Seraphina woke to find that she had slept until noon. Regardless of the long hours spent unconscious, she didn’t feel rested. In fact, she felt like she’d been running laps.
Or communing with demons. She mused.
In the silence of her room, she groaned and tossed under cerulean sheets. Golden Autumn sun shined through the windows. Birds were singing outside, mocking her. Reluctantly, she got up and dressed for the day in jeans and a dark sweater. After a quick breakfast she slipped on her sneakers, deciding on a walk to clear her heavy mind.
Some fresh air will do you good. She told herself. Get out, get some sun, feel better.
She crunched along a gravel path until she came to Main Street. The city of Sin Claire was no larger than a few square miles, and “town” equated to several quaint buildings, most needing new paint. She breathed deeply, mourning the enthusiasm for the place she’d felt weeks prior. She’d been so excited to move to the sleepy little town with its Gold Rush motif and old-timey signs. It had seemed like the perfect mountain escape. Now she could only sigh as everything that had once looked cozy, sat eerily silent under a fog of chilling uncertainty.
Seraphina passed a butcher shop, hunting lodge and post office after rounding the corner. There were only a couple folks out and about, which was usual for Sin Claire; a far cry from the city bustle she was use to. She passed a doctor’s office, too and a small police and fire station combo. The building she was headed for, Sin Claire General Store, came into view at the end of the road.
Shuffling passed the old fashioned gas pumps in the front lot, she made her way to the establishment steps. They moaned as she ascended. Seraphina glared up at the bell that chimed overhead as she opened the door; the sound too similar to the one that haunted her at home. A burly man looked up from his paper at the counter, inclining his head but saying nothing.
She perused the shelves for anything interesting, taking her time and trying to enjoying the moments away from home. She spotted cat food for her new furry friend before heading to the cold food section. Catching sight of a single serving, red velvet cake in one of the back refrigerators lifted her spirits instantly. She scooped it up and the made her way to the checkout.
Winston, if the clerk’s name tag was to be believed, grumbled to himself and started to ring her up. She assessed the items behind the counter as he did so; noting jars of pickled eggs, jerky, a mounted stag head and shining rifle on a rack.
“Do a lot of hunting, huh?” She offered, trying to make conversation.
He glanced up at her but stayed silent otherwise.
Yikes. She thought.
Her gaze wandered to a stand on the counter holding seasonal seeds and she plucked one up to read the packaging.
Pomegranates. She snorted, thinking of Hades and Persephone. Oh the trouble we’re both in.
She wondered how Persephone was fairing in the Underworld; wondered if she herself would suffer the same fate at the hands of Noxul some day.
She shook those thoughts away. “These too.” She told Winston, sliding the seeds over to him. He picked them up with a grunt before tapping at his register and adding them to her bag.
Seraphina paid the man and left, wondering how long she’d have held out in the Underworld if she’d been in Persephone’s shoes.
Back at home, she made for the kitchen and gasped in disbelief when she spotted Noxul’s card on the island counter. It was in clear view, looking as if it belonged even though the last time she’d seen it was when she stored it in her dresser. She cringed and looked around. Nothing else was out of place and she noted the blessed absence of otherworldly chill.
“That’s a nifty trick, Ghost Boy.” She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of using his name.
Seraphina unloaded her grocery bag before pulling dishes from the cupboard. She placed a glass cup face down like a force field over the slip of offending parchment.The glass wasn’t likely to make it stay put, but placing it there felt much like planting a flag. I’ve been here, I’ve seen this. It’s real. If it pulled another disappearing act, which it might, finding it empty later would serve as a reminder of her situation. A reminder that things move that she does not touch.
And that’s what you need. She explained to herself. A solid marker that things are wrong in this place. Maybe his way you won’t accept it all so casually.
Next she filled a bowl with cat food. Then she went out to the back porch. She’d intended to call for the cat from the day before but spotted him first, curled up in one of the terra-cotta pots that lined the back wall.
She leaned over the wooden railing and said, “Afternoon, Grumpy. Are you napping or sulking about yesterday?” She shook the food, the sound drawing his attention.
His orange eyes opened and blinked up at her lazily before yawning and licking around his dramatic teeth.
“There’s food here for you,” She glanced at yesterday’s water bowl that was still half full,” and drink if you’re thirsty.” She surveyed the sad looking plant pots stacked around the porch. “What do you think, Cat? Should I put these pots to good use?”
He yawned again in response.
Seraphina fetched the seeds she’d acquired, deliberately not looking at Noxul’s card as she did so. When she returned she was pleased that the cat didn’t flee like she assumed he would; not even when she neared him to snatch up a pot. He did, however, sit up to peak at her over the terra-cotta rim of his new napping place.
The seed package said that it was the right time of year to start pomegranates. They could be seeded inside and moved outside later. Seraphina sprayed out her pot with the back hose, smirking to herself when the cat didn’t startle at that either. Then she set to filling it with rich, moist earth from the loose dirt beside the house.
“If you’re going to come around often, I’ll have to give you a name.” She told her new feline friend.
When he’s not stuck in a bush and screaming, he’s aloof and unimpressed like a King. Seraphina mused as she planted.
The cat was entirely too rugged to be called King, though; or Prince.
Perhaps another royal title, then? Maybe Duke, or…
“Baron.” She said, looking over at him. “I could call you Baron. It’s a tough name for a tough little cat.”
Baron let out one of his little shouting meows and Seraphina laughed.
“It’s nice having someone to talk to. Someone real.” She said. “I’ve been shouting at empty space for what seems like a lifetime. Oh, did you know the house is haunted?”
Baron leapt from his pot to investigate the food she’d left him. Seraphina pretended he was listening intently to her conversation.
“There’s a tall smokey man who likes to ring bells in the night and leave gifts.” She thought back to her latest dream. “There might even be an Egyptian crocodile woman in the basement. Oh! And the basement may or may not be a gateway to Hell. Riveting stuff, really.”
She finished potting some seeds, soaked the soil and then rose to carry it up to the house. Baron still didn’t run but he scooted as far from her as the back stoop would allow. Inside she set the pot on the front window sill, where a good amount of light would reach it.
She thought she’d sit for a meal but lost her appetite immediately when she spotted the glass cup on the counter. Black smoke swirled within it, gleaming with blue and purple hues.
Now do you see? She thought. Now do you fear?
She stood stock still for a few moments before hesitantly reaching to lift it. The dark smoke puffed out, dissipating immediately and revealing that the card was gone once again.
A chuckle that wasn’t her own burbled up from the depths of the house.
She snarled, “Keep the damned thing! I won’t play your game!” Then she sulked up to her attic studio without waiting for a reply.
Her bust of Lovecraft was sporting a fresh new pair of eyes about an hour later. Seraphina was in her element. Covered in muck up to her forearms and only faintly aware of the rooms drop in temperature. When she finally stopped her smearing and smoothing of grey Soldate, it was due to the echoing of one of her least favorite sounds.
Rodent feet scampered distantly in the house. She froze, straining her ears for any hint of human footfalls. When they didn’t come, she sighed and was as about to press her sculpting tool to the clay again when a bell tinkled just behind her.
Memories of her dream flooded through her and she held her breath. The sunlight in the room waned as if dark clouds had suddenly obscured the sun. She turned around, discovering that clouds were not the cause of the new dimness, but dark shadows swirling around the central window. They thickened and writhed. Two distinct lavender pinpoints flared to life and hovered like eyes. The smoke settled into the familiar shape of a man.
She gripped the sculpting tool in her hands more tightly, feeling a bought of deja vu wash over her. She wished she’d thought to bring up her trusty bat, or owned a gun or anything else more useful than her wooden tools. She cast her gaze around for a better weapon like she had the first time he’d visited the attic. It was then that the shadows in her periphery seemed to morph into wriggling tentacles. When her eyes snapped back to the shadow man, they were just as they had been before, smoking and billowing.
She moved her gaze just slightly away from him again. The instant she was not fully focusing on him, he transformed again into a mass of animal parts and snapping maws.
“Hello Seraphina…” the familiar voice of Noxul greeted her.
Seraphina pinned his eyes with a glare, deciding she’d stay sane for longer if she looked directly at him. “Ghost Boy.” She omitted with more courage than she felt, refusing to use his name and rubbing her thumb along her clay tool.
“That will do nothing. I’m not here to harm you, anyways.” He said.
Her breath fogged in front of her face as she held up the wooden blade, “I’m willing to try it.”
He let out a chuckle that grated on her already raw nerves. “Come now, I just want to talk.” The shadows tightened in on themselves, the visage of him becoming clearer. She still couldn’t make out his face but now there was a distinct billowing about him that suggested a long jacket or cloak.
So it’s all real, then… She thought.
A sharp pressure at the base of her skull ripped a hiss from her and Noxul answered her thought as if she’d voiced it. “Very real indeed. Did you think upon my offer, by chance?”
“The Summoning? I already gave you my answer.” She growled, dropping her gouging tool and gripping her temples.
Did he just read my mind? She thought. Is that what that was?
She felt the strange pressure again.
“Oh Seraphina, you catch on so fast! What a joy!”
“Why do you even need me if you can show up in broad daylight and pry into my head, huh? Seems like you’re getting on just fine!”
He giggled. Actually full out giggled like a child. “Oh, a few fancy tricks won’t solve this problem, Little One. I need a physical body to make any real progress.” He sighed dramatically. “But if you still have your doubts I can wait. You’ll change your mind eventually…”
“Horseshit.” She spat.
“Horse… shit…” He tested the phrase as if he’d never heard it before.
“Yeah, horseshit. I’m not Summoning you even if my life depends on it! Now get out!”
“Your life does depend on it very much.” He told her, the tendrils on his head waving in a nonexistent breeze. “Sobek didn’t appreciate my intervention last night one bit. The few of her cohort she has sent into your world have been busy amassing power for hours. Soon she’ll pop through the breach. You’ll want me on your side when that happens.” The last sentence he spoke in a sing-song voice that irritated her further.
“I’ll take my chances.”
Two rows of sharp gleaming teeth appeared in his smoking face. “Fine, fine.” He said, jaw gnashing. “Burn my card, for all I care. You’re the one who’ll be sorry, not me…” His smoking form folded in on itself then and he dissipated in a gust of fridged air.
The card in question burst into existence where he had been with a pop of displaced air and black smoke. It floated to the ground innocently, rocking back and forth like an autumn leave as it went.
She eyed it suspiciously before snatching it up and returning to her work, mind full of wariness and uncertainty.
Before getting into bed that night, Seraphina decided to take matters into her own hands.
“Burn my card, for all I care…” She recalled his words from earlier.
“I don’t know what kind of freaky reverse psychology you’re trying to pull, Ghost Boy.” She huffed, standing at her bathroom sink with a lighter held to the card, “But I’m done…” She set the parchment aflame, smirking. “Let’s see how you like that, eh?”
After that, she slipped into bed, feeling like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.