This short story takes place in the universe of the Nichol Coven, a modern world where secret witches try to find their place. I hope you enjoy it!
If you’d rather read this short story on an ereader, you can grab .mobi and .epub versions here!
I took a long drag on my cigarette. The sun was slowly disappearing behind the buildings ahead of me. It was getting a bit cold. I probably should have brought my coat out with me. Too late for that now, though.
I held out the cigarette to my shoulder, and Nyami took a drag on it, blowing the smoke out with a hiss. “It is getting a bit desperate,” she said.
It really shouldn’t have been. They both were exhibiting flu symptoms, and they didn’t seem to be in particularly weak health, from their records. Yet they kept deteriorating every day. Mr. Carlyle had passed out last night, and seemed to be in a coma. That’s no flu. I had spent most of the work day trying to figure out what in the world it was, but it was obvious that whatever it was needed to go, and traditional techniques weren’t working.
I unscrewed my water bottle and downed half of it before taking another drag. “I should know what this is. I shouldn’t have to. And they’re going make so many problems for me again,” I said.
“At least this time, perhaps, you can research after the fact for an explanation,” Nyami said. “Then it will be easier to answer inquiries into the nature of your treatment.”
“Yeah, I suppose I could just keep it bottled and look into it at home,” I said with a sigh.
Nyami hissed in agreement.
“Well, guess that’s decided,” I said. “You’ll keep a lookout for me for when they’re alone, right?” I held up the cigarette to Nyami to finish it.
“Of course,” she said.
“For who being alone?” Nyami made an annoyed hiss as I pulled the cigarette away before she had a chance, and turned to Lynn as she walked out the door. Lynn smiled at me. “Are you talking to yourself again, Dr. Osman?”
“I guess so,” I said, finishing off the cigarette. Nyami kept hissing, frustrated, but it’s not like I could do anything about it with Lynn here. Don’t know why she was giving me shit about it. “Mark this as the 22nd time I’ve told you just to call me Michael.”
“I guess this’d be the 22nd time where I’ve told you it’s not proper to do so at work!” Lynn said with a smile.
“What are you doing out here, Lynn?”
“Looking for you.”
“Yeah, obviously, but why?”
“You told me you’d check in on Ms. Seyer earlier, and never did.”
“Shit… which one is she again?”
“Right. Okay. Sorry.” I opened up my water bottle and finished it off. “I’ll go right now.”
“That’s the boring reminder, but there’s another one you’d want to hear,” Lynn said.
“Mr. Mwenda was just found unconscious, which would be fine, rest and all that, but nobody can wake him.”
“Just like Mr. Carlyle. Fantastic,” I said.
“Yeah, something like that,” Lynn said. “Have you gotten it figured out yet?”
“Maybe. We’ll see.”
Lynn nodded, and hesitated. “I’m looking forward to seeing how you handle this,” she finally said, before turning around and heading back in the door.
Lynn was the real thorn in my side. She paid too much attention when I had to use, shall we say, non-traditional healing methods. If I was a less caring person I would have probably set her up for a minor accident so she’d be transferred elsewhere by now. But I could tell she was just legitimately interested and generally thought me to be some sort of role model. I’m not going to say that’s not flattering. Even if the truth is something different than she’d ever imagine. I had gotten so tired of making up excuses that last time I’d had to heal someone and she was asking questions about how he recovered so quickly, I had just told her the truth.
“I’m a warlock. I healed him with magic,” I had said.
Nyami, who had been sitting on my shoulder like usual, hissed, annoyed. “Do you want to get fired?” she had said.
Lynn had stared for a moment, and then just laughed. “That desperate to keep it a secret, huh? Are you writing a paper on it?”
Well, she can’t ever say I didn’t tell her the truth.
“Sorry,” I said to Nyami after I was sure Lynn wasn’t going to pop back out the door.
“It’s alright. But I suppose you don’t have time for another one to make it up to me,” she said.
“Yeah, not right now.”
“Fine. I get my own next time, then,” she said.
Nyami disappeared, and I headed back inside, refilled my water bottle, and got to back to work. It took longer than I expected for Nyami to rematerialize and hiss softly that Mr. Carlyle was alone. I made excuses and rushed quickly to his room before closing the door.
“What took so long?” I asked Nyami.
“He apparently has a very concerned wife. She finally forced herself to leave for dinner.”
“Well, good for him. Glad he’ll have someone waiting for him…” I topped off my water bottle in the sink, and set it down on the little table over his bed. He did not look any worse than when I last visited him in an official capacity, but he certainly didn’t look any better.
“I will keep watch outside,” Nyami said, and disappeared.
I stuck my finger in the water bottle and chanted in Shona. It didn’t take long before I could feel the water rippling around my skin, and I pulled it all out of the bottle in a long strand. “Hold tight, this’ll only take a second,” I said to Mr. Carlyle, then chanted again. The strand of water honed in on Mr. Carlyle’s mouth and nose, forcing itself in and down. I concentrated, my hand still touching the tail end of the water strand by awkwardly pressing against his mouth. I twitched my hands a little this way and that, working it through him. And then I pulled back, bringing the water with it.
As the strand came out, it looked brackish, almost black. I frowned. This was a lot darker than I’d been expecting. Then again, I reminded myself, this clearly wasn’t the flu. Normally, I’d force the water down the sink and be done with it. But Nyami was right. It’d be better to get a full magical read on it so I knew what non-magical treatments to say I had done. It’d be way easier to identify with a spell anyway. I forced the water back in the bottle, and sealed the lid.
And then I sighed, because now my water bottle was filled with sickness juice. I really should have brought another bottle. I had not thought this through. My mouth was already dry from the spellcasting.
“Bartering hydration would be no problem,” young me had said. “It’s not like it’s hard to drink a lot of water.” Bah.
Guess I’d just have to go buy a bottle of water from a vending machine before I dealt with Mr. Mwenda. And drop off this bottle in my car. The last thing I needed was to accidentally take a drink from it while I wasn’t thinking. And then it was off to Mr. Mwenda to repeat the process, and then a lot of covering my ass over why I had spent all that time doing something other than what I was supposed to be doing.
Even when you magically remove a disease, the body still has to recover. It uses a lot of energy trying to fight the illness off, and that takes awhile to come back. I wasn’t expecting Mr. Carlyle to be fully up and about yet, but I was expecting him to be awake when I went to check on him the next day.
He was worse.
I flipped through his chart. He’d had a little upswing where he was having an easier time breathing after my treatment, but he soon started deteriorating again.
“What in the world…” I said softly.
“I-is something wrong?” Mrs. Carlyle said.
I smiled and put on my bedside manner face. “Someone just filled out the chart wrong, that’s all. Was confused about what they did.”
I then went on and on about how I was working very hard to figure out what was wrong with her husband, and how we were going to try a different medicine this afternoon to see if he responded to it better, and so on and so on. A normal doctor would have had to say that, but I should have solved the problem last night. I’d had another speech planned.
I whispered to Nyami as I walked out of the room, “I didn’t mess up the spell, did I?”
“You’ve done it many, many times. I don’t know why you would,” Nyami said, materializing on my shoulder.
“I didn’t. So why is he still sick?”
“I don’t know, Michael.”
I hadn’t really had time to do any research last night. All I’d done is transfer the sickness into another bottle and clean out my water bottle REALLY good, and then relaxed with David as he asks me to actually do once and awhile as my husbandly duty. I didn’t think I was in any rush. It’d take awhile for people to register the “miraculous” recovery.
I checked on Mr. Mwenda. He was similarly worse. I downed the contents of my water bottle angrily and just stared at him, wondering what, exactly, had gone wrong. I nearly jumped as a bird at the window, which I hadn’t noticed, suddenly took flight. It must have been standing very still.
“You’re clearly too lost in thought,” I scolded myself before refilling my water bottle and leaving the room.
I tried the treatment on both of them once more before I went home for the night. At worst, it seemed to slow the sickness down a little bit. At best, I had just been off my game, and this would cure them. I had filled another bottle with the sickness, as well, so I could see if something had changed. This time I was smart enough to put it in a cheap, disposable bottle.
“Hey, Michael!” I heard David call from his office as I got home. He got up and walked into the living room as I hung up my coat, and we kissed. “Oh no, what is that? A potion?” he said, referring to the bottle of disgusting sickness water in my hand.
“It’s… something I’m researching,” I said. “With Nyami,” I added, to make what kind of research I was talking about clear.
David nodded. It was still weird to have him understand. We’d dated a long time before we got married, and I’d kept the whole magic thing a secret for most of it. Once we moved in together, it was much harder than I thought to hide how I drink three or more gallons of water on an average day and talk to a snake that nobody can see. So I had to tell him. He took my coming out of the magical closet shockingly well, all things considered, but it still felt strange to talk to a non-spirit about magic stuff. I never really deal with other warlocks and witches, but even if I did, they wouldn’t require all the explanations that David needed to understand things. I had started making in bulk a potion he could take sips from to hear Nyami, and that helped a lot to help him get a grasp on it. But even when he didn’t get the theories behind what I was doing, he was supportive of how important all this stuff he can’t even interact with is to me. I really hooked a good one.
“Going to be working on that all night, then?” David asked.
“I hope not,” I said.
“This is a very peculiar situation,” Nyami said. “I do not think we currently know enough to make a good estimate of how long it’ll take to get a grasp of it.”
“Fair enough,” David said, nodding and smiling. “Guess I’ll be in charge of dinner then, and you two can get to work.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“You owe me,” he said, chuckling, and headed to the kitchen to start something.
“Well, shall we?” Nyami asked. I nodded, and headed into my office. The bottle of ick from the other day was sitting there, waiting for me to have at it. I grabbed a marker, labelled the latest one so I could tell the two bottles apart, and then stared at them for a moment before realizing I’d need bowls.
“Changed your mind? Going to cook something?” David said as I walked in, grinning as he looked up from the pantry.
“Just need some bowls,” I said, searching cabinets until I collected several small bowls and a really wide, shallow bowl we often used for salads.
“We really should just get you some magicking bowls. You’re always grabbing these,” he said.
“It’s not like I’m tainting them or anything.”
“Yeah, but come on, you could have a bowl +1 or something, to make all that weird water have +1 more weird.”
“Maybe we could paint some pentagrams on it too, or something.”
“Now you’re thinking,” David said with a grin.
“These are fine. I don’t do all this stuff that often.”
“Okay, fine, maybe we should order some more bowls,” I said. “Can I go now?”
David just shook his head, smiling brightly, and went back to searching for tonight’s dinner.
I filled one of the bowls with water from the sink and walked back to the office. I set the fresh water up next to another small bowl, which I filled with a good chunk of the water from the original ick bottle.
I summoned my spellbook next to all of it and started flipping through it. “Where should we even start with this?” I asked.
“A simple probe to get a list of features, I would think. From there we can start narrowing it down with specific tests,” Nyami said, materializing on the corner of the desk.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, sticking my fingertips into the fresh water and chanting until the water curled around my knuckles and spiked into a probe. I took a moment to drink from my water bottle, and then gathered the polluted water onto the spike, and started chanting various data-gathering spells.
“This is… something is wrong here,” I said.
“It is strange…” Nyami said.
“It isn’t responding like an infection or a virus… it’s like this is some sort of… I don’t know… cardboard standee version of a disease. Looks like one from a distance, but up close isn’t at all like that.” I set the clean and infected water back in their respective bowls and leaned back in my chair, thinking.
“Let’s head to the balcony,” Nyami suggested.
I nodded, and held out my arm so she could slither up it onto my shoulder. I pushed open the glass door, sat down in the chair, and lit two cigarettes.
“Perhaps we are coming at this from the wrong angle,” Nyami said before taking another drag.
“If it does not look or act like a disease, then surely it is not.”
“But it’s making people sick.”
“There are other ways to make people sick, perhaps.”
I just sat there for awhile, thinking, as we both finished our cigarettes. “So you’re saying this is a curse. An enchantment.”
“I think we should check,” Nyami said.
“Yeah, yeah…” I rubbed both of them out in the ashtray and stood back up. “Suppose it couldn’t hurt.”
A few minutes and a liter of water later, I found myself looking at obvious magical residue.
“I feel ridiculous for missing this,” I said. “This was obviously made by magic. Not magical itself, but some spell or something like it generated these not-viruses.”
“It’s much harder to see these sorts of things at a micro level,” Nyami said. “Also, your containment potion would have concealed the magic with your own.”
“Thank you for the excuses for my failures,” I said.
I set the water back in the bowl. “But now that we know it’s probably a curse, what in the world am I supposed to do? I’m no expert on things like that, and neither are you.”
“We’ll never know if we can help until we try.”
“Yeah, you’re right… tomorrow at work we should look for where the spell is, or how they’re enchanted. It’s not obvious, or I would have spotted it just looking at them… Maybe it’s something I can modify my containment for. Or, hell, even schedule a surgery to yank out if it’s tied to something non-vital.”
Nyami hissed in approval.
“Dr. Osman!” Lynn called as I hurried down the hall. I was trying to get to see Mr. Carlyle before my shift technically started to see what I could find. But now I was caught. So I stopped, and turned.
“Yeah?” I said.
“I thought you’d want to know,” Lynn said. “There’s been another case.”
Nyami hissed in surprise on my shoulder. “Another one?” I said.
“A Mr. Alenta in 311,” she said. “And I’m kind of assuming, but it seems similar. Really intense flu-like symptoms that came on quickly.”
“That… does sound like the same thing…” I said.
“Have you figured out what it is? This is… not good if it continues to spread,” Lynn said.
“I’m getting closer, yeah. And I’ll take a look.”
“This way,” Lynn said. We walked down the hall to room 311 and walked in. In the bed was another sick-looking man. He was awake, but looked quite pale.
Sitting next to him was a girl with bunny ears.
At first I thought they were some sort of really strange headband, but no, they were just bunny ears. They had that slightly off look that magical things had. I frowned.
“Rich, Sylvia, this is Dr. Osman,” Lynn said. “He’s going to be working with you to beat this thing.”
The girl, Sylvia according to Lynn, turned to look at me, and then froze in place like someone had hit pause on a DVD player. I followed her eyes as she held still. She wasn’t looking at me. She was looking at Nyami, on my shoulder.
“A witch,” Nyami hissed softly. Well, even witches have families that get sick.
“Sylvia, are you okay?” Lynn asked.
The girl finally started moving again. “I… I’m… I’m fine…” She fidgeted, uncomfortable with the attention. She looked dangerously thin.
Lynn looked to me, concerned. I ignored her for the time being. “It’s nice to meet you both,” I said. “And how are you feeling, Rich?” I said to the man in bed, who looked like he was barely following the conversation. I asked him some basic diagnostic questions. It certainly seemed very similar to the other two cases.
“Well, just relax. We’ll do everything we can, don’t worry,” I said. Lynn and I then left. I was pretty sure the girl with the bunny ears was staring at me the whole time. I was glad to get out of her view.
“This does seem the same, you’re right,” I said to Lynn. “You know the drill, then.”
Lynn nodded. “I can handle it.”
“Thanks. I’ll check on them later,” I said, and then walked off.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Nyami asked.
I sighed, and went into the routine we normally used when we needed to talk without privacy. I pulled out my phone, fiddled with it for a second, then, putting it to my ear, said, “What are you thinking?”
“It’s a strange coincidence that a witch would be right there with someone afflicted with this disease of magical origin,” Nyami said.
“That’s a pretty large conclusion to jump to,” I said.
“She was terrified of me, and of you. Surely you saw it.”
“Anyone would be scared if their father was sick in the hospital.”
“But they were staring at us. People who could notice the disease was magical in nature.”
“Well, yes…” I said, frowning and opening my water bottle, drinking several large gulps.
“There is the possibility she is innocent, but you should keep an eye on her,” Nyami said.
“I suppose it can’t hurt. I’ll be keeping track of her father anyway. I’ve got to go, I’m on the clock. Okay, bye.” I pretended to hang up my phone. Nyami hissed softly. She thought all that charade was pretty silly. But I already had a reputation for talking to myself. I didn’t need to make it worse.
It took most of the day before I could check on the curse itself. I didn’t have much time with Mr. Carlyle, because his wife was going to be back soon, so I purged him of the not-viruses once more, figuring it couldn’t hurt, and left. I had more time with Mr. Mwenda, however, and I closed the door and got to work.
“Now let’s see where this curse is…” I said, rippling some water from my bottle and then pulling it out, pushing it into my eyes. The water went dark as I used it to give me dark sight, a simple spell that helps one to see the details of magic. I spent way more time than was necessary looking over Mr. Mwenda, trying to find the source of the curse. I emptied and refilled my water bottle once during the course of it.
Finally, I sat down in the chair in the room, defeated. There was no magic on Mr. Mwenda at all. There was that slight residue on the sickness inside him, but nothing that could generate that sickness.
“This is ridiculous,” I said.
“Something must be making this disease,” Nyami said with an annoyed hiss.
“Maybe it…” I said, and then stopped as I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and turned to the window. Because of the haphazard expansionist way the hospital was built, several rooms on the third floor overlooked a two story connecting building between this and the emergency ward. Mr. Mwenda’s room had a great view of the roof. And on that roof was the bunny girl. She had just went past this window, and was moving to another, hesitantly, like she was following something. “What is she doing out there?” I said.
“I will go check,” Nyami said, and dematerialized. Almost immediately, she came back.
“That was quick?” I said.
“There was a wolf spirit,” Nyami said, her voice a frustrated hiss. “It nearly bit me.”
“A wolf spirit?” I said. “Why in the world would a wolf be on the roof?”
“To protect the witch,” Nyami said, “Obviously.”
“Hm,” I said. “Yeah, I guess so.” I stood. “Can you even get hurt though, Nyami? I thought you were a goddess.”
“I am a goddess,” she hissed. “And I would not die as long as our contract stands and I am able to pull energy from you. But it would still hurt.”
“Fair enough.” I stood, refilled my water bottle, and took a drink. “So if there’s not an enchantment on Mr. Mwenda, then how is he getting infected? Someone could be casting a spell on him and then leaving, but if so, I would have healed them the first time around, right? That’s why we thought there was something generating all this.”
“If he’s not enchanted, that must be the case, though,” Nyami said. “Someone like that little witch could be recasting it each time you heal them.”
“That’s some dedication…”
“I’m not sure what else it could be,” Nyami said.
“Surely I would have noticed someone with magical ability moving through the hospital for multiple days now? I mean, I certainly didn’t miss our bunny girl.”
We sat there and thought. Finally, I sighed. “I need a cigarette.”
“Let’s heal him again to be safe and then go do that…” I said, and then stopped. “Hm. Wait, if someone is recasting, if I heal him again they’ll have to come back and use the spell again.”
Nyami hissed happily. “Ah, yes! We could set up a scrying pool.”
“The question is, where can I hide a small pool of water that a nurse won’t dispose of all night…” I said, looking around. I eventually filled a styrofoam cup with water and placed it underneath Mr. Mwenda’s bed. It wasn’t the perfect view, but it probably wouldn’t be disturbed, and I would at least get a somewhat decent view of the doorway. Then I did my whole healer routine, and finally got outside to fill my lungs with smoke.
The next day, I was off, and so I had plenty of time to see what had happened with my scry. I’d be able to see around the water any time it was in motion, which should happen any time someone walked into the room, thanks to their footsteps. But I’d need a big view.
“Taking a bath?” David asked, stretching, as I filled the tub. He had just gotten out of bed. I guess the running water woke him up.
“I need a big pool of water for a spell,” I said.
He chuckled. “Ah, of course, how silly of me to assume you were relaxing on your day off. My mistake.”
I stood up and smiled at him. “I think it’d be hard to relax in the tub anyway. We both probably couldn’t fit in it.”
“I think if we could both fit in it, we wouldn’t be doing much relaxing,” David said.
I chuckled, and stepped over to kiss him. “You’re probably right.” He wrapped his arms around me, and we just pressed together for a moment before I finally broke it off. “This won’t take too long, I hope. And if it’s good news, then I’m free the rest of the day.”
“I totally believe you,” David said, and stole one more kiss. “I’m going to make some coffee. Should I bring you some?”
“Probably,” I said, and turned back to the tub. “Thank you.”
“And I do have work, so I will need that shower at some point, okay?”
David left, and Nyami rematerialized on my shoulder. She always had the common courtesy to give us space when things were getting romantic. “Shall we?” she said.
I chanted, making waves in the water with my hand. Soon, I had it tuned in, so to speak, on the cup of water under Mr. Mwenda’s bed. And I watched, in quick motion, every moment where the water was moving between when I had set it there and now. I couldn’t see faces, but I watched the doorway and people going in and out.
“These are all scrubs…” I said. “These are all probably nurses and other doctors… I know I would have noticed another magic user on the staff…”
“Perhaps they were disguised?” Nyami suggested.
“Maybe…” There was one moment where the water moved and nobody entered. I went back to that one, and watched it. “There’s something off about this,” I said.
“I don’t see how?” Nyami said.
“The only thing that would be shaking the water now that I could see would be Mr. Mwenda making a big movement,” I said. “But there’s no way he could do that in that coma. Or at least, it’d be unlikely.”
“Unlikely doesn’t mean impossible,” Nyami said.
I drew some water from the tub and gave myself dark sight once more, and pointed the image up towards the bed. I sighed. “Okay, that’s a spell going off.” It was hard to see through Mwenda and the bed, but that magical energy was there.
“So whoever was doing it was not actually entering the room?” Nyami said. “I suppose it could be possible at the window.”
I sat back on the bath mat and sighed. “And there’s one magic user we know who’s been snooping about the roof outside the window. That’s what you’re going to say, right?”
Nyami hissed happily as she nodded.
“Okay, then we’ll go find her.”
David walked back in, holding out a mug of coffee. I stood and took it. “All done in here?”
“Yeah, we are. Go right ahead.”
“I… have a lot to do today.”
David nodded. “Get those patients saved soon, Michael. You do need to take a break at some point.”
“I’ll get it. Don’t worry.”
“This is your day off. You should go home,” Lynn said, frowning at me.
“Yes, well, I’m running an errand. Sort of.” I said. “Is that Alenta girl here? Sylvia, you said her name was?”
“I haven’t seen her today, but her mother is here,” Lynn said. “Just got in from out of town. Her father is… not doing so hot.”
“I’m working on it,” I said. “I suppose I could ask her mother if she knows where she is.”
Lynn gave me an odd look. “Why are you looking for a high schooler who is not ill on your day off?”
“It’s… I’ll explain later,” I said. “Don’t you have work to do?”
Lynn rolled her eyes, but left. I headed to room 311. Mr. Alenta looked even worse. He was sleeping. I hoped he’d wake up again of his own accord, but I had no real way of knowing for sure. Sitting next to him, though, was a woman, clearly his wife.
“Hello,” I said. “Are you Mrs. Alenta?”
“Yes… who are you?” said the woman, turning towards me.
“I’m Dr. Michael Osman, I’m one of the people looking after your husband.”
She looked me over. “I’m sorry, but you’re not dressed like a doctor.”
“It’s my day off,” I said.
“…okay,” said Mrs. Alenta.
Well, I wasn’t going to do any worse. “I’m looking for your daughter. We met the other day. I’ve been told that she was there when her father collapsed and brought him in here. I have a question to ask her.” I hoped that was a correct assumption. It made sense with the situation where I had first met her, but I didn’t really know.
“Well, you’ve missed her. She’s off getting some rest. Been a long night before I got here…” Mrs. Alenta said.
“Of course… well, I’ll check back another time, then,” I said, and turned to go. But then I stopped. If I had told the person closest to me in my life about my situation, would she have told her parents? She was still a kid, after all. I turned back around. “Actually one more thing, if I could.”
“I…” I looked for words. “Are you aware of your daughter’s… obsession with rabbits?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Oh. You’re one of them.”
“Uh, yes…” I said.
“We have an agreement,” she said. “She doesn’t tell and I don’t question. So I don’t know where she is, exactly, and I’m not really going to think about it. I have enough to worry about without worrying about her right now.”
“Yes, of course…”
“But she mentioned she had to go back to campus, and when I asked her why she said I wouldn’t want to know. So.”
“Her and her father were in town touring OTU. Campus tour.”
“Ah, I see.”
“And that’s all I know.” She turned away from me, looking back at her husband. “And I’m only telling you because if you know what she is, you’re her friend, and while I don’t know what she gets up to, I can understand there’s safety in having more of you people. So if you find her, take care of her for me.”
“I’ll do my best,” I said, trying to follow.
“Now leave us alone, okay? At least until you’re here in an official capacity.”
I stepped out.
“An interesting woman,” Nyami said.
“An interesting position to take, if she knows the bunny girl’s a witch,” I said.
“If she’s sending us on some sort of rescue mission, what do you think she thinks her daughter is up to?” Nyami asked.
“I don’t know, but I suppose we best drive to the campus and see if we can find her.”
After stopping at the first official-looking building I bumped into on OTU’s campus and asking around, nobody had seen the bunny girl, but they did know about Mr. Alenta’s collapse, and it appeared to happen at the campus museum, where they showcased a small collection of local art. It was as good a place to start as any.
I pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car. The building didn’t look particularly busy or anything. I could see someone sitting at a desk inside, and some paintings somewhere. But as I reached the door and moved to open it, something crashed down behind me from the roof.
Nyami hissed wildly as she looked back at whatever it was. I turned.
Sprinting away from the museum at high speed was a monster. There was no other word to describe it. Muscles bulged, terrifyingly big, as it ran, it’s paws slapping against the pavement. It was looking at the sky as it moved. One of it’s arms seemed to have something wrapped around it, and it was holding what looked like a cell phone.
“Nobody else can see it!” Nyami hissed urgently. She was right. There were students walking, but none of them even turned an eye as it bounded down the street.
“…we better follow. It might hurt someone,” I said, and started running after it. It was quickly obvious what a terrible decision that was. The monster was huge, with a much longer stride, and way faster than I could ever hope to be. Almost immediately, I lost it around the corner of a building. I cursed.
“Keep running. I’ll try to scout ahead,” Nyami said, and disappeared.
I turned the corner where I had lost sight of it and found myself in a kind of alleyway between banks of buildings. Nyami reappeared on my shoulder. “There’s a courtyard out there to your left. It’s stopped there!”
I made the left turn, and found myself in big, open space between buildings where few people seemed to be. An expensive-looking fountain bubbled away in the middle. Trees dotted small patches of grass around. The monster seemed to be looking up at one of the trees, and trying to work the cell phone. It’s claws kept getting in the way.
“Hey!” I called out to it.
Nyami hissed. “Why did you do that?”
The monster turned somewhat sideways. It’s eyes were on the sides of its head, and it focused one on me. It stared at me, and stood there for a moment.
And that’s when I noticed the ears, and it hit me. This was some sort of grotesque rabbit. “Bunny ears again…?” I said.
The monster charged. I opened my water bottle and dumped the contents onto my hand, chanting and flinging the water in front of me, creating a cloud of steam.
“Runrunrun to the moving water run!” Nyami hissed, and I sprinted towards the fountain. The monster, disoriented from the sea of white, eventually burst through it, saw me, and started zeroing in again.
“What am I supposed to do, I’m a doctor not a monster slayer!” I yelled at Nyami.
“I don’t know, but you’ve got a better chance with something to work with besides the water in your body, don’t you?” she hissed, squeezing my neck a little to hold on as I ran. “Just use what you’re good at!”
“But that has nothing to do with this situation!”
“Michael! Less complaining more monster fighting!”
My jump into the fountain didn’t go smoothly, as I hit my leg on the edge and nearly fell over. But soon I was up to my ankles in water.
What I was good at? Well, it couldn’t be any worse than anything else I’d do. I chanted, drawing a long, thick strand of water out of the fountain. The monster stomped its way closer and closer, and any moment now it was going to vault over the edge and on to me.
I threw the water forward, and it shot out, and grabbed around the monster’s leg, curling around it like a rope. I grabbed the water with both hands, and tugged hard.
It fell to the ground with a thud.
“Ha!” I said, and guided the water to grab onto its other leg as well. Maybe I could hog-tie it.
The monster moved its arms, it’s mouth moving. It pointed at the water rope around its feet, and it froze solid, and immediately broke as the monster moved. Then it made the same motion, and pointed at the fountain. A huge blast of cold swirled around me, and the water in the fountain froze solid. Around my feet. And now that it wasn’t moving, I couldn’t control it to free myself.
“Well, Nyami, it’s been nice knowing you,” I said. “If you can, tell David what happened, okay?”
The monster leaped onto the ice, cracking it, and once again looked to me with its sideways look. It was at least three feet taller than me, and even more ridiculously constructed up close.
“I don’t want to kill you…” it said, it’s voice a strange mixture of animal growl and lisp.
“Perfect,” I said. “I don’t want to die.”
“Why did you stop me? Are… are you working with the bird thing?” it said.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The monster stared at me for a bit. “I can snap your neck…. Just… just by biting and twisting my head… it’s… I don’t want to, but I can, if you don’t tell me…”
“I really don’t want you to snap my neck. I do not know about any bird thing. I came here looking for a girl with bunny ears.”
“Why were you looking for me…?” it asked.
“You’re Sylvia Alenta…?” I said.
The monster nodded.
“What in the world happened to you?”
“I… just… this is useful… for things…” the monster said, fidgeting. What in the world.
“Are you the one making your father sick?” Nyami asked. I shot her a look. “Michael, you’re at her mercy. What can it hurt?”
“M-my dad sick? Why would… I mean… why would I…” the Sylviamonster said, looking down at the ice. “I wouldn’t… I mean… I wouldn’t do that… how would I even do that…”
“Look, Sylvia, whatever is making your dad, and some other patients of mine, sick is doing it from the roof outside their windows, and we saw you there the other day. Or the more human you, anyway,” I said. Around me, a crowd was forming of very confused people looking at the frozen fountain, and the odd person talking to nobody in the middle of it. At least, they still seemed to not be noticing the rabbit monster next to me.
“I’m… not a human…” Sylvia said softly.
“Okay, clearly not now,” I said, “but still. Why were you up there?”
“I saw the bird… so I went to look for it…”
“The bird?” Nyami asked.
“The one you were warning…” Sylvia said.
“W-when… when you yelled to warn it and it flew away… that bird…”
“I wasn’t warning anyone… I was just trying to get your attention. I didn’t know what you were. I thought you were going to try to hurt someone,” I said.
“You… you really don’t know… about the bird…?”
“I really don’t.”
“I… um…” I nearly jumped as Sylvia turned and started making odd noises that I couldn’t really make out. A wolf materialized next to her, and starting making little yips and growls. They were talking, I guess?
Finally, the wolf disappeared and Sylvia turned back to me. “Maybe… maybe we should talk…”
“I would love that. Can you maybe free me from this ice?”
“Oh! Oh… s-sorry…” Sylvia said, and then jammed her claws into the ice several times, cracking it around my feet until I could pull them free.
“Thank you,” I said. “And for not doing the neck-snapping thing.”
“My clothes are still at the museum… can you… meet me there?” Sylvia asked.
“Sure. That’s where my car is anyway,” I said.
“Okay… okay…” Sylvia said, nodding to herself. Then the rabbit monster sprinted off.
I turned to the crowd. “Hey, I seem to be free now! Everything’s okay! How wonderful. Okay, bye!” I tried to walk away with purpose, grabbing my water bottle from where I had dropped it earlier as I went. I don’t think anyone bought it.
As soon as I was out of eyesight of everyone, I leaned against a wall. I was dizzy and incredibly thirsty. I checked, and as expected, my water bottle was empty. I sighed.
“I’ll look for the nearest drinking fountain,” Nyami said, and dematerialized. She soon lead me into a nearby building, where I managed to make it to the fountain and drink for what felt like 10 minutes straight. When I felt like I could probably make it to my car without feeling faint, I filled up my bottle as best I could with the angle I could get on the fountain, and headed towards the museum.
Sylvia, back to looking like a relatively normal girl with bunny ears, was nervously looking around in front of the building. When she spotted me, she seemed to be at least a little relieved.
“Hi,” I said, as I approached. “You’re back to normal, I see.”
“This… isn’t normal…” she said, looking away from me. “You took awhile… I… did I… hurt you and not notice…?”
“No, no, it was just a barter thing.”
“Oh…” she said.
“What did you have to talk to us about?” Nyami asked.
“Oh… I mean… I don’t know… you were trying to help my dad… or so you said…”
“That’s right,” I said.
“So… so if we’re doing the same thing… then… we should work together… maybe…” She was still incredibly nervous. I wondered what in the world she had to be scared of, as she’d already demonstrated that I was no physical threat to her. I don’t think I cast a very intimidating look anyway. Maybe Nyami? She did keep stealing glances at her on my shoulder. But she knew that wolf spirit, so surely she was used to that sort of thing.
“Look, let’s get lunch,” I said.
“W-what…?” Sylvia looked up, shocked by the idea.
“It’s lunchtime. I’m sure you’re hungry too. Let’s eat and relax and then we can discuss, okay?” I said. Maybe that would help her actually talk to me.
“I… I don’t…” she started.
“My treat. And if it doesn’t work out you can always snap my neck, right?”
“I don’t want to snap your neck…”
I walked to my car and clicked it open. “Just lunch, okay?”
“Okay…” she said, and walked over to the passenger’s side. “But… but I can only eat vegetables…”
“I know a place that makes a mean veggie burger.”
I watched as Sylvia leaned in and sniffed at the burger placed before her, like a dog or something. What a strange girl. “I… think I… I can eat this…” she said. “Thank you…”
“No problem,” I said, and took a bite of my burger.
“Now can you explain what you’ve been doing for us?” Nyami asked.
“I was looking for the bird…” Sylvia said, before tentatively biting off a little burger and chewing.
“We gathered that part,” I said. “What is this bird?”
“It changes size… But it’s black… has this long white beak and face…”
“Maybe just start from the beginning. How did you get here, and what were you doing?” Nyami said.
“I… yeah… okay… I’m… well, I’m going to graduate from high school soon… so… I was supposed to look at this campus… with my dad… so we came up here… that’s normal stuff, I guess… but on the campus tour, we were walking towards that museum… and I saw a bird… the bird I was talking about… nobody else noticed, so it must be magical… it dive-bombed my dad and brushed up against him with its wings… and then flew off… I couldn’t see any effects at first… but soon he collapsed… and we went to the hospital…”
“So you think the bird made your dad sick?” I asked.
Sylvia nodded. “It’s… yeah. It’s some sort of spirit. I saw it outside the window at the hospital too, and went to look for it… but it was gone when I figured out how to get out there…”
“So you came to campus because you thought it might have returned here?” Nyami asked.
“Y-yes… Lupe thought it must have some sort of… center… like he did… so we came to look… and when I spotted it, I was trying to get a picture…”
“Well, that explains the phone,” I said.
“I have a friend… who’s better at research and identifying things… I tried to explain the bird to her over the phone, but I figured she’d have more luck with a picture of it…”
“And when I yelled at you to get your attention, it flew away.”
Sylvia nodded, and took another bite of burger.
“Well, sorry about that,” I said.
“It’s… it’s okay… I… look… strange…” Sylvia said softly. “I don’t really know what I could do anyway… if I identified it… besides try to catch it and kill it… but I can’t just let my dad be sick…”
I downed my glass of water. “Yeah. And I have two other patients with similar symptoms. I can’t just let them go either.” I looked right at her. She struggled to keep eye contact. “So maybe we can work together on this. Why don’t you think you could do anything?”
“I… my specialty is transformation… I… I mean, if he’s been cursed, I don’t know if I could directly undo it… depending on how strong it is… and I doubt the hospital will let me draw ritual circles on the floor…”
“It’s not a curse,” I said. “That much is clear from my research.”
“It… but surely it is…” Sylvia said.
I told her about my investigation and my scrying.
“So we figured that someone was recasting a spell every time we healed them,” Nyami said. “You were a magic user in the area, so we went after you. But, apparently, it is a bird, who would have access without entering the room by flying up to the window of each patient.”
Something clicked, and I shook my head. “Oh goodness, I saw the bird. We saw the bird by Mr. Mwenda’s window, Nyami.”
She turned to me, and hissed in annoyance that we’d missed it. “We did see a bird suddenly fly away, yes… though I can’t say I noticed enough to know if it fit the description.”
“Mr. Mwenda is an international student at the college… do we know anything about Mr. Carlyle…?”
“Why is that important?” Nyami asked.
“If he’s linked to the college too, then that’s even more proof that Sylvia is right, and the bird hangs out somewhere at the college, usually. It’s just, perhaps, following its victims to the hospital,” I said, pulling out my phone. “Lynn would know.”
I dialed. The phone rang… and rang… and finally, Lynn picked up. “I’m kind of at work, Dr. Osman… and you’re supposed to be having a day off?”
“Yes, I know. Hey, Lynn, listen, what do you know about Mr. Carlyle?”
“No, no, his life.”
“Oh… well, the wife, you know that… he teaches at OTU. History, if I’m remembering.”
“Perfect. That’s what I needed to know. Thank you, Lynn.”
“Why did you need to know that?” Lynn asked.
“I’ll explain later. Enjoy the rest of your shift.” I hung up. “He teaches at the college. So you’re right, Sylvia.”
She nodded. “So… what… we catch it…? So it can’t reinfect people…?”
“Seems as good a plan as any. Some sort of trap, perhaps,” Nyami said. “And I believe step one of said plan is to step outside for a bit.”
“Outside…?” Sylvia said.
I chuckled. “We’re going to have a cigarette. Take your time finishing your burger,” I said, and stood up. I refilled my glass with water, downed it, then refilled my water bottle before heading outside.
“I am pretty sure you thought she was referring to her current form, but I would like to make it clear that she is not human,” Nyami said before taking a drag. “It’d be hard to notice without dark sight.”
“Seriously? Is she a spirit and I’m just really dense?” I asked.
“No, she is a witch. I can tell she belongs to that wolf we saw. But she appears to be a rabbit.”
“That… seems wrong…”
“Yes… rabbits do not have the capacity to naturally generate magical energy like humans. I’m not really sure what’s going on,” Nyami said.
“Yeah, wait… she has a human father and mother though…” I said. “Unless they’re rabbits too?”
“Not that I noticed.” Nyami hissed a little, annoyed. “It’s strange to talk to prey as an equal. I am not used to it. I can’t imagine how the wolf does it.”
“Well, you’ve been a perfect lady about it so far,” I said, offering her the cigarette again, which she accepted.
“Thank you. I try,” she said.
Sylvia walked out of the restaurant. I waved at her, and she walked over.
“Why do you smoke…?” she asked, staying a decent distance away from me.
I shrugged. “It’s relaxing.”
“Doesn’t it… hurt you though…?” she asked.
“I heal the damage every couple of weeks,” I said.
“Oh…” She fidgeted. “So… what’s the plan… then…?”
“I have no idea,” I said.
“Michael and I will need some time to research how to capture the bird. It is not something we usually engage in,” Nyami said.
“I’m sure your, uh, interesting form will be helpful in that, though,” I said. “As you saw today, I wouldn’t call myself the quickest.”
Sylvia nodded. “I… need some time to recharge… to do that…”
“Recharge?” I asked.
“I need to sit in the moonlight… I… haven’t been able to recharge in the hospital very much… because I had to look like this…” Sylvia said, looking at the ground.
“Well, that’s fine with me. Nyami and I can use tonight to plan and prepare. I’ll have to ask off for tomorrow, but that won’t be a problem,” I said.
“My mom will probably be at the hotel room she got us tonight…” Sylvia said, thinking. “I… suppose I should go find a safe place to lay outside…”
I frowned. “You’re just going to sleep outside somewhere?”
“I… um… probably…?” Sylvia said.
“If you need moonlight, my place has a balcony and a big patio door that’d let in plenty. That’d be better than sleeping in a park,” I said.
“I think she is probably used to sleeping outside for reasons we discussed,” Nyami said to me. I gave her a look. She hissed softly. Human or no, it seemed impolite to let someone sleep on a bench in the park or something, especially if you were working together.
“Well, whatever you’re comfortable with…” I said to Sylvia, frowning at Nyami.
“That… would probably be safe…” Sylvia said, fidgeting and looking at Nyami.
She hissed softly. “You have nothing to fear from me. You know that. You’re owned by another. And it would be impolite, besides.” She glanced to me as if to say, “Are you happy?”
“Then… alright… I’ll tell my mom…” Sylvia pulled a phone out of her purse and started texting.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and did similarly, texting David. “Hey, we’re going to have a house guest tonight. Sorry for the short notice.”
He got back to me fairly quickly. “Oh? How come? And I guess I should hit the grocery on the way home so I can make something for guests.”
“We’re going to work on that project I’ve been on together. She’s a vegetarian. And also not human, according to Nyami.”
“Oh my. Well, hopefully I won’t make a fool of myself. See you tonight. Love you.”
“Love you too,” I said, and put my phone away. “Get everything set?” I asked Sylvia.
“I… yeah… she… doesn’t ask when it’s about this kind of stuff…” she said, fidgeting a little.
“Okay then. Let’s get home and start flipping through books.”
“You didn’t tell me she was a high-schooler,” David said as we washed dishes. Dinner had went fine, though Sylvia had been very shy until I told her that David knew about magic and whatnot. After that, she was just fidgety. But at this point I just kind of figured that was where she normally was. “Isn’t that a little odd, spending the night with a random minor?”
“She’s just going to sit near the big glass doors all night, from what I gather…” I said, taking a plate from him to dry. “You act like we have some nefarious plans.”
“Of course we don’t. I’m sure you two have lots of stuff to work on that are important to keeping those patients alive. I just wonder if we’re going to have angry parents kicking our door in, that’s all.”
“Well, too late now, if so…” I said, shrugging.
“I also had a magic question,” David said.
“I thought you said that witches cannot read all your warlock books in the same way that they just look blank to me. But she’s looking through them now?”
“That’s just my spellbook,” I said. “The magical script in books like that she should be able to read just fine.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “I can take care of the rest of these if you need to start researching, Michael.”
“You’re too nice to me.” I kissed him.
“Oh, I know, don’t you worry,” he said with a grin.
I downed the rest of my water bottle, refilled it, then walked into the living room. Sylvia looked up from the book she was flipping through.
“I don’t… think this is very relevant…” she said. “This… seems to be more about… creating static fields for setting bones… so you can heal them properly…”
“Ah, yeah… most of my personal collection is like that…” I said. “It’s what I do… but I thought we needed to create some sort of plan before I ask for something more specific from The Stacks.”
“It’s… already dark, though…” she said, looking at the window.
“Is your moon thing working?” I asked.
“I need to be… normal… or I’m not really getting a net gain…”
“Well, make yourself comfortable?” I said.
“I’ll go on the balcony… so I don’t fret about you stepping on me… if that’s okay…”
“Open the door for me…? Oh and… um… Cheryl might call… my friend… if she finds something about the bird… that might help you… so… maybe watch my phone…”
“Uh, alright, if you’re sure.”
“Okay…” Sylvia stood, and then suddenly disappeared into a pile of clothing. I have to admit it caught me off guard.
“…are you alright?” I asked.
I saw a rabbit head peek out from under Sylvia’s clothes.
Nyami hissed happily. “Told you.”
Sylvia hopped towards the door, and waited.
“Oh, right, sorry. Was just a little surprised.” I slid it open, and she hopped outside. I closed it behind her. I worried for a moment before realizing there wasn’t really anything else I was supposed to do, and went to my office to start my own research. I had just sat down when I heard a phone buzzing in the other room. Walking back to the other room, I fished a phone out of Sylvia’s purse. One missed call: Cheryl.
“Well, she told you to handle it,” Nyami said. I could see Sylvia watching me from the balcony.
“Yeah, I guess so.” I hit the little phone icon to call her back.
A woman’s voice came across the line. “Ah, Sylvia, I had figured you were out charging somewhere. I was about to text you what I found…”
“Hi, I’m sorry, but I’m not Sylvia,” I said. “She’s… charging? She’s a rabbit right now.”
“Who is this?” asked Cheryl.
“My name is Dr. Michael Osman. I’m a warlock. A healer, mostly. Sylvia said your name is Cheryl, right?”
“Yes. I’m a high school teacher. And witch. Why do you have Sylvia’s phone?”
“We’re working together to solve this situation with this bird thing, and she told me to answer if it was you. Didn’t get to it in time, though.”
“I see…” she said, thinking about it. “Will you do me a favor?”
“Please put the phone on speaker and put it near Sylvia.”
“Okay…” I opened the door and stepped onto the balcony, sitting on my smoking chair. Sylvia kept her distance, but I hit speaker and held it out to her. “Okay there, I did it. But she doesn’t seem to talk like this…”
I heard maybe the most minor bit of sound come from the speaker. Maybe a squeak. Sylvia moved to the phone. There was a decent chunk of silence.
“Thank you, Dr. Osman. I don’t mean to be untrusting, but I just wanted to make sure Sylvia was safe,” Cheryl said, suddenly speaking again.
“Uh, no problem?”
“We were speaking in rabbit language, to pre-answer your question. She made me a translator awhile ago,” Cheryl said.
“Nice to know it works over the phone.”
“I honestly didn’t know if it would, but it was worth a shot,” she said. “In any case, keep things on speaker and I’ll go over what I’ve found.”
“From what I’m guessing, and there is a bit of guesswork involved, what you’re dealing with is a pestilence spirit,” Cheryl said. “It’s the embodiment of an illness, essentially, in the same way Lupe is the embodiment of a wolf as a wolf spirit. The problem is, it shouldn’t be there.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, it should be tied to a disease. But it’s causing a disease nobody else has and nobody else has seen, correct?”
“I have no idea what exactly the disease is, if that’s what you mean. It’s built strangely. It’s almost like a false disease.”
“Exactly,” Cheryl said. “If this was a spirit of, say, the common cold, it’d be sensible. It’d feed off of people with colds and, rarely, cause one, and then go on its way. But this disease doesn’t exist other than in those it infects. Which means it’s summoned.”
I frowned. This was serious stuff. “So someone sicced the spirit on these people? That doesn’t make much sense. There’s no real connection to them besides that they were on university property when they got infected.”
“You’d know that better than I. You have more information about the victims,” Cheryl said.
“So maybe someone screwed up, or it was accidental,” Nyami said.
“Who’s that voice?” Cheryl asked.
“I am Nyami, Goddess of the River.”
“I see. It’s a pleasure to speak with your divine presence.” Nyami hissed happily at the show of respect. I rolled my eyes a little. “In any case, I suppose that would be possible, yes.”
“I guess for the moment, though, that doesn’t matter. We need to stop it so it doesn’t affect anyone else and we can heal my patients,” I said.
“That’s right. I found a book on spirit sealing for Sylvia to look through, though it would be difficult for her to set it up and lure the spirit there. Perhaps with the two of you, you’ll have an easier time. Are you familiar with spirit sealing, doctor?”
“Not so much…” I said. “I’ve always been a bit focused in my studies, for better or worse.”
“Perhaps I should get the book to you then anyway. I’ll send it along.”
“Other than that, I don’t know what I can do from here, but if you think of anything, have Sylvia call me,” Cheryl said. “And be safe. Especially you, Sylvia.” And with that, we ended the call.
“Pestilence spirit, huh?” I said, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. “Do you deal with this sort of thing often?” I asked Sylvia. “Your friend’s tone seemed like this was a common thing between you two.” Sylvia just looked at me, and I chuckled. “I’m sorry, I forgot I can’t understand you. I’m too used to talking to snakes like it was nothing.” I offered the cigarette to Nyami, and then nearly dropped it as a naked woman appeared before me. No, wait, not just a naked woman, but one with horns, wings, and a tail.
“Why hello there, Dr. Os… bah, you’re not interested in me,” she said, sighing. “I tell you, I never get to have any fun. I mean, I prefer women, but variety is the spice of life.” She chuckled. “Oh well. Hello.”
“Uh, hi,” I said. Nyami was hissing with annoyance.
“I’m Lucy, and I’ve been reduced to a delivery girl,” she said, and held out a book to me.
I took it. “Thanks. I take it Cheryl sent you?”
“That’s right. Your friend doesn’t seem excited to see me, though.”
“Your kind is normally bad news,” Nyami said.
“Well, we do like to meddle,” Lucy said, shrugging. “I best get back to Cheryl, but do let me know if you need some companionship.” She grinned. “I know some real cute incubi who would love to meet you, doctor.”
I held up my hand with my wedding ring on it as I took another drag. “Thanks, but I’m spoken for.”
“No fun at all,” Lucy said, chuckling. “Bye!” She dematerialized.
I flipped the book open onto my lap and looked at a random page. “Spirit sealing, huh?” I said to myself as I looked over the ritual circle diagrams on the page I’d picked. “I better make some coffee.”
Not far from the campus was a city park, with a little pond with a running path around it that many people used for their morning runs. Today those people were giving me really nasty looks as I drew on the path in chalk. I had to dodge out of the way of a really serious dude huffing and puffing around the track at least once. The second time I could tell he was debating just trying to plow into me again out of annoyance.
I could have used a bucket of water, or something similar, for my spirit sealing trap, but that would make the entire luring process really difficult. With a pond, I wouldn’t have to get the bird over a very specific area, like a bucket or a bottle. They just had to be over the pond. Of course, that meant a giant ritual circle, and that meant that I was going to be really thirsty once all this was done.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I pulled it out. It was Sylvia.
“Are… are you ready…?” she asked.
“I found it…”
“Well, just follow it for now, and I’ll message you when I’m ready,” I said.
“Okay… I’ll… a-ah…!”
I frowned. “What?”
“It… it’s diving at someone…!” I heard her said. And then she dropped the phone.
“Oh come on…” I said.
“Draw faster!” Nyami hissed.
I grumbled, but kept sketching. I could only draw so fast. I had studied my modified diagram again and again, but it had been a long night, and it was all for nothing if I got it wrong. It was also hard to draw lines at the lengths that I needed to around the pond anyway, much less in a hurry.
I still had the last set of symbols to draw when I saw a glowing ball of magic rush out past some buildings and into the park. Sylvia, in her monster form, was radiating magical energy, a spirit lure potion that I had made with the help of the book. But she was supposed to have put it on something she could toss into the lake, and not her. She’d disrupt the ritual if she was in the lake. She knew that. I cursed.
“Just draw!” Nyami urged.
I tried, but I could hear, at this point, Sylvia running right at me, her weight smacking against pavement again and again. “Make sure she doesn’t run through the lake, her wet body will mess up the circle!” I called to Nyami. “I’m hurrying!”
Nyami hissed, and disappeared.
Just a few more symbols…
Sylvia, now with Nyami around her neck, made a sharp right, and skidded to a stop right before the running track. “Michael…” Sylvia said, and I turned.
A bird, a large one, landed before Sylvia, before growing. No, changing. It came up to a more human height, it’s face stark, blank white, as Sylvia had suggested. It moved towards Sylvia, reaching out a wing.
“If I touch it… you’ll heal me…” Sylvia said softly, more reassuring herself than asking. And then she grabbed the wing with her two huge paws. The bird immediately tried to pull back, but Sylvia moved in, trying to wrestle the spirit to the ground.
Nyami reappeared on my shoulder. “Stop spacing out!”
“R-right!” I stammered, and got back to drawing. I could hear them fighting and wrestling behind me. Sylvia sounded like she coughing occasionally. “That should be it…!” I said, and stood. I hoped that was it. I was only going to get one shot.
I turned to see Sylvia desperately trying to keep the bird on the ground. It was trying to fly away, away from the pond, but Sylvia had ahold of something one might describe as legs, and was trying not to let go, getting dragged a little along the grass. I was not an expert on monster physiology, but it seemed obvious she could barely breathe. We didn’t have long. We had to get the bird over the lake.
Well, it worked sort of alright last time. Do what I do best, right?
I ran over to the lake and plunged my hands into it, chanting, before rushing towards the fight with a long trail of water following me, high enough to not touch the ground and affect my circle. When I got close enough, I yelled at Sylvia, “Let go!” and flung the water forward.
Sylvia released her grip, and the bird almost started to fly away, before a coil of water wrapped around it. I tugged as hard as it could, and it fell to the ground, wings pinned to its sides. It was struggling. No, it was shrinking, to get out of the coils. I kept tugging to try to keep things tight. “Throw it in the lake!” I yelled at Sylvia.
The rabbit monster struggled to stand, but picked up the shrinking bird like it was nothing, and threw it with strength a quarterback would be proud of. I let go of the strand of water as the bird splashed into it. I didn’t have long. I nearly fell to the ground in front of the circle, chanting and slamming my hands down onto the chalk.
The chalk glowed. For one shining moment, the water burst into the air, catching the fleeing bird, and then splashed back down. The chalk disappeared.
My mouth was dry. I felt like I was going to pass out from dehydration. A crowd was forming, staring at the pond. Some of the people in the park had seen my water strand, and they were turning from me, to the pond, and back again, wondering if I was the cause. A brave lady in workout clothes walked over to me. “Are… you okay…?”
“Water…” I managed to croak. She looked at me, scared, but took her water bottle from her belt and held it out to me. I tried to grab it. I couldn’t even manage that. She finally gave in and leaned down, squirting water into my mouth. I emptied her bottle before I could even move. “T-thank you…” I said, trying to get up. “My… my bottle is over there…” I pointed. She jogged over there and back, and I finished that one off too. I looked up at her. “You’re a lifesaver…” I said.
“Uh, no problem…” she said.
I turned as I heard a wheeze. I frowned. How much of that fake virus had gotten into Sylvia? I forced myself to my feet and walked over to her. The monster looked up at me, the only person who could see her with that bracelet on. “I… need more water… I’ll hurry…” I said, as I stumbled towards a water fountain a ways away. I drank, and drank, and drank for what seemed like an hour before I refilled my bottle and stumbled back over to Sylvia. She looked like she was going to pass out at any moment.
I put my fingers into my bottle, and pulled a strand out. “This will feel awkward… I haven’t done it to someone awake other than me before… but it’ll be okay…” I said, then added, “Try not to panic…” It seemed a pointless thing to say, which how panicky she normally was, but I had to try.
I pushed the strand into the monster’s mouth and nose. She struggled for a moment, but it was a weak struggle. Hoping that the monster’s body wasn’t that different from a human’s, I moved the strand around, and pulled out a completely black strand of ick, which I tossed onto the grass.
“I need to do it again…” I said, and got more water, and repeated the process, and then a third time, and a fourth. Finally, the strand came out not completely full of illness, and I sighed in relief. “Okay… okay, I’ve got it…”
Sylvia just closed her eyes, and sunk away into being a normal rabbit, and seemed to pass out. I hoped that was a good sign.
I stood and finally looked at my trap. In the reflections in the pool, I could see the bird, flying at the edges of the pond, smacking against it each time, trapped in the water itself. We’d done it.
I checked over his charts once more, but I knew he was fine. He’d been fine for a day or two, but it took him awhile to get his strength back, of course. “Well, Mr. Alenta, everything here seems to check out. I’ll go finish up your paperwork, and we’ll have you out of here in no time.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Jessica and Sylvia told me you were really important in getting me to fight this while I was a bit out of it. I appreciate it.”
“Ah, well, just my job. I’m glad you’re back on your feet,” I said, smiling. “I didn’t do it alone.” I glanced over to Sylvia, who looked away, embarrassed. She was still looking a bit weak, but she’d managed to keep it together as well. She was a real determined rabbit when she wanted to be.
I headed out, and Sylvia followed me, closing the door behind me.
“Um…” she said.
“Yes? Something up?” I asked.
“We’re… going to go home…” she said, tugging on her ears so they covered her face.
“It’s a five hour drive…”
I nodded again, unsure where this was going.
“We… don’t know who summoned… the bird…”
“I suppose not,” Nyami said, hissing softly. “But everyone is healing. They haven’t summoned a replacement. And I am not sure we can track them with what we have. So I guess we just have to be prepared.”
“Yeah…” she said.
There was a long silence where Sylvia fidgeted a lot. I took a drink from my bottle, waiting. She clearly had something else to say.
“I… so… um… it was nice… working with you…” she said.
“It was nice working with you too. A new experience,” I said.
“Can I… I mean… I have your phone number…” she said, barely audibly. “So I mean… if I need… if something happens… I’m a long way away… but…”
I chuckled. “Ah… Yes, I’ll call if I need help. And you can call me too, if I can do anything. Not sure what either of us can do over the phone, but, you know.”
She looked relieved. “Thanks. It… would be sad if we didn’t talk again…” It felt an odd thing to say, but I kind of agreed. It was nice to work with someone for once. Even if they weren’t human.
“I better get back to work so you can get going,” I said.
“Alright… goodbye,” she said, and headed back into her dad’s room.
“You two became close,” Lynn said, startling me. I turned and she was grinning at me.
“I wouldn’t say that,” I said. “More like we worked together.”
“Worked together? With a high-schooler?”
Lynn gave me quite a look. “You’re impossible sometimes.”
I opened my water bottle and took a drink. “Yeah, I guess I kind of am.” Nyami hissed, shaking her head.
If you liked this short story, please consider joining my short story club to support another short story like this every month! You may also want to check out the Nichol Coven novels, such as the first one, The Many Roots of Desire. No matter what, though, thank you so much for reading! I hope you’ll let me entertain you again soon.