wanna see the paper,” I said, loud enough to be annoying. One of the Behaims and two of the Duchamps in the circle gave me a dirty look. Apparently they didn’t appreciate the interruption.
The woman shushed me, simultaneously dropping down to a crouching position. She held out the paper so I could see. It was already turned to the second page. Words were written out like a sermon, written out in what I presumed was Arabic, with a phonetic transcription.
Being a child, I was allowed to be a little graceless. I moved the first page, very deliberately rustling it, and held it straight up so I could read it with my head tilted to one side.
An illustration of the diagram, minus the clutter in between the key parts, with lines drawn out from each section to the respective labels. Crown, coin, tome, sword, and cup. There were points of power on the outer rim, where the Behaims stood. Other labels marked the diagram as sectors and rings.
Further down, there was elaboration. The rings were marked with terms like ‘clockwise’, ‘counterclockwise’, ‘influx’, and ‘corridor’.
I could get the gist of it. Power of a particular type, directed inward, given direction by the inner circle. Astrological symbols on the outer rim, and then, as Laird had said, the realm, the space. Community at the center.
The picture of the circle didn’t have all of the details. When I looked, however, I could see a grid of lines, each with words running along them.
Sydenham. Glade. McArthur Crescent.
Street names. The ones around the house.
Temporal distortion, centered on the house? No. Not the house, exactly.
The rings alternated from clockwise to counterclockwise, counterclockwise again, then clockwise. Feeding into other diagrams, with the endpoint forming a ring-
“Where’s Leanne?” the woman whispered in my ear, interrupting my thoughts.
Oh. ‘My’ cousin?
I couldn’t lie, but I was pretty sure there weren’t any rules about gestures. I shrugged and pointed at the far side of the circle.
She turned the page, and in the doing, pulled the page I was holding up out of my grasp. I couldn’t read the page with the details and the opening of the ritual without looking strange. At my age, I wasn’t even supposed to be able to read it.
“Husam,” one of the Duchamps spoke. The first word at the top of the new page.
“Husam,” came the chorus, from the other four.
The vibrations that were emanating from the circle took on a harder, harsher quality. Where I’d felt it against my body before, like a speaker with the bass turned up, I could feel it running through me, now, resonating in my bones.
Laird’s chant continued, a background noise, intense and constant.
The lights above us were more intense, but that light didn’t reach nearly so far. The room grew dimmer, but the lines of the circle remained as bright as they had been, effectively standing out.
The ticks and tocks continued incessantly, shuddering their way through me, resonating in my bones for the one and a half seconds it took before the next one hit me. I was left just a bit breathless. The woman next to me had to shift her position to keep from falling. I had the advantage of a lower center of gravity.
But, at the same time, I was smaller, and that informed my perspective.
Okay. More than a little unnerved, now.
I played the part, wringing my hands in front of me. I was a little boy, insecure, and without filters or guile. It seemed like the thing to do.
A hand settled over mine. The woman next to me. She leaned closer, whispering. “Go and stay with Leanne, okay?”
She shifted the paper to one hand and started to rise to her feet.
I acted without thinking. An opportunity sighted, a weak point I could target.
“But I’m scared!” I cried out. Loud, again, to distract. To justify the other thing I was doing.
I threw myself bodily at one of her knees, wrapping my arms around her thigh.
She teetered, struggling to catch her balance or stand upright, center of gravity thrown.
I released my hold, just as she tipped toward the circle’s perimeter.
A Duchamp woman standing next to her caught her by the upper arm, holding it high. They very nearly fell into the circle together, but the Duchamp woman was taller, strong, and managed to plant one foot in front of her, not a half-inch from the edge of the animated circle. Swinging from her rescuer’s grip, the Behaim woman very deliberately pulled her hand back and away from the circle, avoiding contact.
One strong jerk back on her arm sent her falling back onto her rear end, safely away from the circle. The Duchamp woman straightened, and remained there, stone-faced, vaguely condemning of her rescuee and me both, not offering anything further in the way of a helping hand.
The chanting continued, Laird doing the lion’s share, but all of the occupants of the diagram were directing dirty looks this way, now. Those looks, however, were focused on the woman who’d very nearly fallen. She climbed to her feet, successfully this time, her face red with some mix of anger and humiliation.
Before eyes could turn to me, I put my hands to my mouth, my eyes wide, and scampered from the room. The kid who knew full well he was in deep trouble.
I’d failed. If I got up to more shenanigans, they might get curious about the errant little boy who’d interfered with the ritual a second time.
I found myself in the living room, still littered with empty wine glasses and plates. Nobody was hurrying to follow, which was good. I wondered if they’d be making whispered excuses to one another, that the little boy was scared, it was an accident…
It didn’t matter. I didn’t have long.
I felt like a weight had been lifted from me, now that I was clear of the room. Every step away from the circle had diminished the volume of the ticking as if I’d taken ten. Being in the living room, I could barely feel it. With the second sight, I could make out the movements of the spirits, as if they were caught up in a current, fighting a headwind.
Okay. Interruptions were bad. The ritual was relatively delicate. The participants could be distracted, and the diagram could be interfered with.
Which didn’t make this easy. It was an exercise in problem solving. The problem being that I couldn’t interfere directly. Even being one step removed from the interference would be dangerous.
What was S.O.P. for being a guest? If I couldn’t poison them, what was I allowed to do when they were trying to fuck with me?
I might have to bite the karma bullet, I thought.
Fire alarm? No. Breaker? No.
I needed help.
I had the goblins, but… they were a dangerous kind of help. Help I couldn’t count on as being untraceable.
Rose couldn’t act.
Couldn’t get Maggie involved.
My eyes traveled over the room.
I spotted the phone in the front hallway.
With a child’s fingers, I hit the numbers. Nine, one, one.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”
The cordless phone in hand, I made my way up the stairs and out of earshot. I nearly tripped on the stairs. Nearly tripped, mentally, trying to figure out how I was supposed to tackle this. “I- um-“
“Honey, did you mean to call nine-one-one?”
“Yes. It’s where I’m supposed to call when there’s something bad happening?”
“Yes it is. Are you in any danger right now?”
“Not unless they find me. I’m scared.” Which was truth, if I admitted it to myself.
“Where are you?”
Where was I?
I kept my voice quiet, sitting at the L-bend in the stairs where I could see downstairs, while remaining mostly out of sight. “I don’t know the address. But I’m in Laird Behaim’s house. He’s in charge of the Jacob’s Bell police.”
“I know, honey. What has you this scared?”
“I don’t know who else to call. I came for this family party and a lot of people left, but the people who are still here are talking about getting rid of somebody, and I think it has a lot to do with the girl who got murdered.”
“At Laird Behaim’s house?”
“Please send police,” I said, injecting some emotion into my voice. “Please? With sirens on? I want them to stop now. I don’t want to listen to any more-
“Dahab,” one voice spoke out from the back room, just loud enough for me to hear.
“Dahab,” four other voices answered, muffled by the intervening walls.
“-any more of this,” I finished. Balls. What was that? Three out of five?
“What’s your name, honey?”
“If I tell you, I’ll get in trouble. You can’t tell them I called, or they’ll hurt me. Please send police. Or fire trucks, ambulances? Anything loud?”
“They’re already on their way.”
“If they knock, and people don’t answer, it’s because everyone’s in the back room. It’s Laird Behaim and Sandra Duchamp, and other family members…” I thought for a second. “And one of them was saying… he said Mister Laird was talking about killing somebody. Murder. And now they’re all being grim and scary.”
“I understand, honey. Help is on the way, don’t worry. Why do you think they would hurt you?”
“Because…” I paused. What to even say?
“Honey? It’s okay.”
“Before, a few days ago, he said he’d get rid of me. He… said he wouldn’t enjoy it, but I was dead already.”
A fractional pause. “Are you somewhere safe?”
“No. But if I hide, won’t they realize I called?”
“Maybe, honey. But if you wait until the police come, they can make sure you go someplace safe.”
Problematic, in a way, but a good escape option.
“Some man was saying they make some of their kids get married to people they don’t want to marry, for favors and to get in good with the right people. Maybe- maybe if the policemen come, they can ask the girls?”
“Maybe,” the woman said. I wondered how she was parsing all of this.
“And the room they’re in is weird. It’s at the back of the house, and…” I thought for a second. “It’s got this glass case with all these sticks and things inside. One of them had spikes on it. I know he’s going to try to keep the policemen away from the room and convince them it’s not important, I’ve seen him do it before.”
“What happened before?”
Restless, I stood. I made my way to the bathroom, and I saw Rose in the mirror. “…He took me out and then he threatened me a little and left me to walk home in the dark. Some Other people stopped me and they would have hurt me, but a friend of mine made them leave me alone.”
What the hell did it say, that even with the oaths we’d made, the one thing I’d told the emergency dispatcher that felt closest to lying was the bit where I called Rose a friend?
“This is Laird Behaim?”
“The head policeman,” I said.
I could hear the sirens.
“They’re coming,” I said.
“Stay near the door. When the policemen answer, I want you to go to them, okay?”
“If you ever let them know I called,” I said. “They’re going to try and do bad things to me. Please. I’m safer so long as you stop them and you don’t say there was a call from this house.”
“We need to get you somewhere-“
“-If they find out I called and something happens to me,” I said, injecting a bit more emotion into my voice. “It’ll be your fault. Make them hurry. There’s no time. Hurry.”
That said, I hung up.
My heart pounded, even in the aftermath of the call. I could hear the sirens drawing closer.
“Hell of a gamble,” Rose said. “You never said you could act.”
“I-” I started. My voice hitched with emotion.
A moment passed, Rose and I both silent.
“You’re not acting.”
“I’m… I don’t know,” I said. I did what I could to get my voice under control. Fuck, fuck… couldn’t afford to let something slip, to show my distress to the Behaims and Duchamps.
“You’re drowning in glamour,” Rose said. “The act is becoming real.”
“O-okay,” I said. I was unnerved at how much I sounded like a little boy, when I wasn’t putting on the act.
“Hey, you wanted a partnership? This is your partner telling you to get out.”
“I can’t leave right away,” I said. I cleared my throat, then said “As soon as I’m able.”
I wasn’t able to keep the full tremor out of my voice.
“Soon, Blake. If it’s rooted deep enough in you to sway your emotions, it’s going to be hard to change. If the glamour breaks it’s going to hurt.”
“Okay,” I said.
“And don’t layer anything on top of it, or you’ll have to dig deeper to get to ‘Blake’.”
“O- okay,” I said. “No more changing?”
I turned my head. I could hear the siren, trace it back to the cars… and see the cars arriving.
“That look on your face. They’re here?” Rose said.
“The ritual might have finished,” I said, whispering the words. “That took too long. It’s still taking too long.”
“Did you feel the ritual finish?”
“No. But I’m not feeling much of anything, outside of that room. Is Granny’s- grandmother’s house safe?”
“Let me get back to you on that.”
Then Rose was gone.
I left the phone where it was, covering up the connection with glamour. That wasn’t using glamour on me, right? I descended downstairs.
There was no chanting.
The quiet was eerie.
There was a pounding knock on the door. I jumped.
I was physically shaking. I felt nauseous.
Why the fuck did it feel like I was vulnerable to everything? Giving too much blood had spent far too much of myself, June had chilled me even through the protection of the circle, I’d totally fallen for Laird’s trap…
The knock came again. I could see police officers circling around the house through the bay window in the living room.
A moment later, there was a knock on a window at the side of the house.
Behaims and Duchamps emerged from the back room as a group.
I still had the hair. Where had I put it? The boy’s hair… I’d had it in my hand.
I found it in one pocket, with the paper goblins, sensed the connection, and found the boy.
He was taking the same path I had. Back room to kitchen to living room. I ducked into the hallway and headed towards the dining room, so we were at opposite ends of the house. Being seen at the same time and place as him would be disastrous. More than just about anything else.
At the same time, however, it meant I was moving in the general direction of the incoming Behaim and Duchamp family members, I was shaking, I was about five seconds from bursting into tears, and I looked guilty as fuck. Try as I might, I couldn’t tap into the stuff I was supposed to know, about hiding guilt and acting normal.
Worse, I still couldn’t lie.
I came face to face with the woman I’d nearly shoved into the circle.
Well, face to bellybutton, but the point stood.
They loomed around me. Doubly imposing for the size difference.
Think, Blake Thorburn, I thought. Fucking think.
“Are you mad?” I asked, in a hushed whisper.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“The police came, and it’s because of me,” I said. I felt the tears welling out. “I almost knocked you over and ruined everything.”
Both statements true, but not as connected as I was implying.
“Police?” Laird asked.
“I saw them outside the window,” I said.
He brushed past me, his wife and Sandra Duchamp in tow.
I very honestly thought I might throw up, I was so…
What the fuck label did I stick on this hot mess of emotions that were filling my six year old frame?
“The police aren’t your fault,” the woman said.
I stepped back to get out of their line of sight as Laird opened the door.
“Mark,” he said. “What’s going on?”
“Chief Behaim, sir. Listen, something’s come up. It’s awkward.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t want to make a fuss, especially not with your family here, but-“
“There’s been another accusation?” Laird asked.
“No, sir. Not exactly. It’s more serious than that. If you come with me, I can explain.”
“We’ve been led to believe that a crime was or is in progress.”
“Here, sir. Please understand, we’ve got to do this by the book. All indicators suggested we needed to act immediately, which is why you got us.”
His own police officers, arresting him?
I suppressed my smile, best I could.
“I think I see,” Laird said. “Can I ask-“
“Sir? If you could please come with me right away, without any questions? The RCMP has been called, but I need to bring you into the station, without delay.”
“No delays,” Laird said. “Alright.”
“We’ll also need to see… Sandra Duchamp?”
Peeking, I saw Sandra momentarily purse her lips, then nod. “I’ll come.”
“And, with permission, Nathan and Ed are going to take a look through the property and talk to a handful of your guests.”
“Mark, we were having an engagement celebration.”
“I understand, sir. But…”
Mark trailed off.
“But you’ve got to treat me like a suspect,” Laird said. “I’ll be very interested to hear the background to this when it’s all cleared up.”
It took a minute for Laird and Sandra to get ready. Two officers came into the house as they got jackets and boots on.
I caught Sandra gesturing at people I couldn’t make out in the living room. A moment later, I could see the spirits around the cops being manipulated. Distracting the cops.
Two girls, roughly my age, or the age I was supposed to be, passed through the kitchen to the back room.
There was no way to control this. No way to really counteract the cover-up.
I watched Laird and Sandra leave, saw the cops head in the direction of the room with the circle.
A murmur ran through the collected group.
“The Thorburn boy?” a man asked.
“Very likely,” another Behaim practitioner commented.
“Is it okay? The circle?”
“They’re the best of the new generation, when it comes to glamour,” a Duchamp matron said. “Not to worry.”
“So… does that make this two points for Thorburn?” I heard someone ask.
“I think it’s safe to say it’s two points. Another point in this department, and he’s earned three. A great deal more profound.”
A point for me… but the ritual?
The murmurs quieted as the door opened. Another officer.
“Mrs. Behaim?” he asked. “I’ll need you to write down every guest you have here. Sort them by family unit?”
Identifying the children? Trying to find the caller.
My counterpart was at the front of the house. I slipped back towards the kitchen, peeking to see how things were going in there.
The diagram was gone. There was faint music playing.
Glamour? So fast? Masking an area like that?
It’s not real, I thought. It’s fake, it’s a trick. There’s a circle under there.
I could have blown things up, shattered the glamour, with just a few words. I could have gotten away with it. Theoretically.
But I couldn’t get over the fear that had seized me.
Fake fear. Glamoured fear that I didn’t dare mess with, lest the entire thing fall to pieces.
I watched Penelope and Jo talking. Low voices, looking concerned.
“The RCMP is going to need to talk to some people,” the officer said, “Quite a few, really.”
“We won’t be able to continue with the party?” someone asked.
“The evidence we received was serious,” the officer said. “We could do this by sending people home as we scratch them off the list, or we could bring the family units in question to the station, so those who remain could carry on.”
I backed away, sticking close to the woman from before.
“It depends on how many people you’ll want to talk to?”
“The families of Layton, Peter, Donald, John, Andrew, and Annabelle, please.”
I saw heads turn. Connections forming. The people at the center that I could make out…
All families with little boys.
“It sounds like you need to go with your mom and dad, okay?” the woman told me.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I headed towards the kitchen, rounded the corner, and stopped.
Wait… wait… catch my breath.
I needed to figure out what the fuck I was doing next.
A girl my height came to a stop right in front of me. Auburn curls, a nice satin dress with a lace collar…
It took a second for something to click, for the mental gears to shift and click.
When they did, when she met my eyes, I felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to my face.
Couldn’t see. My vision was distorted, as though I needed glasses to see and they’d shattered.
The rest of me…
“Huh?” I heard her say.
“Shh,” I shushed her. “If you keep it a secret, I’ll show you later.”
I saw her head move. I could only assume it was a nod.
Stupid, stupid. Promising. I reached out, fumbling, and grabbed her hand. I pulled her in the direction of her waiting mother.
I was pretty sure it was her waiting mother. What had just happened?
“Back already?” she asked.
“Can I spend the night?” I asked.
“Sleepover,” I said. My heart was in my throat. Still couldn’t see. “Everyone might have a long wait at the station with lots and lots of questions.”
I stopped there. I was speaking too excitedly, not breathing in enough. I was a hair way from hyperventilating.
I could see the doubt on her face.
“Please,” I panted. “Please, can I come?”
“Please?” Leanne joined in. “Please can he?”
“This is a mess,” she said, to the nearest Behaim. She looked at me. “I’ll need to talk to your mom.”
“I can go ask,” I said.
“Go ask, then.”
I headed for the kitchen, rubbing at my eyes.
I felt the glamour rub away, instead of shifting into place.
I could see, but I was seeing out of a different set of eyes.
My own. Were they the wrong color?
Were they too old, as eyes went? Did I have bags under my eyes from recent nights with no sleep?
I touched the hair, found the boy. Through him, I found the parents. All in a tight group, two parents, son and older sister, the dad’s hands on the son’s shoulders.
“We’ve decided what we’re doing!” Laird’s wife called out. “I’m sorry, but we’re wrapping things up for tonight. If your name wasn’t called, we’ll have to bid you farewell. We’ll have another event, sometime next week.”
What did that mean? Had I bought myself a week?
Had I stopped the ritual?
People were heading for the front hall, to collect boots and jackets. When the mass formed a kind of traffic jam, the various families broke into clusters, to have hushed, intense discussions, eyes on the police and the front door.
I waded through the traffic jam, head down.
I was no less than ten feet from my double, the view of the two of us obscured by only a thin collection of people.
Through the connection, I could see that ‘Mom’ was more preoccupied, talking to another, heavy woman from the Behaim family. I wrapped my arms around her leg, and her hand settled on my head.
“Do you love me?” I piped up. One child’s voice in the din of conversation.
“Yes, of course,” she said, without even looking down.
With that done, I half-ran, half-skipped away, ducking between people’s legs to get back to Leanne and her mom.
“She said yes,” I said.
I received a tolerant smile in exchange. “Alright. We’ll make do. Come on, let’s get you ready.”
It was slow going, wading through the crowd, staying out of sight, but I reached the piles of boots and shoes at the front door.
Through the boy’s connections to his belongings, I found the right stuff and got myself ready.
I could feel something else break as I tested the glamour. Suspicion?
It dawned on me: I’d been too quick. Too competent in getting myself ready. I’d even done up my shoelaces with the kind of ease that came with twenty years of practice.
Reaching for my gloves, I saw the other telltale issues.
Cuts. Scrapes. A wound from a pen-stab to the soft bit beside my thumb on my left hand. A strategic cut where I’d drawn blood.
And there… a dark hair, and then another, near my wrist. Then five.
Dark, thick, adult body hairs on my hands and arms.
Time was up, it was all coming to pieces. Rose had warned me it would be ugly. Painful or drawn out.
I wasn’t sure how that would work in execution. I’d been momentarily blind, and in rubbing it away, I may well have accelerated the breakdown. What was next? What did I face, in being disabled, inconvenienced or hurt, as the glamour fell apart?
I reached into my pocket and grabbed a paper goblin, then pulled on mitten with the paper nestled against my palm, ready in case something came up. I yanked my hat down to help hide my eyes.
“I might have to duck inside,” Leanne’s mother said. “Ask your parents if one of them can get your car seat out of their car. Darn it, that’s going to take a while.”
“I don’t need a car seat,” I said.
“I think you do.”
“I was in a car a few days ago, and I didn’t have a car seat,” I said. Pretending to be proud as punch.
I fucking drove a car a few days ago and I didn’t have a car seat.
“Your parent’s rules aren’t my rules. And with my brother being chief of police…”
Was I going to be done in by fucking car seat laws?
“What if you drive real careful?” I asked. “It’s not far.”
I saw her frown.
“It’s going to take a long time, with everyone there,” I said. “If we have to go back in there and ask, we’re never going to get to your house.”
I saw her hemming and hawing for a moment.
“You look bigger. Have you grown?”
I managed to stay stock still as I felt another hit to the glamour. Another crack.
“He is!” Leanne said. “It’s the first time he’s ever been taller than me!”
Ah, frick frack fuck.
“Yep!” I said, plastering a proud smile on my face. “I’m all grown up!”
“You’re getting there,” she said.
“I’m a big boy,” I added, for good measure. “I don’t need a car seat.”
“Okay. Let’s get you two going, or you’re liable to be intolerable tomorrow.”
“Yay!” I cheered.
“Yay!” Leanne joined me.
As we climbed into the car, I could feel my shoulders straining against the stolen winter jacket.
I could feel the growing pains, now. The extension of my limbs, the shifting of my spine.
It was like the Glamour had soaked into me, and the change back was affecting me from head to toe.
I was sweating bullets, and this time, I could feel the sweat wiping away the glamour as I sat there in the back seat, behind Leanne’s mom.
“Did the thing work?” I dared to ask.
“The ritual was stopped,” I heard.
There was nothing else volunteered. We drove in silence for a few long seconds. I tried to keep from smiling.
“I’m going to show you the house I made for Elsabelle,” Leanne told me.
“What did you make it out of?” I asked.
“Magic, of course,” Leanne told me.
“No fibbing,” her mom called out. “You know the rules.”
“…cardboard boxes, mostly.” Leanne amended. “And I put all of my favorite music in there, and I put up pictures I drew, and I’m going to learn to sew and do dresses, so it’s all ready when she comes.”
Oh man, this was starting to hurt.
“When… when does she come?” I asked. Keep her talking, keep her excited with her focus elsewhere.
Or she might notice that I had stubble on my face.
“You know when I get to meet Elsabelle. I told you!”
Thwack. Another hit to the glamour.
“In six years, four if I’m extra super good, I get to have a magical friend like Donny and Ian and Heather, and she’s going to be a fairy princess, and I don’t know who she is or what she’s a princess of, and I’m only calling her Elsabelle because I don’t know her name yet, but she’s going to be perfect and nice and sweet and beautiful and she’ll be my best friend forever. Because all Faerie are noble and pure and Faerie princesses are extra special in all those departments.”
“Four years only if you learn not to fib,” her mother said. “Even a little. And you need to read the books. And she might not be noble, unless you work hard enough to earn the attention of someone special.”
“Yes! I will!” Leanne pronounced.
“And no making promises!” her mother rebuked her.
It was all I could do to sit still, to avoid groaning. This sucked.
Not everything was fixing itself in the right order. My stomach was twisting, and my breath was short because my lungs felt too large for my ribcage.
I didn’t dare speak, because I was pretty sure it would be my voice that came out.
“Are you okay?” Leanne asked.
What did I even say to that?
“Need to…” I strained the words, to mask my voice. “get to your bathroom.”
“I’ll hurry,” her mother said.
She was a practitioner, I knew.
If I fell to pieces here, I was screwed. I’d be incapable of moving, and I’d have an angry practitioner looming over me.
We stopped, and I had my seatbelt off in seconds. I yanked on the door handle.
A solid fifteen seconds passed, with me waiting for Leanne’s mother to get herself untangled and open the door.
I nearly fell as I climbed out of the car. One leg shorter than the other.
She glanced left, then right, looking down the length of the neighborhood.
“House!” she said, in a stern voice. “Open!”
I saw the connection, straight to the front door.
“Do you need help?”
I shook my head. “I can go in?”
“Of course you can go in. We’ll be right after you.”
I hobbled for the front door, praying she wouldn’t notice how my pants legs were two inches two short for one leg, a good four inches short for the other, or how I’d kicked off the small boots and I was walking through the slush in socks.
But her focus was on getting Leanne out of the car.
I went inside, searched the rooms, and found the bathroom. I could barely move my arms, with the jacket being so small.
In the end, I tore off my shirt, sweater, and the jacket, pulling from the bottom of each and turning them inside out.
I dug my fingernails into the edges of my tattoos, and scraped.
Slowly, systematically, I clawed off the remainder of the crumbling glamour. I could only hope it would be easier if it was deliberately removed rather than crumbling.
It wasn’t. I spasmed, felt more things shift into their natural places. Muscles tensing and stretching out. Bones, too.
Connections appeared. My connections. And a prying eye would be able to see them, identifying me.
As I’d done with the line of blood to ward off Jo’s connection to me before and after fighting the Faerie swordswoman, I used the nearest power at hand to ward off the connections that emanated from me. With palsied, twitching fingers, I surrounded myself with a loose ring of the shed glamour skin and glamour infused clothes.
When I was done, I collapsed onto my side, twitching, dry heaving, doing all I could to avoid pissing myself.
All I could think was about whether I’d fucking overdosed on the stuff.
I just needed to bounce back. To get over this, and get out of the house.
Dimly, I heard a knocking on the door.
Leanne’s higher voice. “Are you okay?”
“Do you want me to get my mom?”
“N- no.” I managed, trying to keep my voice higher. “Out soon.”
Another damn promise, in a moment of desperation.
Shit. I’d even told her I’d show her what was up, if she kept my secret.
I waited. Praying that the mother wouldn’t come in and find me. Could she use a command to open the bathroom door, like she’d done with the front door?
I’d traded one dangerous prison for another.
It was a little while before I felt strong enough to stand. I gripped the sides of the sink and used it to pull myself up.
Fuck me. I looked even more drained.
I’d pushed this too far.
I reached out and grabbed the two toothbrushes from beside the sink. One small one, pink, with a fairy on it. One larger one, purple.
The circle I’d drawn out blocked the connections.
Tentatively, I stepped out.
The mother was upstairs with Leanne.
Reaching down, I grabbed my shirt and sweatshirt and pulled them on. I grabbed the tatters of glamour and dragged it behind me like a limp jumping rope, keeping it between me and them.
I didn’t have much strength as I walked down the length of the hallway. Not the front door. Too much risk they would hear or see. The side of the house… a sliding door.
I stopped halfway there.
Bookshelves, this time without glass doors. Another glass case, showcasing trinkets and instruments. From the look of them, they were from past generations.
“Blake,” Rose said. A whisper.
Rose looked at me from a mirror over the fireplace.
“Dangerous here,” I responded, my voice matching hers in quiet. “Demesnes.”
“Only the front of the ground floor, I think. Just like it was only the ground floor of Laird’s house. They section them off, so different family members can have different areas for their demesnes. I can’t enter the mirrors there.”
“Okay,” I said. “Right.”
“You look fucking terrible,” she told me.
“Feel worse than fucking terrible.”
“Just leave, Blake.”
“They attacked us,” I said. “They attacked our home.”
“I know. But you can’t fight. The woman who owns this house, you know she’s strong.”
“She’s Laird’s sister,” I said. “I guess each member of the family gets a little trove like this.”
“I guess. Why are we even discussing this? Get out of here.”
“They attacked us,” I said, again. “Tell me, do you think any of these books are originals, or are they all copies?”
“I… some look old.”
“Some look old,” I agreed.
I drew the whistle from my pants pocket.
Rather than a high pitched noise, there was only a low wet sputter, and Dickswizzle was spat out onto the floor.
“Destroy the books,” I said. “Destroy the treasures. Do it quietly, and you’ll manage more destruction. Start with the oldest things, you’ll hurt them more. Run if she takes notice. Under no circumstances are you to harm anyone before returning to the flute,” I said.
Dickswizzle eyed me warily.
“Blake. If you’re inside her house, because of hospitality-“
“I’m repaying their hospitality by sparing them. They were… not unkind,” I said. “But their family attacked our house and possessions. We can attack theirs. Eye for an eye.”
“If we took some of it, we could ransom it back?”
“It’s not quite an eye for an eye, and I don’t want them using it to track me.”
“This feels wrong.”
“But it’s fucking right. Two very different things,” I said, my voice a harsh whisper.
I let Rose deliberate while I headed for the side door. There was a boot rack, complete with a set of rubber boots. I managed to squeeze them on.
I heard a tearing sound behind me as I unlocked the door. I could see Rose’s reflection, faint, in the glass.
I walked out, dragging the tattered skin behind me.