ubermen

Capes. They came out of nowhere. Criminals who normally used handguns and AR-15s now used fireballs and teleportation. Then the good guys showed up, trying to foil the supervillains. Except… well… the heroes’ powers had shown up out of nowhere, too, and they weren’t… well, they weren’t very good at it… at heroing… but they had Powers!

They were Capes! They had to do Good.

So people died.

There were heroes and villains before the capes appeared. Few and far between, but perhaps if we know more about the superheroes who were born before thousands of people gained powers out of nowhere, maybe we can understand the entire phenomenon a little better.  Before the capes, nearly all origin stories were tragedies. Maybe that’s why they were better heroes?

 

 

Spook’s origin.

“I died,” Morrison says, very effectively bringing me out of my reverie.

“Excuse me?”

“That’s when it started for me,” he explains. He doesn’t move, just stares up at the passing clouds. “I was in this car accident? Drunk driver. I was, like, fourteen. Splat all over the place. Nine other kids died and stayed that way. My liver was in three pieces, and when they stitched me up, I died on the table. Stayed that way for two minutes.” He sort of glances at me.

“It was pretty cool,” he adds, “being dead. I sat in the car, and then my Tia Sophie opened the door and invited me to get out, which I thought was kinda weird since she’d died when I was ten. I didn’t really know I was dead. We talked a long time.  She told me not to worry about my dad, that he was a stupid son of a bitch who didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.”

He stops and laughs. “Sophie was always the best. Don’t know how she and Dad came from the same family. Anyway, I don’t remember most of what she said, but when I came to in the hospital a week later, she stood there for ten minutes. She faded away.” He stops and stares at the clouds, tying to remember something. “They started working me that same day. At first it was just once in a while. Last month, it all went crazy. Now, they won’t leave me alone. Sucks shit.”

I wait for him to say more.

“The weirdest thing she said to me was, ‘You know, Morrison, when you think about it, no one really needs thirty-one flavors of ice cream.’” He laughs. “Not that I remember anything else we talked about.  Just that.” He looks at me. “Isn’t that the strangest thing for a dead aunt to say to a person?”

I chuckle and nod. I do that a lot.

Some days later

Up on the rooftop, click, click, click. . .

I’m waxing melancholy. The night is cool, but my leather jacket keeps me warm. I suppose my feet wouldn’t be so cold if I weren’t barefoot.

The wind tugs at my ponytail. The past tugs at my mind.

Seems to be an awful lot of that lately.

A year ago, it all seemed so clear. My fear of getting someone killed convinced me not to let anyone close enough to get hurt. I wonder now, who I was afraid would get hurt.

The punk kid sits in the living room with Trish. . . no, the other punk kid, Morrison, working on his blocks. Coming along well, too. His energy leaks through the walls. Warm.

Something catches my eye in the night sky, a movement that shouldn’t be there.

I blink a few times, focus on the vague motion. . . and whoopdie-shit if I don’t land meself in the middle of Poltergeist Parts I, II, and III.

An entire caravan of dead people floats outside my apartment. I can’t even begin to count them. They float and glide and shit. You’ve seen the movies; use your imagination. I watch them for a while, rather comforted that my shield keeps them out.

I have never in all my life seen anything even remotely like this.

Uh, Trish? I send.

? she returns.

Please join me and keep the kid occupied.

She sends me another ? but gives Morrison a couple of tricks to play with before wandering onto the balcony.

I lift her carefully from the patio and fly her to my side on the roof. She carries an intense residue from Jake. Wow. She’s really in love with him.

I forget my original purpose. “Do you realize how serious you are about my roommate?” I ask it out loud because I don’t much like two-way psychic conversations.

She smiles, and her energy radiates.

“Does he know?” I ask.

She shrugs. “I’m not sure. I keep forgetting how sensitive you are.” Her blocks go up. I don’t tell her that they wouldn’t even phase me. “Is that what you wanted?”

“No, no. . .” I say, turn and point. “You see that?”

She nods.

“What the fuck?”

Ester William’s ghost follies swim in unison above us.

“They want Morrison.” Trish watches them far too calmly.

“You’ve seen stuff like this before?”

“You haven’t?” she asks.

“Uh, no.”

She looks up into the swirling cloud of dead folks. “Morrison must be opening you. It’s what he does. Maybe through me, actually.”

Which makes sense. He’s a medium for spooks, and she’s some kind of catalyst.

 “You’re in touch with the dead on your own?” I ask.

She nods. “I’m in touch with most of the universe, I just can’t do anything about it the way you can.” I watch her watching them. “It’s actually rather beautiful.”

Yeah. So’s the sun, but I don’t want one hovering over my house. “They can’t get in?”

“No.”

Good.

Morrison strolls onto the balcony to see what’s up. Well, this could be interesting. He swings into view and scrambles onto the roof.

“You guys talking about me?” He crouches a couple of feet away, smirking, notices Trish’s gaze, follows it. “Whatcha looking at?”

“Ghosts,” she says.

“Yeah?” So he can’t see them either. Hm. “What do they look like?”

“Have you seen Poltergeist?” I ask. “Same thing.”

He laughs. “What are they doing?”

“Waiting for you,” Trish says.

“I think I’m getting the hang of blocking them,” he says.

“Yep,” I encourage.

Morrison sits beside me, his shoulder brushing mine.

“Is Jake almost done with work?” Trish asks.

I reach across town. “He’s on his way.”

“I have to go to school tomorrow,” Morrison says. “There’s a big test in Physics.” He searches the sky for some sign of the threat there. “Will I be able to keep them out?”

“No worries,” I tell him. “I’ll shield you until you can do it yourself.”

He brightens. “You’re coming to school with me? Can I use you for show and tell?”

I laugh. “I don’t need. . .”

There’s something funny about the van pulling into the parking lot.

“. . .to be. . .”

There’s a block on them.

“. . .right there with you.”

Trish taps my shoulder and points into the sky.

Uh-oh. A new ghost has joined the Twilight Zone parade. Call him Casper. I make out a face, eyes red and burning; it’s the spirit who spoke through Morrison the night before.

The other spirits prance around the new guy like pups around their mother. He doesn’t move, just hovers there, watching. Staring.

“What do you think he’s up to?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Trish says.

“What who’s up to?” from Morrison.

I ignore him for the moment and slide into the spirit’s mind, figuring it should be the same as sliding into anyone’s mind.

Wrong!

Hatred. . . Anger. . . killed by. . . by the state. . . by the giant. . . by the boy. . . a murderer, killed children. . . hated children. . . boys. . . didn’t die. . . shouldn’t have died. . . wasn’t his fault. . . his fault. . . pain. . . more hatred. . . wants the boy. . . must have him. . . must stop the pain. . .

“Angel, we have company,” Morrison grabs my arm, his touch burns me like fire.

I jerk away, glaring at him, but it’s just residue from Casper’s mind. . . or whatever that was that I read. I touch Morrison’s shoulder to let him know he’d just startled me.

He points at the ground below, but I’m caught in his eyes, a glow there, his warmth.

Wow. Fuck that. I shake my head and look down.

About a dozen Army-looking guys swarm out of each van toward the back door of our building. They don’t see us on the roof. Well, who’d think to look on the roof, anyway, but there are lots of branches, it’s dark, and the lights down there let us see them without being seen.

I sweep their minds. They want the kid. They’re supposed to take him to. . . shit, can’t see where.

Which is when I notice the guy in the trench coat staring right at me. He’s the one who has the Army guys all blocked up. Strong empath, psychic, clairvoyant, no psychokinesis, but advanced in his field. Name’s Yareth. I don’t read it, but I’ve heard about him. He helps the government nail unsuspecting psychics. He’s a bad guy.

His goons swarm up the stairs, so he doesn’t bother to tell them where I am, figures they’ll figure it out, decides to. . . shit!

The block closes around me before I can set up against it. The guy is good.

It only lasts a split second before I break through. . . but it’s enough.

See, Yareth set up a block around me to cut me off from the goon squad.

Consequently, he also cut me off from Morrison.

It only lasts a fraction of a second, but the ghosts move really, really fast. . .

Morrison screams.

The goon squad bursts into the apartment, and I thank God I’m not a stereotypical queen since the place is still a shambles. The embarrassment would destroy me.

Morrison turns to me, smiling, eyes all aglow, the air around him crackling with life.

He rises, keeps rising, until he hovers about a foot above the roof.

Yareth’s jaw drops and bounces around on the pavement. Sure, he’s good in his field; however, this brand of paranormal is not his field. Dumb shit.

Casper lifts Morrison’s hand to point at me. “You,” the voice from hell says through Morrison’s mouth, “are an annoying pain in the ass!”

His ghosts swarm me but are held at bay by my personal shields.

Meanwhile, back in my apartment, the soldiers tear the place apart looking for us. They do the backs slamming against the wall, “Fan out, boys,” bullshit you see in movies. . .

Then one of them hears Morrison scream. He holds up a hand to stop the others. They stop. He points up to the roof real serious-like.

His second-in-command thinks, “No shit. We all heard that scream.”

I try to find a way inside Morrison.

Casper notices the soldiers and decides for a little revenge or something. Seemed like he was killed by the state. Not sure of the details. Ghost brains are fuzzy.

Morrison turns his back on us and floats off the edge of the roof and down.

Inside: A young Luke Skywalker type awaits orders in the kitchen. He and three other soldiers stand poised for battle. The scream unnerved young Luke. This is his first time in the field, and he doesn’t really know what to expect, figures they’re after drug dealers or something. Wow. What a little kid.

One of his buddies taps his shoulder and points behind him.

Luke turns around, rifle ready, only to be blinded by a pair of my skivvies. He grabs the cloth from his face, looks down at it, notices the Calvin Klein label then looks up in time to see a closetful of dirty laundry swarming him.

Before he can shout, a turtleneck wraps itself around his head and chokes him. My Levis bind his legs, and several pair of dress pants wrap up his arms. His gun falls to the floor as my wardrobe buries him.

The three other soldiers struggle just as hard against their own fashion issues. As they bobble about the kitchen, the fridge starts to shake. It rattles away from the wall and the door shudders open, throwing a dazzling green light across the linoleum.

Half a dozen condiments soar into the room and squirt their contents all over the struggling goons. As the ketchup hits the floor, Luke’s boot strikes it, and he does a perfect Home Alone spill, sliding into one of his buddies and toppling over the rest of the guys.

Steee-rike!

The other soldiers fare no better. All through the apartment, they battle vacuum cleaner attachments, cutlery, and vibrating dildos.

Their leader shouts instructions which no one hears.

Screeech. . .

Even the captain or whatever stops trying to restore order when the ceiling fan pulls itself from its roots and chases him up the stairs.

Which is the scene Yareth finds when he pushes the broken door out of the way and enters the battle zone.  Doing a good job of feigning calm, he picks his way through the bedlam, appearing ever so official with his trench coat flapping around his legs.

See? I knew the trench was a good idea.

He steps over a guy wrapped up in duct tape and makes his way to the living room just as Morrison pauses outside the plate glass balcony door.

Yareth stops, meets Morrison’s fiery gaze, smiles. This is the kind of thing he joined the FBI to do. What a nut.

The rest of the ghosts, daunted by Yareth’s blocks, ignore him.

Casper just gets hot.

Knowing what’s about to happen, I wrap everyone in the living room with a solid wall as Morrison raises his arms. The waves of energy which surround him crackle into bolts of lightning and sweep out from his entire body.

The glass patio doors explode across my living room.

The guys who can, throw themselves to the floor and wonder why they are still alive as the shards careen away from my shields.

Yareth, impressively, stands his ground as a tornado of glass surrounds him, wheels about him, and subsides to the floor.

Morrison floats into the apartment through the new hole in the wall. How in God’s name am I going to trick the insurance company this time?

I shove the soldiers out of the way into the corners where they can say Hail Marys.

Yareth’s shoes crunch on the new glass carpeting Casper installed.

The ghost floats Morrison to the center of the room, his attention on Yareth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m still trying to find a way into Morrison’s mind. It’s going to be a lot harder to fool Casper a second time.

“What do you want with this boy,” says the voice from hell.

“My employers want him,” Yareth says, “for study.”

Casper laughs. “I need him for a much greater purpose.”

Yareth tries to read the ghost. Doesn’t really know how.

Meanwhile, Trish and I climb down onto the balcony.

The soldiers push to their feet.

“Get out,” Casper screams, pointing at the broken door behind Yareth, and the sound shatters whatever glass had been left intact.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Yareth says.

I love to watch idiots dive in way over their pathetically bullheaded heads.

Casper laughs a sinister, ghostly laugh.

The debris on the floor shivers and shakes.

Oh. crap.

“Get the fuck out of here,” I shout.

The shields around the goons redouble as my entire apartment explodes into a typhoon. This time, the furniture leaps into the action, and let’s not forget millions of shards of broken glass added to the mix.

“You have no idea what you’re dealing with here,” I shout. Not that I do, either.

Soldiers scramble for the door.

Trish touches my elbow. “Use me. While it’s entertained by Yareth, use me to get to Morrison.”

I don’t have time to wonder whether she is ready for this. I dive into her mind, feel a rush unlike any I’ve felt in years. The air hums with energy. My mind blows open more than I’ve ever dreamed possible.

Without a second’s thought, I swoop into the eye of the hurricane, and, now that I have all this additional power, I find Morrison easily and slip my block around him.

Something is wrong though. . . the cyclone doesn’t stop.

Morrison falls to the ground in a heap, but the room keeps on spinning.

“Get them out of here,” Trish shouts at me.

Which is a good idea, but first I lock the ghosts in with a shield designed to keep them from escaping the apartment. I think I know where this is heading, and I don’t want all this pissed off ghost energy loose in the neighborhood.

Then I fly the soldiers through the air with the greatest of ease. I even yank Yareth out of the apartment. I carry Trish and Morrison to ground, wrench a plunger from the maelstrom, grab it with both hands as if it were a trapeze, and head for cover.

Inside the apartment, Casper has come up with a new definition for the word “merry-go-round.” Like psychotic fish trapped in too small a bowl, the spirits flash and dart and bump against the walls and shields.

Casper screams in rage. The hatred and power inside him build, spinning out of control.

On the ground, I plumb new depths of power with Trish at my side, double, triple, quadruple the strength of the bubble protecting the rest of the world from the hell inside my humble abode.

The energy builds way beyond Casper’s ability to control.

Or mine.

This is bad.

Very bad.

“Get down!” I shout and throw to ground anyone who doesn’t obey immediately.

I cover us all in one shield.

Wait for it. . . wait for it. . .

BOOOOOM!

Fuck me! Too much energy. Too much boom.

I have to open the bubble around the apartment.

I barely manage to shield the inside walls, protecting the rest of the building, but the shields on the outside walls go “pop.”

My home of the past two years blows into the sky like so much confetti and dust shot out of an incredibly huge canon.

Ash falls from the sky like rain.

I black out.

I come to a minute later, roll onto my side, and check on Trish. She’s sitting up, rubbing her head with headache #202, but basically all right.

“You all right?” I ask so she knows I care.

She nods. “Where’s Morrison?”

“Being taken to that truck,” I tell her, nodding in the direction of a cluster of goons.

Luke Skywalker bends down, offering a hand to each of us. His mind reads friendly, so I take his offer and scramble to my feet.

“Thanks,” I mutter, already on my way to help Morrison.

His hand stops me, and I answer his question before he can waste my time asking it. “Yes, it was me saved your ass up there. You’re welcome, and if you want my advice, request a transfer away from Yareth. He’s an idiot and will get you killed.” I stomp my way to Morrison.

Two soldiers try to stop me, but I slide them a few feet away and keep moving.

Pissed off doesn’t even approach my current feelings.

I reach the group with Morrison at its center in cuffs, check that Trish is still with me, and push a few more soldiers out of the way.

I touch Morrison, turn him to face me. He’s pretty pissed off, too. The handcuffs drop to the ground, and he rubs his wrists. He looks at me, up at the charred mess which was once my home, then back at me.

“I got distracted,” I tell him. “I’m sorry.”

You’re sorry?” he asks. “I get your home disintegrated, and you apologize to me?”

I grab his shoulders. “Don’t waste your energy feeling guilty. It’ll just annoy me.”

Yareth stands behind me, now.

“Besides which,” I add, “if Barney Fife here had the least fucking clue what he was doing, this wouldn’t have happened.” Are the soldiers loyal to him or are they as disgusted by his incompetence as me?

“You are interfering with a federal arrest,” Yareth says. He’s a cocky son-of-a-bitch, even for a G-man.

I turn to him. “What are the charges?”

“Running away from home. His father has been searching—”

A quick scan of Yareth’s mind lets me interrupt. “He didn’t cross state lines, so you don’t have jurisdiction. Don’t bullshit someone who can read your every thought, Yareth.” I let that sink in, then add, “Don’t waste your time with blocks. You can’t compete.”

“We’re taking him in.” Fists on his hips apparently let me know he’s serious.

Laughing, I point up at the apartment. “I wasn’t scared by that, Yareth, what makes you think you scare me? Your men can’t touch me.” Calling them goons wouldn’t win friends. “Get the fuck out of here and leave me alone.”

“I could arrest all three of you—”

“On what grounds?” I shoot back loud enough for all his men to hear. “This whole thing was your fault! You knew exactly what your men might run into.” I wave at the cluster of soldiers. “Did they know? Did they know you had no way to protect them from this kind of paranormal activity? I had that fucking ghost completely contained until you cut me off. When you blocked me, the ghost hacked Morrison and blew my apartment to smithereens, endangering the lives of everyone in this building.”

I do a quick check. “That’s one hundred civilians right now. They’d all be dead if I hadn’t blown all that energy straight up, protected them from the devil you unleashed. You caused this. You did, and if you really think you can pin the blame on me, you must have ignored the basement full of papers which is my file at the Pentagon. The cops in this city know me. The fucking President knows who I am, as does the managing editor of fucking Newsweek.”

I pause for a breath and drop my voice to something quiet and menacing. “If I don’t have a check at the studio covering damages and then some by tomorrow afternoon, I’ll go to the press and straight to the Pentagon.” There are times when the little brush I had with fame pays off. “You aren’t going to get him this way, Yareth.” I put my arm around Morrison. “Go home.”

We turn and walk to the curb.

Trish joins us as we sit. Is all that true?

If it works, does it matter?

She chuckles.

Yareth’s men wait for an order.

He knows they believe me, that they realize I saved them and that Yareth walked them into a deathtrap. He was in such a hurry, he didn’t think it through. A professional at his level should have done a hell of a lot better.

Police sirens approach, as well as fire engines and ambulances which, thankfully, will have no use here.

Yareth tries to read me. Fails. Decides to check my file more thoroughly before trying again. Tries really, really hard to keep me from reading him. Fails. Decides to get the hell out and regroup outside my range. Which would mean a trip to San Marcos, but he doesn’t know that.

Without a word, his men pile into their vans and take off just before the police arrive.

Luke Skywalker stands to attention before entering the van. He salutes me.

I need to remember him. He deserves my respect. I place a fist into the opposite palm at chest level and bow a salute Jake taught me in martial arts training. I’m not sure if it’s kosher for a civilian to salute a soldier; I don’t care to offend the nice young man but I want to show my respect.

Yareth doesn’t blow me a kiss goodbye. That’s okay as long as I get a check to cover the damages.

Damages. . .

Holy shit. Everything in the world I owned is sawdust.

Well, this has happened before.

Trish takes my hand. “You okay?”

I nod. “Just pissed off.”

Police cars scream around the corner.

The residents of the complex finally decide it’s safe to see what happened. They swarm out of the buildings full of questions. My tired mind blocks them out and keeps them away.

“What do we do, now?” Trish asks.

“I say we get the hell out of here,” Morrison suggests.

I shake my head. “I need to make sure the cops who know me find out what really happened, otherwise I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the Feds to pay up.” I push to my feet. “You two stay here.”

I spot Ricardo. He heard the address on the radio and worried all the way here. How sweet. I open my mouth to give him shit about it. . .

Then I don’t. That’s part of what Morrison said about me keeping people at arm’s length.

I hold out a hand that Ricardo only glances at for half a second before taking. I pull him into a one-armed hug around the shaking hand. “Thanks for rushing over. We’re all okay.”

As he pulls away, I see the relief. And a bit of intrigue over the first hug I’ve ever given him.

I’m halfway through the report when Jake shows up. All things considered, he takes the news pretty well. Sort of stands there staring up at the smoking hole, asking, “You’re sure someone’s going to pay for all this?” again and again.

Oh, yeah. I’m sure.

Soon enough, the fire and EMS folks realize they aren’t needed. They make like a baby and head out.

The cops keep nosing around questioning witnesses for the look of the thing.

Marcus shows up, all concerned and shit. He shouts my name before I notice that he’s there.

I wave in his direction, and he runs over, folds me in his arms, which, truth be told, feels good.  For the first time, some part of me maybe almost wants to react.

Nah.

Instead, I go find Morrison. I sit beside him on the curb. “You okay?” I ask.

He smiles. “Never a dull moment.”

“Need a doctor or anything?”  He shakes his head and watches the cops. They make him nervous. It’s weird to him to be able to sit here with them so close. He’s not used to someone protecting him.  Hm.

“Look,” I say, “I have a couple questions.”

He cringes. “Yeah. Sorta figured.”

I give it to him. “You told me all this started when you were hit by a drunk driver and died.”

He looks at the ground, and I read everything I need to know. There was no drunk driver. Morrison died in a neighbor’s tool shed, tied to a table with a map of Texas carved across his abdomen. The neighbor’s wife had gone looking for wire clippers while her husband washed up at the garden hose. She called 911.

Morrison hadn’t lied about everything, though. He did die.

He did see his aunt.

And he wasn’t the only one to die. There were nine others.

The neighbor went to jail.

Where he died, too.

Fuck.

Morrison will hate this.

“You don’t want to hear this,” I tell him, “but you knew this guy when he was alive.”

Morrison folds his arms over his stomach and hunches over. “He’s back.” He shivers.


There were heroes and villains before the capes appeared. Few and far between, but perhaps if we know more about the superheroes who were born before thousands of people gained powers out of nowhere, maybe we can understand the entire phenomenon a little better.  Before the capes, nearly all origin stories were tragedies. Maybe that’s why they were better heroes?

Catalyst’s origin.

 

Happy New Year’s Eve and shit.

I’m out on the balcony, watching the clouds wander overhead and worrying. Orange juice and rum are thrown haphazardly together in a cold glass in my right hand. My left hand works the muscles in my right forearm.

Call me Angel, which is what most folks call me because I told them to. My name is really Danny Angelo, but only my roommate and my boyfriend call me Danny.

Three stories below me, the deserted parking lot glistens from the recent rain. The air smells clean and wet. The sound of some famous idiot cheerfully extolling the virtue of this year’s inane pop icons reaches me through the glass doors from the belly of my living room.

I feel Jake in the doorway. The best friend-slash-sidekick.

“You gonna watch the ball drop?” he asks quietly. Ice tinkles against the glass in his hand. He drinks.

My eyes are trapped in the clouds. “Yeah, sure.” I try to sound enthusiastic. It just doesn’t work very well.

A van full of revelers pulls loudly into the parking lot.

The screen door shushes open, and Jake pads quietly to my side, leaning against the railing, looking at me.

“You want to go?” It’s the first time he’s asked tonight. I’m impressed at his restraint.

“Yes.”

“Well?”

“We’re not going.”

“Okay. Then come inside, get drunk with me, and watch the fucking ball drop in Times Square.” He smiles a lot, trying to cheer me up, to get my mind off what might happen downtown.

Likely.

“Okay,” I say.

We turn to go inside. . .

And there she is in the doorway. Trish.

“Holy shit.” I have no clue which of us said it. Could have been either.

Every muscle in Jake’s back twitches, and I hold out an arm to restrain him.

“What the fuck do you want?” I ask.

She’s not there. There is no trace of her energy. It’s the exact opposite of the dream I had. . .

Fuck. That’s how she tricked me the first couple of times. Like a dope, I’d expected the dream to be an accurate threat. Duh.

“Never trust a woman,” she says. “Especially when it comes to your dreams.” She’s in my mind. Fuck. “Such language from the self-proclaimed savior of all mankind.” She clucks her tongue.

I repeat, “What the fuck do you want?’

She moves to the end of the balcony, her back to us, and leans casually against the railing, watching the drunks tumble out of the van and toward our apartment building.

I try desperately to not think about the van people.

“Are you afraid for them?” she asks. “Afraid I might hurt them?”

I don’t respond. What does she want?

Jake’s chest presses against my arm. His breath slips in and out in little hisses.

“To answer your question, I’d like a drink.” She turns to us, smiling. “Whatever you’re having.” Her eyes shine bright and clear. Her dress is almost sheer and billows around her legs. “You like it?” She touches the fabric of her skirt. “I figured a dancer would appreciate a dress with movement.”

Unable to think of a thing to do, I mix her a drink.

She feels things moving in the kitchen and smiles. “Ice please.”

I pull ice from the freezer and drop it into the glass. We all wait while the glass wanders through the open kitchen window and into her waiting hand.

She sips, sighs, and places the glass on the balcony ledge. “It’s just like an episode of Bewitched.”

I try very hard not to notice the folks hanging out in the parking lot, trying to open the door to the building. It takes them far too long.

“I’m not letting them in,” she explains.

“Why not?”

She shrugs. “It amuses me to watch you squirm.”

Jake finally speaks. “Has anyone ever told you you’re a bitch?”

She drinks. “You’re just mad because you didn’t get a chance to fuck me.”

The pressure against my arm increases.

“What do you want with me?” I spit out.

“Well, at first I thought maybe we could work together,” she says. “I saw you in the papers and thought, ‘Hey, we could do some serious damage together,’ then I realized you were a do-gooder and thought, ‘Well, maybe I can seduce him,’” She laughs. “Fat chance. So, I figured I’d come check you out, see how strong you are, see if maybe I could make you realize how boring it is to do good, that whole dark side of the Force thing.” She shrugs.  “No go, so I’ve decided you have to die.”

Screams from below as all six van people are swept into the air and tossed around like rag dolls above the parking lot.

I close my eyes.

She’s still not there.

Fuck.

Jake pushes past me and throws himself at her.

Which is when the sky falls down on Chicken Little.

Keep in mind that for five years, I’ve been in tune with every living creature for anywhere from one to five miles of me, depending on the stage in my development. Imagine suddenly having water in your ears, smoke in your eyes, and cotton up your nose.

She shuts me off. It’s like having a pillow shoved over my face.

Jake flies into the air, and I cannot hear his mind cry out to me, telling me not to worry about him, just to stop her. For the first time in five years, the only reason I know what he’s thinking is that I know him so well.

 She doesn’t move. . . not that she needs to. All the hand waving and facial grimacing in movies is bullshit.

Time slows down.

I test the shield around me.

I nab one of the van people as he starts to fall from the sky, then catch a second, then a huge knot of pain hits my forehead as I grab the third. The first slips, and I actually need to concentrate to hold up all three at once.

Her grip on my mind tightens, and I engage a huge amount of will to set up a block against her. . . a tiny block, but enough to catch a fourth victim before depositing the first.

Oh. . . this is all happening very fast. Very, very fast.

I hear a scream and have to physically look to see the van lifted into the air.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Okay, there is nothing, nothing in my best shape, I could do about that van. I can’t even let it concern me unless I need to jump out of the way.

Which is when the railing splinters, and Jake flies out into space and drops out of sight.

The sound of the railing sickens me.

I’m blind. I can’t hear a thing.

The last two van people drop out of the sky.

The van hurtles at the apartment building across the lot.

And what’s-her-name’s glass makes a beeline for my face.

A lot of shitty things happening at once.

I catch the van people, which just about exhausts my energy and hits me like a metal pipe to the forehead.

She tries to clamp down harder, but now that I’ve felt what it’s like to be attacked like this, I can keep my head at least as open as it is.

I am stretched so thin with this that I can’t find Jake. I pray very fast and keep telling myself, “He’s a gymnast, that’s like being a cat. It’s only three stories. This is exactly the sort of thing he warned me about. Don’t freak out.”

The van impacts. Several very disturbing noises happen. Does anyone need my help? Don’t know, and there isn’t a damn thing I could do, anyway.

For the first time in years. . . I duck.

The bitch’s glass shatters somewhere behind me.

At the same moment, I throw my own glass, relying on my hands for the first time in a very long time.

The next moment:

The van people touch down.

About a dozen alarms go off in the building behind me.

Jake hits the ground, and I don’t allow the sound to register.

My glass hits her square in the forehead.

Bam.

Wait.

Holy shit!

I hit her!

Wait. Did she block it? Her face registers nothing. Nada.

Then she crumples. . . just falls into a heap with a red spot in the middle of her forehead.

Just like that. Kapow.

Was she stretched too thin to do a thing about it? Lifting the van must have tapped her out. She couldn’t even see it coming. . .

Except that there was nothing wrong with her eyes.

She didn’t even react. . .

Her stranglehold on my mind isn’t instantly released.

Wait, is something even spookier going on?

She didn’t duck because she couldn’t see it. Couldn’t see anything.

She didn’t react to the blow because she couldn’t feel it.

Oh, my fucking God.

Fuck!

“Trish” had nothing to do with it, which is why she was invisible psychically.

She’s not psychic.

Someone else has been using this woman like a puppet the whole time.

My head hurts. There’s this woman laying on my balcony all crumpled up with a red stain on her forehead dripping down her temple. She’s breathing.

I still can’t feel Jake, so fuck it. I tap all my energy, pull my board from the apartment, and sail to the ground.

I push through the crowd that has gathered around him.

He lays on his back staring up at the trees, unmoving.

Not moving…

Is he even breathing?

Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. . .

No, no, no, no. . .

I drop to my knees.

He turns to look at me.

I breathe.

Thank God.

I really thought he was dead for a second there.

He sort of smiles. “Hey, shithead, is she dead?” From the way his face is all tight and stuff, he’s in a heck of a lot of pain. Normally, he doesn’t much respond to injuries. Bad childhood.

I shake my head.

“Too bad. She could use a serious case of rigor mortise.”

“How’re you?”

“Hurts like hell. I think I broke a rib.”

“I thought gymnasts always hit the ground rolling.”

“We do. It’s just a matter of what we roll into.” He glances sideways at a nearby tree. “I bounced off that sucker. It’s really solid.”

“Ouch.”

“You didn’t freak out?”

“Nope. Just beaned her in the head with a cocktail. Knocked her cold.”

“Cool,” he says and winces.

“It hurt a lot?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“I couldn’t find you. She had this block around me.”

“I figured. Is there an ambulance coming or something?”

I don’t know.

This lady next to me says there is.

Jake’s face changes, curiosity overcoming pain. “Wait a minute. She’s knocked out, right?”

I nod.

“So why are you still blind?”

“It wasn’t her,” I tell him. “There’s someone else controlling her.”

“Oh, fuck.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

His face twists.

 I take his hand. “Just try not to laugh or anything.”

“So tell me a joke. That’ll do the trick.”

“Bitch.”

We wait in silence. Every now and again, his grip on my hand tightens, probably whenever he tries to breathe. . . probably. Shit.

“Danny?”

“Mm-hm?” I hear the EMC sirens.

“I’m glad you didn’t freak out. I was afraid she’d get you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. I’m a gymnast. We know how to fall. You’re just a superhero geek. She might have messed you up.” He starts to laugh, swears instead.

“Serves you right.”

Which is when the ambulance arrives.

I glance up. The arm hanging over the edge of our balcony tells me Trish is still there. Good. “Jake?”

“I’m fine. Go check on her. Find out what’s going on. . . and Danny?” I let the ambulance guys in to check Jake out. “Don’t forget to report in, right?”

“Right.” I squeeze his hand one more time.

The ambulance guys tell me they’re taking him to St. David’s.

A bunch of cops mill around.

“Hey, Danny,” Jake says as they load him into the ambulance. “So it wasn’t really Trish, then?  I mean, she wasn’t in on it?”

I shrug and shake my head at the same time.

He smiles. “I hope she isn’t.”

I try to laugh, almost succeed. As the doors close, I call out, “Thanks, buddy!”

He’ll know what I mean.

To avoid drawing further attention to myself, I slip through the crowd and to the door rather than gliding up on my board. I run up three flights of stairs, open the door before I arrive, and hit the balcony toot sweet.

She’s still there. Good.

I take her pulse. It’s strong. She’s just asleep, now.

She pulls away from me, rolls over, and curls into a ball.

Carefully, I lift her into my arms, carry her into the apartment and lay her on the couch. She doesn’t awaken. What the hell do I do next?

I stare down at her, listening to the shouts and sirens outside, testing the walls of the block around me, trying to find cracks or holes.

What do I feel? Besides wondering whether Trish had anything to do with this misadventure or whether she was a pawn, I’m pissed. I work very hard to keep my anger under control. That’s what this week’s mystery guest wants: me angry and guilty so I screw up.

Fuck that. Jake’s right. I’m just pissed. Guilt and shit have no place in my life.

This block in my head is bizarre though. It’s gotta be how the real villain kept me from seeing Trish. It’s folded inside my head, blocking me in and keeping the world out, but I’d never in a million years notice it from the outside. It’s almost like a sponge.

“He?” a voice says from behind.

I don’t move.

My heart beats like a son-of-a-bitch, though.

“You assume Trish was being controlled by a man? How sexist of you, Angel.”

“My apologies, Ms. . .?”

“Turner. Elizabeth Turner.”

“My apologies.” Hm. Sponge. I push my energy out and then squeeze back on myself. Ouch. Energy bleeds through, though. I use it to squeeze harder. Double ouch.

“Clever man.”

The block vanishes. The world roars back so hard my knees go weak, and I stumble to get my footing back. My mind does a full speed ahead catalog. Everything seems in order.

My adversary chuckles.

Trish’s mind is still closed to me. It’s there, though.

Did Jake feel me come back on-line?

“You should be dead,” she says.

“Oh?”

“Hitting her with your martini was a fluke.”

“Rum and orange juice.”

“Whatever. It was a fluke. You got lucky.”

Hm. “You were at your limit. Lifting that van was a nice parlor trick but it tapped you out. You didn’t even see it coming.”

She chuckles. “You’re not going to get my goat that easily, Angel. And I’m not going to be led into divulging my limitations.”

I shrug. “Had to try.”

She tests my barriers.

“You let go too much,” I tell her. “You aren’t coming back in.”

She laughs.

“So do we do the whole, ‘What the fuck do you want from me?’ thing again,” I ask, “or are you just going to tell me this time.”

“Aren’t you curious to see my face?”

It unnerves her that I don’t look at her, so I don’t move. “You’re the psychic. You tell me.”

She laughs. “No matter. You’ll be just as dead.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

Okay. Psychic battles are boring. Two people standing motionless in the middle of a room with a death grip on each other’s brains.

We start out testing each other. Her power is vast compared to mine, but I’m using a lot more of my brain. I’m faster, my strategies are much more complicated. I can pull almost all of her attention to one line of attack then sneak in around the back without her noticing.

What exactly are we trying to do? I’m not sure. . . overload a synapse, close off some central functions—like heartbeat or breathing. Really, it’s pretty fucking stupid, but throwing shit at each other in the physical world is even more pointless.

Here at least, we have a shot at turning our opponent into a vegetable.

Which is about the time her sponge invades my head again. It soaks my energy.

Slowly, I draw my sensors in to keep up my defenses. I lose the city, am reduced to the apartment complex then start shutting down lines one by one, until it’s just me and it’s just her.

The rest of the world vanishes.

I’m trapped in one tiny corner of my mind, lashing out at her, chipping away uselessly at her defenses, pissed off that it happened so fast I didn’t think to try my last trick again until it was too late.

“You’re not as strong as when I first found you,” she says. “A month ago, this wouldn’t have even made you flinch. Has it all been too much? All that senseless death, your boyfriend in danger, your sidekick, your friends. . .”

She’s right. I am weaker. I haven’t been sleeping. . . have been hyper vigilant. “So what’s your point?”

“I misjudged you. I thought you were stronger.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” Without allowing myself to realize why, I focus my whole attention into one thought, let the rest of my mind fall open to her as if I were giving up, and when she closes in for the kill—I blast her.

My knees go weak. I drop to the floor, pouring all my power into one tiny part of her mind, the part that is connected to Trish.

Huh. Any chance this can work? I crash through the blocks around Trish’s mind, dive into her thoughts and make my own sponge to protect her—within seconds, my enemy is blocked from her puppet by her own little trick.

The world goes cloudy. I don’t know what the fuck she’s doing to me, but it hurts. . . a lot. My own blocks crumble, and I taste her assumption of victory.

She completely ignores her hold on Trish so she can attack me directly. . . wisely realizing that if I’m drooling in my own vomit, I’ll let go.

That doesn’t happen though.

Someone screams.

Really loudly.

And again.

The hammerlock on my mind weakens, shudders, and shatters.

I am free.

I stumble forward and catch myself with both arms and one knee, still half-blind. What happened? Who screamed?

Did my gamble pay off?

Slowly, I turn around.

At first, my eyes tell me it’s Trish lying there in a pool of blood. . . but a younger version with brass in her hair kneels beside the corpse, curls hanging over her face. And the corpse is darker, her hair long and straight and black.

Holy crap. The gamble some part of me took by freeing Trish came up with blackjack.

Trish holds a very big knife. She looks up at me. “She was going to kill you,” she says, but I can tell it’s a question.

I nod.

“And she tried to kill your friend.”

I nod.

“But he’s all right.” Her voice is little-girl.

“He’ll be fine.” I fucking hope.

Trish looks down at the dead woman. “She’s killed a lot of people.” She’s piecing together lots of half-memories, trying to put her mind back together. Mind control leaves a person discombobulated.

“Do you know why?” I ask.

She looks at me, at the woman, and she wipes her face with the back of one sleeve. “I think she was insane. The things she could do with her mind, I think they drove her mad.”

Boy, can I relate. “What did she want with me?”

“You?” Trish says at last. “She was afraid of you.”

Wow. “Of me?”

Whooops. She’s going into shock. Carefully, I set up a couple of blocks to keep from peeking accidentally. Even the least brush could send her out for good. Her mind has been ravaged. It’ll be months before she’s back to whatever rates as normal for her.

I dial 911 on the phone in my pocket and type in an address. They’ll send someone up.

“You’re so much stronger than she is,” Trish says.

I don’t bother to respond. The woman obviously has no clue about what’s been going on.

“Don’t say that,” she responds quickly.

Holy shit! She reads me.

I throw up a block.

Her eyes go wide and scared. “I’m sorry,” real fast. “I didn’t mean. . . it just happens. . . I don’t have any control, really, not since she took over. . .” She sucks in a deep breath and lets it out.

Now that I know she is psychic, the look in her eyes means something totally different.

“I don’t have a lot of power,” she says. “She could take my mind and use it to. . . make hers more.” She shakes her head, trying to clear things. “She wanted to do the same with you, but you were too aware, too strong, there were too many twists and turns in your brain. . .”

I chuckle.

“So she was going to kill you,” the young woman told me. “She knew you’d eventually notice her and try to stop her.”

“Stop her from doing what?”

“Anything.”

Hm. How hard is blood to remove from a carpet?

“She liked being all-powerful, didn’t want anyone around who might be more.” Trish looks down at the corpse. “She was awfully vain.”

“So she was using your powers to stop me?” I ask.

“She used me to amplify herself,” she says. “Like a catalyst. It’s what I do.”

“Wow.” For several reasons.

“Yeah.”

“A friend of yours?”

“She’s my mother,” spills out before it connects, then, “was my mother.” Which is when Trish notices the knife, drops it. “Oh, my God.” She looks up at me. “Did I kill her?”

“Yes.” Well, what do you expect me to say?

She looks down at her mother. “We should call the police.”

“Already done.”

“Angel?” she asks, her eyes still glued to the carpet. “If she was my mother, how could she make me do those things?” Our eyes connect. She really expects me to answer. “How could she do that to me?”

 

 

 

Capes. They came out of nowhere. Criminals who normally used handguns and AR-15s now used fireballs and teleportation. Then the good guys showed up, trying to foil the supervillains. Except… well… the heroes’ powers had shown up out of nowhere, too, and they weren’t… well, they weren’t very good at it… at heroing… but they had Powers!

They were Capes! They had to do Good.

So people died.

 

The sky was blue with just a few white puffy clouds to keep things interesting. San Antonio traffic was light for midday, so the noise wasn’t bad. The food truck selling Korean tacos, mercifully, had no line. As Moriarti ate, and ignored the juice covering his fingers, his sister paid for her own meal.

“Just fucking talk to him!” Sarah shouted in her I-don’t-care-what-people-think voice. She tended to loud.

The taco salesman maintained an unexpressive face. Behind him, the silent TV showed a LIVE report. Some cape in blue spandex had robbed a bank and some equally lame poseur, this one in green, chased him through the city streets, stopping traffic and causing a fender bender. Fucking capes.

Sarah followed Moriarti’s eyes to the TV. “If someone doesn’t get these capes under control…” She bit into her taco. “Someone is going to get killed.” That part had been spoken around a vast quantity of pork, and Moriarti had only understood her because he was her brother.

She raised a finger at him and glared. “You will not redirect me. Just fucking talk to him.”

Moriarti took another bite and considered his options. He started down the street, and she fell in beside him, the queer bars they passed kind of sad and desolate in the unforgiving Texas sunshine. Moriarti was decidedly straight but spent time wherever folks were less judgmental.

And what the hell did he have to say to his dying father anyway? The cancer would take him in the next few months and good riddance.

“What do I have to say to him?” Moriarti demanded. “His son is dead to him, I thought. How does a corpse make conversation?”

“Ugh!” Not as eloquent as her usual, but expressive.

Brother and sister made an unlikely pair. Although about the same height, Sarah had long, straight brown hair of a decidedly unimportant color. Brown eyes. A body that was athletic and an aura of, “Go fuck yourself, I hate you,” that tended to drive men away from her otherwise attractive features.

Well, that was the one thing they had in common: the “Go fuck yourself, I hate you” vibe.

Moriarti’s manifested in a body nearly completely covered in tattoos and piercings, hair that was Crayola red and eyes that lived a permanent squint. Today he chose shirtless to point out to his sister just how far he’d journeyed since telling his father to fuck off at the age of sixteen when he’d first realized that the compound where they lived without internet, television, or, well, pretty much anything from the 21st century was not, in any way…. Normal.

“And if he asks me to apologize for escaping,” Moriarti insisted, “I will deck him.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Sarah countered. “If he asks you to apologize, I will deck him myself.”

Which was exactly the point.

“Then why visit him at all?” Moriarti asked.

“What if he wants to apologize to you?”

What the ever-loving hell? Really?

Sarah stopped. She bent over and laughed so hard the word “guffaw” came to mind.

She laughed some more.

So did Moriarti.

“Okay… Okay… That is never going to happen.” She straightened up. “Just wanted to say it to see how I reacted.” She shook her head. “Whew. That was hysterical.”

Her hand took his arm, turned Moriarti to face her. “Look,” she said, “if you won’t do it for him, do it for me.”

Which was far more likely to work. Sarah had always been his best friend. Dad had taught them how to fight using pretty much every weapon imaginable, and they’d been the perfect sparring partners for all the long years after mom died and dad devolved into what Moriarti had later learned was called a conspiracy theorist.

After Dad closed off the outside world, apart from the wackos who came to the compound to listen to Dad’s end of the world as we know it bullshit, Sarah was the only one in his life who’d ever made any kind of sense.

“It means this much to you?” He asked.

She nodded.

“Why?”

“Because I know you,” she said, “you want to come across as this hardass, but five years from now the guilt will hit you and you’ll be a whiny little girl, and guess who will have to deal with it.” She made a big thing about looking around before pointing at her chest with both thumbs. “Me.”

Nice. Moriarti chuckled. “Okay, okay,” he said. “For you… for no other reason, I will visit the old fucker before he dies.”

Her hands opened in supplication. “Thank you.”

And then a bizarre blue blur shot between them.

Whoosh.

A hand.

It hit her chest and pushed, speedster momentum and all.

She fell backwards.

In Moriarti’s memory, it was like distinct images of her falling away… stumbling off the curb… falling on her ass on Main Street… tucking into a ball. Years of training kicked in, and she rolled over her shoulder into a crouch.

A semi horn. Loud.

Sarah rose to one knee and prepped to leap back to the sidewalk as years of training had instilled in her.

Then another blur. Green this time.

From the sky to the street beside Sarah.

She glanced over to see what it was.

“Don’t worry, miss,” a nasal voice shouted, “I’ll save you!”

A cape. Some idiot in tight green spandex that revealed way too much.

He planted himself between Sarah and the oncoming semi.

It was one second.

But it was all the distraction needed to freeze her.

One second.

Tick.

Then the semi hit them both, horn blaring, and it blew past.

A blur of enormous motion.

A semi. A fucking semi, horn blaring and brakes screeching.

Sarah and the fucking cape just gone.

Gone.

Wait? What just happened?

The semi eventually ground to a halt half a block later.

Wait.

What?

Where was Sarah?

The semi stopped half a block away, a bright red steak extending behind it.

“Oh, shit,” someone said. The cape. He stepped out from the front of the semi. Perfectly fine. His hair wasn’t even mussed.

“I didn’t think…” He met Moriarti’s eyes. “I just got my powers last week,” he said. “I thought… why didn’t it stop?”

Why didn’t a semi speeding at least forty miles an hour just stop for you?

Because physics, you idiot!

Sarah! Moriarti ran to the side of the semi, but a huge pair of arms stopped him. “You don’t want to go there, buddy.”

“My sister!” It finally hit him. Sarah! Was that red streak because of her? “Sarah’s under there!”

Strong arms held him back. “Holy fuck, that was your sister?”

Was? What did he mean was?

Moriarti struggled against the arms. “I need to see if we need to call an ambulance.”

The arms tightened. “You don’t want to see that. You don’t.”

“But what if she needs help?” Moriarti screamed.

The fear hit him. The pain.

The arms held him tight. “Nothing can help her, man. You don’t want to see her…”

The asshole in the green spandex, he crouched down by the semi. He looked. “Oh, fuck me.” And he puked buckets.

A red streak spread out behind the semi.

That was Sarah.

That red streak was all that was left of Sarah.

Moriarti’s knees gave out.

He fell to the sidewalk.

Someone screamed so loudly it fucking hurt.

Oh wait… that was him.

 

 

Yorktown Memorial Hospital

Standing outside the hospital, it seemed less than I had expected. It’s two doors down from a Dollar General where I bought smokes for Jaime because he didn’t have his ID.  He took the following shots while I was on my mission, so these are photo cred Jaime.

He found the place for me. I told him I was looking for weird, funky, bizarre places to shoot. He said, pretty much, “Hold my beer.” He contacted Stephanie Mayfield, the current curator, and a fun negotiation started….. eventually ending in an invitation to hear her story and check the place in prep for a full photo shoot. More shots by Jaime.

 

 

 

 

 

He makes shit spooky, right? So…. originally, we thought she was going to hold our hand through a tour, but she unlocked the building, set the lock and chain on a counter and said, basically, “Lock up when you’re done. Don’t die.”

Yikes! And….. also…. coooooooool. Jaime and I have both had our share of supernatural shite… soooo….. bring it on!

 

 

 

Okay…. focus was a BIRCH! Which is a thing there, I’ve learned. Seriously, the camera did not love Jaime, and normally, it does.

 

Who could not love that face? Well, apparently folks there were unimpressed. Sorry Jaime, I think you’re all right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curious to see more? So are we! Keep checking back for the full experience!

Deleted Scene

 

Austin, Texas

Thursday, 8:00pm

 

Spook was dead.

He’d been killed back in 1961 at the age of seventeen but never stopped walking around and shooting off his mouth. Or so his brother, Ross, liked to say. For the record, Spook hated the word “zombie.”

He’d recently started studying witchcraft and had learned how to summon a demon. How cool was that?

He had a Booke of Shadows from none other than Merlin himself! And a local witch, totes powerful and the real deal, Dina had assured him it was the perfect book for someone of his “extraordinary ability.” Well, she’d pronounced it kind of funny, but English was not her first language. Who knew what you could find on Amazon!


 

 

 

He stood in his basement, arms raised and eyes closed, reciting a spell of demonic summoning. “O Fortuna. . . velut luna. . . statu variabilis. . . semper crescis. . . aut decrescis.” Dust motes sparkled in the light of blood-red candles and swirled inside the arcane containment circle painstakingly inscribed on the bare concrete floor.

 

 

Spook’s “Ye Olde Booke of Shadows” had called for “thee blude of a styll-brything mongrel poured unto the colde, colde stone whilst it screamed its fynal cries of terrour after its throat was verily slitte.” But that was impossible, since an animal with its throat slit couldn’t cry out in terror anymore. Spook had a deal with the butcher down the road who sold him farm animal blood at cost, just to get rid of the stuff. Close enough.

 

Spook continued his spell as he dribbled the cow’s blood into the concrete, which ate it up greedily with faint suckling sounds.

 

 

Spook hung out with a Goth crowd that’d taught him how to dress the part at a place called Bitter Sweets on Austin’s east side. All these years of spell casting and hunting creatures of the night, and Spook had never realized the importance of image. His short black hair rose in a spikey mess. His normally dark, Mexican skin was made up pale and kohl surrounded his eyes. He wore black leather pants, a black shirt, and a burgundy cowl with the hood down.

 

 

Who’d have known it’d take so much effort for an actual life-challenged American to blend into the death-becomes-us crowd?

He opened his eyes and raised his voice. “Vita detestabilis. . . nunc obdurate. . . et tunc curat. Ludo mentis acie. . .” His voice dropped an octave and reverberated with a cavernous echo. “Egestatem. . . potestatem. . . dissolvit ut glaciem.”

 

 

The dust motes swirled into a vortex within the protection circle and a column of light ignited, bright enough to drive away the shadows and expose the clutter in Spook’s basement.

The illumination revealed the usual assortment of old—but still perfectly serviceable—chairs and tables, a collection of demon banishing swords laid out for easy access, boxes of clothes bound to come back into fashion someday, a standing mirror of soul capturing, and a Hello Kitty lamp.

 

 

 

 

An ethereal breeze stirred the various sheets that covered the furniture. Faintly, in the background, a chorus in three-part harmony rose up to support Spook’s voice.

The spell was working.

He could feel it.

The power started as a tickle at thebase of his spine and spread through his nervous system, which was nothing more than a conduit for magical energy since his death and reanimation. Warm. Tingly.

Oh yeah, it was working.

 

“O Fortuna. . . velut luna. . . statu variabilis. . . semper crescis. . . aut decrescis.” Soon, the gate would open and his own personal demonic companion would step through the dimensional rift and shuffle up this mortal coil to keep him company.

Perhaps, a trifle extreme, but Spook missed Ross.

“O Fortuna. . . velut luna. . . statu variabilis. . . semper crescis. . . aut decrescis.”

“What the hell are you doing?” someone shouted nearby.

What the shit? His house was protected through six dimensions!

The chorus cut out.

 

 

“Blast!” Spook’s voice still held all the reverb and echo of a demonic overlord.

The maelstrom in the center of the room suddenly and rapidly swirled down into a tiny spot on the floor like water down a toilet in fast forward. The last of the magical energy disappeared into the concrete with a pathetic “thwip.”

Spook looked up.

 

[Maestro.]

 

A middle-aged man in a trench coat regarded Spook with what could only be labeled contempt. He looked Spook up and down, and then his eyes settled on Spook’s face with an expression so utterly blank, it was worse than scorn.

 

[Maestro looking blank. Spook POV.]

 

In the dim light of a basement in a mid-century modern home and surrounded by furniture from the last fifty years, the burgundy cloak and boots were possibly a trifle excessive. And how much make-up had Spook actually applied?

 

[Spook closeup.]

 

Emotionless, the stranger extended a business card. “I just happened to be passing through your neighborhood and thought you might need some help controlling the demon you’re trying to summon.”

Spook sucked in a quick breath. How did he know? He grabbed the card. It read:

 

[Shot of Meastro handing card replaces below card.]

 

 

 

 

Spook glanced from the card to the man. “What. . . demon. . . what?” He floundered. “Do I look like someone who would try to conjure—?” He glanced at his reflection in a nearby mirror, suddenly embarrassed at the get-up. With the crowd at Bitter Sweets, it had seemed restrained. Hadn’t it?

 

[Spook in fancy mirror. Reflection of Maestro in background.]

 

The stranger, Maestro, spoke gently. “You look like a reject from a Goth Hello Kitty convention.”

Spook wanted to disagree but searched Maestro’s eyes. He was definitely a fellow mage. Sorcerer? Witch? A powerful one, whatever he was, from the complete sense of control he radiated. Other than the power in the man’s eyes, though, he was so bland he’d be nearly invisible in a crowd.

Oooh. Was that just how he liked it?

 

[Maestro looking bland. Spook trying to look impressive.]

 

Spook drew himself up. “How did you know I was summoning a demon?”

Maestro pointed at the floor. “Anyone in at least ten dimensions could feel that spell… not that it would have worked.”

“What?” But Spook had followed the Book of Shadows to the letter.

“This?” Maestro took two steps to the podium holding Ye Olde Booke of Shadows. He held it up with two fingers as if it offended him. “If you tell me you got this on Amazon, I am going to hit you with it.”

 

[Maestro with Ye Olde Book.]

 

It’s like the guy read his mind! Spook had done all the research, though! “Dina promised me—”

Argh. Ach! Ah, damn. Dina was a bitch.

Well, she was a witch, but she was a bitch, too.

Double damn.

 

[Spook with hands up in disgust. Maestro in background touching things.]

 

“Dina promised you what?” Maestro replaced the book and moved around the basement touching things and being all judgy-looking.

“You really don’t want to know,” Spook said, hands covering his face—wait! Makeup!

“No. I really, really do.” The man held up a Hello Kitty lamp with that same blank expression that utterly judged Spook.

 

[Maestro with Hello Kitty lamp. Spook deflated.]

 

He stood there, waiting.

And waiting.

“Fine.” Spook snatched the lamp and returned it to the spot his niece had put it. She’d said his basement was too dark and gloomy. She’d been six at the time. Ten years ago. He traced the cartoon cat with one finger, missing his family but not wanting to watch them die. How old was Ross, now? He had to be at least seventy.

 

[Spook with hello kitty lamp.]

 

“She said it was the perfect book for someone of my extraordinary skill.” Nope. Not going to look at him. “Except she didn’t pronounce it that way, she pronounced it extra-ordinary.” Damn it. “Except close enough that I misunderstood.” Or he’d just heard what he’d wanted to hear.

But he could do stuff! He spun to face Maestro, this total stranger who had broken all of his enchantments and kept looking at him as if he were nothing. He lifted one hand, palm up, fingers curled. “Lorem Ipsum sit amet.”

 

[Spook with fireball.]

 

A fireball spun into life and burned merrily. Spook tossed it from hand to hand a few times then brought his hands together to extinguish the flame, then opened them. Would Maestro be impressed?

 

[Spook playing with fire.]

 

Without a word, the other mage stepped into the containment circle Spook had inscribed into the cold, cold earth, taking a very high step over the inscriptions. He turned a complete circle, obviously examining it. . . and judging it.

“Well?” Spook asked.

 

[Maestro judging containment circle.]

 

Maestro’s trench coat barely moved, the shrug was so small. He stared at Spook, with those empty eyes. They made him feel like the smallest, most insignificant. . .

“Well?” Spook repeated.

“I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” Maestro said casually.

Fire engulfed his entire body! Holy crap!

 

[Maestro on fire. This should be a challenge.]

 

Spook jumped back and stumbled into a couch. Held on for dear life.

Holy crap! Holy crap! Holy crap!

Fire! On his entire body! The heat was incredible.

 

[Spook hiding behind couch.]

 

The flames swirled, now, slowly at first, like a slow-motion tornado of fire.

“A Yankee Doodle, do or die.”

The fire swirled faster and contracted inward, more closely following the shape of his body.

What was burning? What was being destroyed?

Wait. Nothing. Nothing was on fire. But Spook felt the heat!

No? It wasn’t real? This man could make him feel the heat. Heat that wasn’t there?

Spook reached out.

Yikes! Fucking ow!

He sucked on his fingers.

 

[Spook sucking on fingers.]

 

“A real-life nephew of my Uncle Sam.” Maestro raised his arms. Below, the containment circle glowed bright purple.

So did his eyes! By all the gods and a goddess or two, his eyes glowed purple!

“Your eyes. . .”

The glowing purple containment circle lifted from the ground and rose into the air. Purple smoke wafted from it.

 

[Maestro lifting the containment circle while on fire.

Seriously. How the fuck am I going to do this?]

 

“Really,” Maestro said in that completely judgmental voice. “Body on fire. Levitating containment circle. . . and it’s the purple eyes that you notice.” He crossed his hands over his head, drew them to his chest and thrust both arms quickly toward the floor. “Fuck off.”

All of it: the fire. . . the containment circle. . . it all blew down and out with an impressive and heartfelt FOOM!

 

[Maestro making everything go foom.]

 

And the man hadn’t even broken a sweat. “Throw the book away and stop trying to summon demons or I will return, and the fire will be real.” He left the circle and approached the podium.

Okay, fine with the dire warnings, but. . . “Fuck off is a magic spell?”

Maestro closed his eyes for a second. “Did you hear what I said?”

 

[Maestro and Spook on opposite sides of the podium.]

 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Spook closed in and waved it off. “No more demons. Got it, Daddy-O.” Who needed lame-ass demons with a guy like this in town? “Wait,” Spook asked. “Do you live in Austin?”

Someone nearby cleared a throat. Rather pointedly.

Now what? “Did someone plan a party in my own basement and not invite me?”

Even Maestro’s head snapped to one side quickly. Surprised? Him?

 

[Maestro looking surprised.]

 

Um. Wow. Interesting. . . dude. . . in the containment circle. A shirtless dude with skin that. . . well, sort of. . . shimmered? Or something? Bright red hair. Dark eyes. . . And what?

Spook sniffed. Sulfer!

 

[Collin looking sexy.]

 

“So sorry for the delay,” the demon said in a refined British accent because the scene wasn’t surreal enough without it. “Here I am.” He gestured broadly. “How may I be of service?”

 

[Collin gesturing broadly.]

 

Maestro dropped into a crouch and a fireball appeared in both hands. . . without a verbal spell of any kind! What the what?

“Ipsum lorem,” Spook intoned. A sort of lighter-sized fireball ignited on one finger. Fine. “Sit amet.” The fireball grew to a respectable size.

Damn it!

 

[Collin holding up hands to slow them down. Spook and Maestro with fireballs.]

 

The demon held up both hands. “Gentlemen. No need for unpleasantries. After all, you did summon me.” His eyes narrowed, and he drilled Spook with a gaze that was the opposite of Maestro’s, full of avarice and greed. “Well, one of you summoned me.”

What? Ha! Suck it, judgy Maestro! Spook had his own demon, now!

But before Spook could perform the requisite happy dance, Maestro looked the demon up and down, glanced at Spook, then gave the demon his full attention, fireballs glowing from yellow to white.

How did he do that? Most humans got all tired and shit if they did too much magic. Spook had never figured out why he didn’t—

“No,” Maestro said flatly. “That spell he did. That did not compel you to appear. Not you.”

 

[Collin with his mouth open to speak and greatly enlarged.]

 

Collin opened his mouth to speak. . . or perhaps to swallow a cat, because it opened a bit more than it should have.  His mouth closed into a grin. So, he was going to lie, but changed his mind, right? “Well, that’s kind of you.” He crossed his arms. “And. . . No. Well, no it did not, did it?”
[Collin grinning. Arms crossed unless that will hurt the makeup,

in which case he can do something else. Maestro and Spook with fireballs.]

 

What? But he was right there in the contain—

The demon left the circle and dropped into a comfy chair sideways, one leg over the arm. Huh. Spook liked to sit in it that way, too.

 

[Collin in chair.]

 

“No offence, kid,” Maestro said. “It wouldn’t have summoned a fluffy kitten.”

“Offence taken, Daddy-o,” Spook shot back. “Enough with the Hello Kitty jokes!”

Again with the blank stare. “Oh, dear gods.” Maestro turned to the demon. “Why are you here?”

The demon’s leg swung a few times. He regarded his fingernails, which, against all odds were not long and pointed. Spook had battled a few demons over the years, and most of them had sharp, deadly—and often poisonous—fingernails. This guy looked like he spent a couple hours a week with Asian women buffing them.

 

[Maestro and Spook with fireballs.]

 

“I need your help.” He met Maestro’s gaze. Wow. That had to be hard for him to admit.

“And who are you, exactly?” Maestro asked. “And how did you get past my cantrips?”

What? He’d put up even more defenses?

But the demon springing to his bare feet distracted Spook. “How extraordinarily rude of me.” His smile said that he ate babies for breakfast. “Collin de Plancy. . . at your service.” He rose and extended his right hand.

Maestro glanced from his fireballs to the hand extended.

 

[Collin extending hand, Maestro looking judgmental.]

 

With a sigh, he shook out the fire and gripped Collin’s hand.

Collin sucked in a surprised breath and his eyes widened and flared orange. “You’re unexpected.”

Maestro’s eyes narrowed, and he yanked his hand away. “What do you mean, unexpected?”

Collin sucked in a breath. “I… I’m not going to play that one off, am I?” But. . . he didn’t actually explain it either, did he?  He turned to Spook and extended the hand. “And you, sir. . . Who are you, exactly?”

[Collin and Spook shaking hands.]

 

Well, Spook wasn’t going to be out-cooled by Maestro. “Call me Spook.” He grabbed the demon’s hand.

What the fuck! Hellfire and brimstone, armies in battle, demons and angels waging an all-out war!

[Shot of Indi Gogh as demon.]

 

Rages and rages of demons, and this. . .  Collin in command. . . but not really in command. Somewhere in the middle. Balancing outcomes. What the hell? Literally.

Maestro moved closer. No! Spook could handle this. He pushed against Maestro’s chest.

Focus!

 

[Spook stopping Maestro, who has a “oh, really?” expression. Collin looking bemused.]

 

The demon smiled. “My, my, my…. I guess the banal pleasantries can be abandoned.” He released Spook’s hand. “My goodness, neither of you is at all what you seem, are you, and yet…. I don’t already know you.”

What did that even mean?

Maestro’s eyes narrowed. Would the fireball make a return visit? “I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Maybe Spook knew something Maestro didn’t know, after all.  “He’s a demon.  Middle-management demon… an Earl or something. What the hell’s an Earl?”

Maestro scoffed. “A demon named Collin?”

Nice.

 

[Collin and Spook facing off. Collin disgusted and pissed. Spook self-satisfied.]

 

The demon scoffed as well, but his face screwed up into a look of pure disgust. “I command twenty-nine legions of demons,” he insisted, glaring at spook with smoldering eyes, and not in a figurative way.  “Middle management, indeed.”

Ha. Spook had gotten to him. “A title doesn’t make you cool, dude.”

“Neither does a hip, petulant attitude.”

“Says you.” Spook straightened his cape. Having this Maestro guy at his back meant Spook could go for broke, right?

 

[Spook with Maestro’s hand in his face.]

 

A hand in his face told him otherwise. Really? Spook smacked Maestro’s hand away.

“What are you doing here?” Maestro asked the demon.

Collin met Maestro’s gaze. “I need your help.” His face portrayed far too much innocence to be real. “You do that right? Help people.”

Maestro cocked his neck to one side. It cracked. Same on the other. “People.”

Oooh! Burn!

Collin closed his eyes. “Ah, prejudice. Nice. And against your own kind.”

Maestro stepped closer. Anger radiated from him. . . um, once again, literally. “I might be many unsavory things, but I’m not a demon.”

 

[Maestro facing Collin, glowing, Spook in background.]

 

Collin raised an eyebrow. “But not really human, either. Are you? Not anymore.”

What the heck did that even mean? But Spook kept his mouth shut. This demon seemed to know more about the other intriguing stranger than Spook could divine with a week’s time and a Ouija board.

Maestro gave Collin his empty face. “How many times will I need to ask?”

“I can pay you.” Collin held up a bracelet dripping with enormous diamonds.

 

[Collin holding fancy bracelet. Fuck… where am I going to get one of those?]

 

Holy shit!

Wait? “You get paid to help people?” Spook asked. What an idea!

Maestro looked at him with disgust. “Why else would I do it?”

Well, Spook was a sucker doing it all those years just to, oh, who knew, save innocent lives, maybe?

Maestro rolled his eyes.

Was he reading Spook’s cauliflower mind?

The mysterious stranger pulled out his i-phone and pointed it at the bracelet. It made noises. Wait, was that a Supernatural ghost detector app? Bwa ha ha! “Those things don’t work, daddy-o.”

 

[Maestro pointing his phone at the bracelet.]

 

“This one does.” He made some adjustments.

“On what planet did you find that?” Collin asked.

“It’s just an i-phone,” Maestro said in all sincerity.

Ha! Nice. Wait, was that a dig?

Collin did a very exaggerated nodding thing. “Oooh, I get it.” He winked. “You don’t want the sidekick to know you’ve been to other planets.”

 

[Collin nodding. Maestro and Spook looking at each other like neither of them wants to think of Spook as sidekick.]

 

“I’m not his sidekick,” Spook said.

“He’s not my sidekick,” Maestro said at the exact same time, but the way he said it made it mean.

“Wait a minute,” Spook said, “Have you been to other planets? That’s a thing?”

“No,” Maestro said. “He’s full of shit.”

Yeah. Spook didn’t buy that. “So, aliens are a thing? That is so cool!”

What would aliens look like?

 

[Image of what Spook thinks aliens would look like.]

 

Maestro deflated a little. “Really not something I ever wanted him to know.” He squinted at the demon. “How could you possibly know?”

Collin shrugged with an innocent face.

Maestro stuffed the jiggety-whatsit from another planet into a pocket.

Spook made grab for it. What could it do?

Before he could snatch it though, Maestro managed to slide it away and grab Spook’s wrist. Hard. Ow.

His eyes burned, and, also, not metaphorically.

 

[Maestro holding Spook’s wrist, eyes ablaze.]

 

“If you ever try something like that again, I will melt you.” His voice was low and icy.

Hyperbole? Possibly not.

Spook yanked his hand away and rubbed his wrist. “I wouldn’t want to be your sidekick. You’re a dick.”

“And you’re a seventy-year-old child.”

“Well, they do tend to get stuck at the age they died,” Collin added.

“You’re also a dick,” Spook told him.

Collin’s hands sort of displayed his demony form, as if to point out that he was, after all, a demon.

 

[The trio, with Collin displaying himself.]

 

Maestro took the necklace. The thing he had must have convinced—

Maestro startled as if he’d been hit by an electric current.

“Maestro?” Spook moved in, but the other man held up a hand.

“Mary?” He held up the necklace, drilling the demon with orange, glowy eyes. “This was hers?”

Collin gave a Cheshire grin.

 

[Maestro looking pissed. Collin grinning. And Spook looking clueless.]

 

Mary? Spook’s ex was named Mary, the one who’d killed him and turned him into a zombie. Had to be a coincidence. Had to be. Right?

“Who the fuck are you?” Maestro said with more emotion than would have seemed possible ten seconds earlier.

“Someone who has come to collect a debt.” He settled into one hip and gave all his attention to Spook. “I may not have been summoned, but it seems a trifle foolish to drunk text someone who owns your soul.”

What the hell did that even mean?

 

[Collin looking sexy and self-satisfied. Maestro looking worried. Spook still clueless.]

 

“Drat.” The way Maestro said it made it sound like the worst expletive ever. Then he turned to Spook. “Hey, Spook, smile for the camera.”

“What?”

Maestro held up his phone and it flashed.

Wait. Really? Photo opp, now? Spook was so surprised, he pretty much froze.

Maestro turned back to Collin and touched his arm. “Doohickey,” he said, “teleport to back yard.”

And they vanished.

What. in. every. hell. ever. imagined?

[Spook by himself.]

 

 

 

Maestro immediately released the demon. “What are you doing here? You’re not here for my help.” He knew why the demon was there, but he wanted to hear it say the words.

“Collecting on an old debt.” Collin smiled.

 

[Maestro and Collin in back yard.]

 

And there it was. That evil witch, Mary, had tortured Spook for sixteen hours, vivisecting him like a frog in a junior high science class then putting him back together so she could do it all over again, just to drive him insane so a demon could drop by when he died and devour his soul. Well, the insanity thing, and she’d also performed a very complex sex ritual. . .

Sigh. Maestro had also been forced to attend that as well out of fear of discovery.

“You know I’m not going to let you do that,” Maestro insisted. Just don’t think about it.

 

[Maestro and Collin in Anime battle stances, hai!]

 

“I assumed you’d try to stop me.” Collin grinned. The energy from him amped up. The waves washed out like a tide. “Do you really think you can stop me from collecting your pet?”

“He’s not my pet,” Maestro said. “He doesn’t even know I was there.”

“Really?” The demon’s energy slithered away to a neutral position. “Color me intrigued.”

 

[Collin and Maestro facing off, but relaxed.]

 

No one but Maestro’s old friend Percy, who’d ended up taking the boys in when Morri didn’t die, knew what had happened. Would it help the guilt to tell someone? Like a demon he was about to kill anyway?

 

[Maestro and Collin almost casual.]

 

“Mary ripped Morrison apart a hundred times for you,” Maestro said, “to break him down. I was there. I had to listen to his screams because I was so outclassed by her at the time. I didn’t know a millionth of what I know now.” He’d cowered in the choir loft of an abandoned church while that bitch had tortured Morri for hours and hours and hours. And he hadn’t been able to do a thing. He’d been too afraid.

 

[Maestro, looking pretty much like he does now

backed up to the usual couch, looking scared.]

 

Collin smiled. “So, she inspired you?”

Fuck him and everything like him. . . but don’t let it show.

“She used voodoo to keep him alive while she did it,” Maestro said, “then left him there to die.”

Realization dawned across the demon’s face. “Oh! But you were there. You stitched him back together. That’s why the little bitch didn’t just die for me.”

“I literally put the lad’s intestines back in his abdomen.” The thought of it still made Maestro nauseous after everything he’d seen before and since. “His heart back in his chest. Added my own gris gris, a tattoo on Spook’s chest to keep him alive long enough to go home and see his parents one last time.”

 

[Spook with Ankh on his chest.]

 

“And you did all that why?” The demon crossed his arms.

“Because I’m a parent,” Maestro admitted. “And I never got to say goodbye.”

And that, more than anything that had ever happened to Maestro, made him who he was.

Collin stared at him.

Well, fine.

“So. . . . you don’t get to touch the boy,” Maestro said.

And Collin looked over Maestro’s shoulder with a raised eyebrow.

Drat. That only meant one thing.

 

[Spook in socks standing nearby.]

 

“You. . .” Spook said. “You turned me into a zombie?”

Of course. An undead brain wouldn’t be affected by the stasis app on his Doohickey. Drat! He’d have to adjust the settings. “Spook.”

“No. Don’t even try.” He moved around Maestro, into his field of vision. “You came into my house today as if I was a total stranger, but. . .” His face showed revulsion. “You’ve handled my intestines? Who does that without mentioning it?” He flinched. “Ew.”

 

[Spook and Maestro facing off.]

 

The guy who kept him walking around and shooting off his mouth.

But saying that would not be productive.

“I know I have a million questions to answer,” Maestro said as calmly as possible, “but there is a demon here who wants to devour your soul.”

Collin did an appropriately timed finger wiggle.

 

[Collin wiggling his fingers.]

 

“So perhaps we deal with that first?” Maestro suggested.

Morrison opened his mouth and raised an accusatory finger, but he paused.

The finger dropped, and the mouth closed.

“Point taken,” he said, and the finger now pointed at Maestro. “But you and I will still have words, young man.”

Oh, dear gods, he was such a child. Thank the same gods Maestro hadn’t been rendered immortal until he was almost forty.

 

[Spook pointing with one finger. Maestro looking annoyed. And Collin looking amused.]

 

 

 

Since there was still a demon who wanted to take Spook’s soul, maybe he should cut Maestro some slack until they’d vanquished the bastard.

But. . . still. . . he’d put Spook’s intestines back into his body? How the fuck did he not remember that? Well, he had been in shock and possibly kind of insane at the time.

Maestro cleared his throat.

Yes! Focused.

Spook called up a fire ball and threw it.

Collin batted it away like a cat with a crumpled piece of paper.

 

[Spook and Collin with fireball.]

 

Damn.

“Is that the best you have?” Maestro asked. He settled down, held one hand out and a sword appeared in it.

 

[Maestro with a sword. Spook looking surprised.]

 

Holy shit! How did he call up things out of nothing?

“Banishing sword,” Maestro said as the blade sailed Spook’s direction, hilt first.

He caught it, flourished it a few times. Nice! Perfect balance.

“Wait.” Spook faced the creepy stranger, the one who wasn’t a demon. “How is this perfectly balanced for me?”

Again with the blank look. He held one hand out to the side. A second blade appeared. “Please, continue to make me regret reassembling you after the vivisection.”

 

[Spook holding sword. Maestro looking nonchalant with second sword.]

 

Collin struck at Spook with a blade of his own.

Spook blocked it. Wait. Where the hell did he get a blade?

 

[Spook blocking Collin.]

 

Spook kind of had to pay attention to the melee. The demon was freaking fast, and despite his being outnumbered, he held his own.

“You don’t completely suck at melee,” Maestro said, his eyes drilling Spook.

“Well, Percy drilled us every day.” Yikes. Hopefully, everyone ignored the obvious double entendre.

“He learned swordsmanship from King Arthur,” Maestro said. “I’d hope he knew what he was doing.”

What? Spook’s guard dropped, but Maestro covered him until he got his point up again.

 

[Maestro and Collin parrying while Spook drops his guard.]

 

“What the fuck does that mean?” Spook demanded, blocking a low blow and spinning for his own gambit while Maestro kept Collin occupied. Nice. They actually worked well together.

Would he counter?

Spook struck low.

Yes! Maestro feinted high to draw Collin’s attention.

 

[Maestro slicing high, and Collin parrying while Spook strikes low.]

 

Spook’s blade sliced the demon’s leg.

He hissed, danced out of the way.

“Percy,” Maestro said. “Percival? Have you read no Middle English?”

What? Holy shit! “Percy was Sir Percival?”

And suddenly a million odd questions made sense.

Including the way Spook and Maestro had managed to corner the demon.

“He taught you,” Spook said, menacing a cringing Collin. “Percy taught you, too.”

 

[Spook and Maestro menacing Collin by the pool.]

 

Maestro grinned in what had to be the most honest expression of emotion so far.

“He was my first,” Maestro said. “But I’ve also learned from some of the deadliest badasses in the galaxy.”

Holy spit! “I will never try to outcool you.”

“Aargh!” Collin shouted.

Oh yeah. Deadly battle with a demon who wanted to steal Spook’s soul.

Spook and Maestro menaced him identically. Nice.

 

[Battle scene.]

“Wait.” Collin held a hand up.

“What?” Maestro demanded.

Collin snapped his fingers. He smirked.

Half a dozen identical demons appeared to flank him. The smell of Sulphur was overwhelming and obvious.

Fuck.

 

[Shot of lots of Collins. Damn, I wish I had a tripod. Collin 1 is pointing at Maestro.]

 

Collin pointed the snapping fingers at Spook and Maestro.

Maestro raised a hand. “Wait,”

Collin raised an eyebrow. “What?”

Maestro snapped his fingers and held out his hand. An amber crystal appeared.

 

[Some sort of crystal in Maestro’s hand.]

 

Really? He thought a new age-y thing like that would—

“Fuck me!” Collin rushed toward Maestro, then pulled back. “Wait. I’m not stupid, either. I’m not touching that thing.”

 

[Maestro holding crystal. Collin hanging back, Spook reaching for it.]

 

“What is it?” Spook asked, reaching out.

Maestro smacked his hand. “Soul cage.”

Oh? What was that? “Whose soul is in there?” No way would he let either of them know he’d never heard of a “soul cage.”

“There’s more than one,” Maestro said.

Wow creepy.

But Collin seemed close to orgasm over the thing. “You would give me this to save the boy?”

 

[Collin on his knees to be at eye level with the crystal. It should glow a little.]

 

Boy? Spook was. . . well, compared to these two. . .

Maestro held it out.

Collin snapped, and the demons vanished. Wow. He made a yanking motion and the cage flew from Maestro’s hand to his.

He made a little sort of orgasmic noise.

Yikes.

 

[Collin with soul cage.]

 

And Maestro just handed it over? This thing that had a sort of big-time-ish demon close to jazzing? He gave it to Collin to save Spook’s soul?

“You must have very strong feelings for this one,” Collin said.

Which mirrored Spook’s thoughts. Sure, the decades of stranger danger stalking creeped him out, but. . . he had to really—

“His soul,” Maestro said, “and your silence.”

“Excuse me?” Collin asked, obviously as confused as Spook.

 

[Spook and Collin regarding Maestro in confusion.]

 

Maestro sighed. “I give you the soul cage, and his soul is free, and you don’t ever speak about it again.”

What?

“I see.” The raised eyebrow had to mean something. But what?

“E-ver,” Maestro added mysteriously.

“I see.” Well, the way he said that carried busloads of meaning right along the overpass above Spook’s head.

Double damn them both! What did all that mean?

 

[Collin holding up crystal with a raised eyebrow. Maestro looking stern. Spook looking annoyed.]

 

Collin held up the crystal. “It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” And now he wouldn’t even meet Spook’s eyes, as if he suddenly didn’t matter.

“I assure you the pleasure was all yours.” Maestro’s smile was a complete fake.

And sure, maybe falling off this demon’s radar was a good thing. . .  but who wanted to feel. . . inconsequential?

Collin vanished.

Damn it. What had just happened?

Maestro sighed. “Morrison.”

 

[Spook with hands on hips. Maestro looking down.]

 

“What was that thing?” Spook asked. “And how do you know my real name?”

“You really don’t want to know.” He turned Spook to the house and moved him forward.

“Oh,” Spook said, remembering their earlier exchange, “I assure you, I really do.”

“Fine,” Maestro said, opening the back door. “I don’t want to tell you.”

 

[Maestro pushing Spook along.]

 

And he wouldn’t break the way Spook had. Fine.

They made their way through the house to the basement stairs.

“So—” Spook started.

“Don’t.” Maestro pushed him gently down the stairs.

Gently was good, right?

“What he said about—”

“Don’t.” Maestro kept a steady pressure on his back as they descended.

“I was just going to say we make a pretty good team, right?” Spook turned to face the unusual stranger in the middle of the room. “I mean, he knew he had to summon those demons to defeat us, right?”

 

[Spook and Maestro over circle. Spook hopeful. Maestro resigned.]

 

Maestro stood silently.

“We both learned sword-fighting from a freaking knight of Camelot.” That would take Spook several weeks and numerous bottles of magic-enhanced wine to process.

Nothing. No reaction.

“Look,” Spook said, “You just saved my freaking soul, okay. So, thank you for that.”

Maestro nodded. “You’re welcome.”

Well, it was something.

Could he push it? “But the whole creating me in the first place and sort of stranger danger stalking me all these years…” Spook shrugged. “It’s going to take me a while to get my head around that.”

Maestro brushed past him. “No. It’s not.”

What did that even mean?

“Come on.”

 

[Spook and Maestro back in positions from first meeting.]

 

Spook followed Maestro to the edge of the containment circle where they had first met. “You can’t drop all this in my lap and expect me to pretend I don’t know about it. And space witch? Just pretend. . . .” He put his fingers in his ears. “La, la, la. I don’t know anything.”

 

[Spook with fingers in his ears.]

 

He pulled the fingers out and shrugged. “What am I supposed to do with all this? Pretend I know nothing?”

They stood there in the spot of their meeting.

Maestro’s face had gone all neutral again.

Really? After all the revelations and vanquishing a demon, sort of, he was going to pretend it had meant nothing?

What the hell?

Then Maestro’s face beamed. Really, this guy could beam?

 

[Shot of Maestro smiling way too much and pulling Spook in for a selfie.]

 

“Celebratory selfie?” He reached toward Spook.

Really? Well, sure, this was more like—

Flash.

Wow. Bright.

 

[Closeup of Spook, flashed way bright.]

 

#

 

Damn it. What had he been thinking?

“You won’t have to pretend you don’t know anything,” Maestro said, moving away. Idiot.

He’d adjusted his app to make sure it worked on the zombie. When he awoke, Spook wouldn’t remember anything.

 

[Spook looking dazed, Maestro back to Maestro.]

 

“It’s time to intone the spell,” Maestro said.

Morri stood there frozen. If only Maestro could keep him that way like a bug in amber. He’d interfered because the whole summoning a demon out of loneliness seemed. . . well. . . desperate and dangerous.

If the stupid ghoul was heading down that path. . . well, Maestro wasn’t even sure what to do with him had he gone that far to the Dark Side.

 

[Maestro leaning a bit oddly close to Spook, maybe reaching out to him.]

 

Nope. Not going to get involved.

Too dangerous. Too many dark options for the future.

Too many chances for this part of the planet to get flash fried.

Okay. Time to go. No room for sentimentality.

As Maestro climbed the stairs, Spook started the demon summoning spell.

Nope. Way too dangerous to contact him. He couldn’t summon a demon, anyway, and Collin wasn’t a danger for the time being.

Maestro would leave well enough alone.

No reason to contact Spook, after all.

 

[Maestro in front yard with swords, walking toward street.]

 

He left the hideously tacky house and headed to his van, a classic from a simpler time.

He threw the swords into the back of the VW Microbus.

Wait. Why was his van flashing purple and green? And at that obscene hour of the morning, why did neighbors in house coats dot the curb, staring in the direction of Spook’s house and pointing?

 

[Maestro in street with purple and green lights.]

 

Drat.

Double drat.

Maestro looked up.

Yep. A giant hellsmouth swirled over Spook’s home.

 

[Hellsmouth over the house.]

 

He may not have figured out how to summon a demonic version of My Little Pony, but he’d opened that?

Neighbors gathered, most of them likely assuming this was some sort of publicity stunt for the latest reality show.

God damn Austin, Texas!

What to do? Allow hundreds of civilians stood to die so Maestro could prevent Spook from possibly annihilating the state in a few years.

Godsdammit, time travel was a bitch.

Maestro stomped back to the porch.

He hit the doorbell.

He hit it several times more.

[Maestro at front door.]

 

No. Screw it. Too dangerous.

Every time he’d tried to alter the timeline, he’d wound up exploding the fucking planet!

Why would this be any different?

Nope.

He turned to leave.

The door opened.

“You better have pizza!”

 

[Spook shouting in doorway.]

 

The little twerp’s voice still reverberated with demonic overtones.

Fuck.

 

[Shot of Maestro over Spook’s shoulder.]