Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 18

“Jane,” he said warmly, and came over to greet me. Then he glanced at Clara.

“We have a problem, I’m afraid.” I glanced at Clara. “Sorry, I need to talk to my friend.”

She blurted. “Do you know any witches?”

“A few.” Bruce grinned at her. “And don’t get that book. Try the one with the silver runes on the cover. It’s much better.”

He headed towards the back room. “We’ve got a problem. That possession thing? Coven got themselves an angry ghost.”


“Initiation ceremony, if you know what I mean. Girl said no, got abused for it. She’s safe. I talked him out of killing the lot of them, but he wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again…”

Bruce considered that. “There’s always the name and shame route, but we don’t have evidence.”

“It would look like a malicious rumor.” I sighed, running my hand through my hair. “I really don’t want to have to fight him again.”

“I don’t want to have to fight him at all. We need to get evidence.”

“He won’t tell me where the girl is.” I sighed. “I don’t blame him, and she’s probably been through enough.”

The thought of slipping somebody into the coven crossed my mind. Clara was the best candidate, but I wasn’t going to ask it of her.

“But she won’t be the only one. Which coven is it?”

“Silver Thorn is the name he gave me. The Covenant of the Silver Thorn.” I let out a breath. “Oh, and he’s possessing their high priestess.”

“Probably serves her right.”

“Yeah, but not to the point of killing her, and I don’t even think it would hurt him that much.” I ran my hand through my hair again. “What do you know about them?”

“Ultra closed. High priestess is…eh. Never liked her. One of those not really qualified women who thinks she can just start a coven based off of a few books, and power hungry to boot. I’m not surprised this is happening.”

“That’s a good thing. If you aren’t surprised, that means at least some people might be wary of them.” I sighed. “Warn Clara, would you?”

“The girl outside?”

“Untrained, has talent, vulnerable. She’s going to get recruited by some troublemaker if we aren’t careful.”

I glanced outside. She was reading through the book with the silver runes.

“At least she didn’t tell me I can’t be a witch because I have a Y chromosome.”

I laughed. “I didn’t think you were one.”

He grinned and touched a finger to the side of his nose.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 17

That question stayed on my mind. I hoped I had time. I hoped even people like this wouldn’t be irresponsible enough to try and recruit while they had an angry ghost picking them off.

At least he and I had something resembling a truce. He’d settle for them being dealt with by some means that didn’t involve death, and he’d leave the woman alone once he was satisfied.

Bruce was the person I needed to talk to. I headed to Old Town after school, flakes of snow drifting around me. I felt an odd kind of responsibility for this deep winter; even though I knew I hadn’t done it, it somehow felt like it was connected to me.

Or I to it. Maybe I just liked winter. Maybe I had brought it by subconsciously wanting it. Old Town was pretty with snow resting on the ground. A snuffling bulldog wearing a coat and booties lifted his head and wagged what tail he had at me.

I glanced at the owner, then offered a petting. He pushed his head against me and wagged about half of his body.

It made me feel better. “He’s adorable.”

The owner grinned. “He’s shameless, is what he is.”

But there’s nothing like a cute dog to elevate one’s mood. Or a cute cat. Either way.

Reluctantly, I abandoned the bulldog, who snuffled after me pathetically, then went back to padding through the snow. Looking for more marks, no doubt.

The magic store was open, its lights bright and cheerful across the street. I stamped the snow off my boots before stepping inside.

Only to find Clara browsing the shelves. Oops.

“Hey!” she called brightly, apparently having seen me out of the corner of her eye.

I wandered over. “What are you reading?”
“I was looking at this, but it’s written for teens by somebody who thinks we’re 12.”

I laughed. “Been there, done that. Besides, I doubt people put real magic in books anybody can buy.”

“Probably not, but how else am I going to learn anything?”

“If you’re serious, one of the guys who works here…I was looking for him…knows some good people.”

Yeah. I was going to try my best to fob her off on Bruce. Or Prue. “There’s also a girl at school, but I can’t really say who without checking with her first.”

“What about you?” Hopeful, puppy-dog eyes turned towards me.

“I’m not a witch.”
And at that point, Bruce came out of the back room.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 16

Well, I wanted the other kind of easy solution. Something I could just beat up. Attracting the ghost’s attention didn’t prove to be hard.

I was only lucky he didn’t show up when I was at school. Or at a shoot again. I felt his presence behind me and quickened my pace, then ducked into an alleyway.

This time, he had no minions. “I told you to stay out of my way.”

I turned. “You’re good,” I told him. “You’re the first person to beat me up in a long time. Not bad at all, but…look…”

“You’re protecting people who don’t deserve it.”

“No. I’m protecting that poor woman who’s body you’re using.”

“Not like she deserves it either. She was stupid.”

“She doesn’t deserve to live the rest of her life in jail or something because you used her body to kill somebody for being stupid.” I half-smiled at him. “Look. Can we resolve this without any more violence?”

“You’re only saying that because I kicked your ass.”

“Nah. I’m saying it because…you only kicked my ass because I was trying not to hurt you.” It sounded good. I even rather hoped it had some truth to it. The embarrassment of being beaten up could be mitigated that way.

“You were trying not to hurt her.”

“What did these people do to you to make you so mad?” I shot the question at him, once more wishing for my sword. Except the intimidation value was significantly reduced by the fact that he knew I didn’t want to hurt the woman. And he would have known that if I hadn’t said anything.

“It’s not what they did to me. It’s what they did to my granddaughter.”

I frowned. “You’re protecting your family. What happened?”

“They pulled her into their stuff. Which is fine. If Kerry wanted to be a witch, I wasn’t going to argue with that. Then they told her what she had to do to be initiated further. When she refused, they decided they’d call her a warlock.”

I sighed. “And then they tried to force her anyway, didn’t they. Where is she now?”

“With my wife. In Manassas. At an address they don’t know. If I was still alive I’d have come after them with a shotgun.”

And a jury might not have convicted him, either. “I won’t let you kill them. But I won’t let them carry on doing that kind of thing either.”
The question was how I stopped them.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 15

I was rather glad that Clara was on a different lunch shift to us. The way she’d looked at me…

“I think Clara might be crushing on me.”

Kanesha grinned. “That just means she has excellent taste.”

I mock bapped her. “I need to let her down easily.”

“Let her crush. She’s a freshman. She’ll get over it quickly enough.”

“I’m not sending her to the LGBT club, though. They still think I should pick a side.” I rolled my eyes. If Clara was like me I didn’t want her to have to put up with that crap.

But I was afraid that taking her under my own wing would encourage any crush. Ah well. Soon enough I’d be out of here, one way or another. Hopefully graduated and…maybe I would go to fashion school. There were worse ideas, and Kanesha had options for New York too.

Out of here in all sorts of ways, even as I knew it was all only temporary. Maybe I was treating Kanesha as badly as I would be treating Clara if I encouraged her. Maybe it was…best if I…

Nah. She knew the situation. If I abruptly had to leave, she’d deal with it. I trusted her to find a way to work through it and move on.

I trusted her to get on with her life…and to get on with protecting people. Or teaching them. I reached across the table for her hand, entwined my fingers with her darker ones. It was all we could get away with here, but…

“What are you thinking about?”

“The future. Whether we have one.”

Kanesha shook her head. “Think about now. Let the future take care of itself. Worry about your…duty.”

“My duty’s going to take me away from you one day.”

“Or me from you.” She gripped my hand. “I don’t care. I wouldn’t be with you if I cared about what might happen in a few years or, if we’re lucky, a few decades.”

Or centuries, I thought, but didn’t say. I wasn’t sure I could imagine that much time; except that the more I thought about it the more I could.

“And I haven’t picked a side. I’ve just picked you.” That felt necessary to say. It felt right to say it. “But…for now…I need to deal with our possession situation.”

Part of me still wanted to let the ghost beat them all up. Part of me refused such an easy solution.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 14

I didn’t approach her, in any case, right away. By Monday, nobody could have known I was ever in a fight. Fortunately, none of the people who’d seen me knocked to the floor would see me before I could reasonably have recovered.

Fortunately. I’d probably partly blown my cover anyway. Or they just all thought I was nuts. Maybe they were right. Not crazy mental institute, but crazy getting into fights. Two very different things, although I supposed they could sometimes overlap. I didn’t mind being thought of as nuts in that sense. It was the kind of nuts people respected, although more in men than in women.

I hoped, at least, that Monday would be quiet before I got into things again. Of course, I tended to hope such things in vain.

It happened in the corridor by the lockers. Somebody had pushed Clara up against one. I couldn’t quite catch the specific insults they were hurling at her, but I understood the pattern of it.

And then I just felt a shift in the air as I strode forward.

“Leave her alone.”

The boy turned. Then he saw me. “Dyke,” he pronounced.

I didn’t even wince at the word, but as Clara wriggled free I strode towards him. “If you don’t want to end up in the principal’s office, go.”

He did…and tripped over his shoelaces on the way.

Clara muffled a laugh. “I hope he has a week of bad luck.”

I thought it was beyond hoping. Don’t bully a witch – perhaps especially an untrained one. She’d probably hexed him. At least…a week of bad luck was something he probably deserved. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. You have…you have a rep.”

I nodded. “A rep and, well. He’s not entirely wrong with what he called me.” Not entirely right either. I still found boys attractive. And Kanesha. And girls. And Kanesha. It didn’t really matter, I’d decided. Well, really, what mattered was finding somebody to be with if you wanted somebody.

Or not if you didn’t.

“I saw you with the black girl. What’s her name?”

“Kanesha,” I supplied. “She’s very smart. She’s getting a scholarship and she wants to teach history.”

“I like history,” Clara admitted.

I hoped she wouldn’t get a crush on me, but the bell interrupted our conversation. I resolved not to mention the incident. He’d backed down, so he got a pass.

Plus if he really had earned himself a week of bad luck, I saw no reason to add to it.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 13

“It sounds like an angry ghost, if it’s not a demon,” Thruor informed me over hot chocolate.

I nodded. “It’s after specific people. Do you think it will leave once sated?”

“Definitely. It didn’t do you any significant damage.”
It had ruined the shoot for me, but I’d been paid anyway. And thanked, and appreciated. The young man, though, had died.

“But it killed its target. If I’d agreed to help them…but they were kind of…”

“They were trying to manipulate you. That’s not something you’re going to tolerate.”

I nodded. “No, but I didn’t want him to get killed. Beaten up a bit, sure, but not killed.”

Thruor nodded. “So. You want to try and…what? Negotiate?”

“Get the other side of the story. Without being beaten up again.” True, he hadn’t wanted to kill me. He hadn’t stopped short of hurting me, and losing a fight wasn’t a feeling I liked.

“Whoever he was, he must have been quite the fighter in life to beat you.”

I blushed slightly at the compliment. “Or I was having an off day, maybe. None of us are perfect.” And I definitely had off days. Everyone else I knew did. Why would I be exempt?

“He’d have to have talent, even on an off day.”

“And speed. He had that too.” I shook my head slightly. “I feel like I just came into contact with the nemesis in my TV show.” Because wasn’t that how it always happened?

Of course, in the TV show, the hero always regrouped and then beat up the bad guy. Guaranteed. This wasn’t a TV show, and I knew I had no guarantees.

Not to mention the fact that I genuinely wanted to hear his side of the story.

“Take Kanesha.”

I blinked.

“She’s good enough to defend herself, but taking her along might make him realize you mean business on talking not fighting.”

I shook my head. “I won’t use her like that. I won’t put her forward as weak or inferior. She’s not.”

“Then ask her how she feels about it. I know she isn’t weak or inferior. He, though, might not realize that.”

But I was still uncomfortable with the entire idea.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 12

I got my butt handed to me. By the time I picked myself up, the three of them were gone and the man who had come looking for me had been shot three or four times. Somebody was administering first aid.
Somebody else came over to me. “Nice try…but…”

“They had me outnumbered.” And, for once, outgunned. I hadn’t been beaten in a fight in my memory – I was sure there were fights I couldn’t remember. My right eye was swollen, I was bruised all over, and I wasn’t entirely sure s/he hadn’t broken a couple of my ribs.

None of which I was worried about. I’d heal.
“Man. You have a pair of shiners. I wonder why she didn’t kill you.”

“I wasn’t the target?” That was all I could say, really. I couldn’t voice the truth.

“Go home and…tell me you have a hot tub?”

“I have a hot bath. It will have to do.”
Somebody offered me an ice pack. I applied it to the part of me that hurt the most, my right shoulder.
“Or I can take you to the hospital.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think anything’s broken.” A hospital might notice something odd. I’d been healing faster and faster lately.

“Your funeral.” I struggled to my feet. The dress was ruined, and they’d probably take it out of my pay. Or not. What they’d seen had been me trying to stop anyone from getting hurt.

Whatever the thing was, it hadn’t wanted to kill me. It had been male. It had not, I thought, been the normal kind of demon. Ghost? It had been after specific people…and now I knew that if I let it alone it would probably take out those people and then head back to wherever it came from.

What did it say about me that I didn’t want to do that? I didn’t want anyone else hurt.

What if they deserved it, though? I had to find that thing. I had to find it and talk to it, but they were right. I needed some hot tub time first. Some recovery time. And then I needed neutral ground.

I dismissed the church instantly, but I could think of a few other places that might be good. The question was how I got his attention.

I needed to ask somebody smarter than me, I thought. And I needed backup.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 11

The door flew inwards. Models scattered. I managed to have the presence of mind to join in the retreat to the back of the room rather than draw attention to myself.

Three figures were silhouetted against it. I couldn’t tell whether the center one was male or female. He, she, it, somehow seemed to repel such definitions.
They rippled with power. Power that was coming through them…it wasn’t the same as with those kids, not at all. This was something else.

This was demonic possession. Perhaps not literally a demon, but… The figure lifted a hand and the table by the door flew across the room, narrowly missing a cowering cameraman.

I wasn’t sure where my “friend” had gone. Had this been his intent? To lead the creature here so I had to deal with it?

If it was a demon, I couldn’t banish it without its name. If it was something else, though? I wished I had my sword. Or my gun. Or that my father was there.

Having none of those things, I moved towards the door, hoping to be ignored in the screaming and running. The two figures flanking the central one had guns, and the same light in their eyes.

Minions. And then somebody had a gun, pointed it at them. I knocked them to one side instinctively, made it look like an accident. Whoever was under the possession was innocent. If I could avoid killing them, I would.

“Be careful!”

“Let me deal with this.” Blowing my cover? I also wasn’t dressed for this – I was wearing a long and fairly tight sweater dress. Not the kind of outfit you wanted to fight in. Not the kind of outfit you could fight in, realistically, but it was what I had on.

If I tore it, I’d be in trouble.

The red eyes scanned the room. Now I could see that the occupied body was that of a woman, but the voice sounded more deeply masculine.

The voice was of the occupying entity. “Who are you?” I demanded.

The red eyes turned to rest on me. “Stay out of my way.”

“I can’t do that. These people are under my protection.” It sounded more dramatic in words than in tone. My voice sounded weak in comparison.

“Then I’ll just have to toss you to one side.”

Why was he not threatening to kill me? Because he couldn’t? Because he didn’t dare? I settled on that pronoun for now.

And I could take advantage of that. I charged forward, bent on knocking the entity flying. I knew I could avoid killing the host.

But I might not be able to avoid beating her up some.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 10

The day of the shoot dawned as cold as, according to the weatherman, it ever got in DC in February. Maybe even colder.

I pulled on my heaviest coat, hat, gloves, and trudged through falling snow to the gymnasium we were using. I would be missing this come summer, I thought, wryly – despite the heavy clothes I still didn’t feel cold. I couldn’t tell whether I was just able to ignore it or whether I was somehow carrying my own heat with me. Or both. Stepping inside, at least, it was warm. There were people setting up.

And one of them was the male witch. I sighed inwardly. If he messed with my job I might just set a fairy on him. Or my father. Or just casually trip him into something embarrassing.

He’d somehow wrangled a job loading in, which wasn’t that hard. Unloading boxes took a bit of strength, but not much skill, and half of the time they hired students to do it. I headed back to the changing area, studiously ignoring him. He tried to get my attention, but I pretended I didn’t know him.

“Jane’s got a boyfriend,” one girl said.

“Nah. Didn’t you know? Jane’s gay.”

Neither statement was true, so I ignored both of them, stripping off my jacket as I warmed up. He was only here to cause trouble. “He’s not my boyfriend. He’s like…this weird guy who was hanging around outside the school.”

The second woman to speak shook her head. “You get all the stalkers, Jane. Then again, maybe it’s a compliment?”

I brushed back my hair. It wasn’t quite a flip. “Depends on the quality of the stalkers, I suppose. But this one, I think, wants to be a model himself. Or a photographer. Or, you know, anything to get close. Wannabe designer, probably.”

It was as good a way to explain him as any; even if we couldn’t coordinate stories. Well, wouldn’t. I wasn’t about to help him keep his cover after what his coven had done. The general cover, though, that mattered.

And maybe he was even a wannabe designer. I knew his presence here wasn’t likely to be innocent.

The doors opened and a couple more girls came in. One of them was new, and she looked absolutely terrified. The one with her seemed to be handling it, though. I tugged off hat, gloves and sweater and waited for instructions.

Like all shoots, it was hurry up and wait. Get made up. Put on outfit number one. I’d gotten used to the routine. I just hoped nothing happened to interrupt it.

Between takes, he sidled over to me. “I know how you feel, but we need you.”

“Should have asked,” I murmured back. “Should have…”

I didn’t have the chance to finish that statement.

Episode Eleven: Interludes: Scene 9

I found her in a coffee shop across the street. “I almost came and rescued you.”

I shook my head. “Not necessary. Witches. Behind the thing with the kids. I think they have a friend who got herself possessed and want me to sit on her while they de-possess her, but I’m…”

“…not in the mood,” she finished. “Well…”

I sighed. “I know their friend wasn’t involved. But I could have killed one of those kids. Easily. So, I’m working on the assumption that they’re careless at best, outright bad at worst.”

“And probably summoning demons.”

I sighed. “Probably. They probably had something to do with Martin.” I didn’t say his true name in public; there was a small, tiny, vanishing risk it might summon him. Or at least get us odd looks.

“Have a hot chocolate.”

I laughed. “Mind reader,” I accused her. She actually had already ordered one for me. Was that part of being in a relationship?

I rather thought it might be. Or maybe we just had similar enough tastes. Either way, hot chocolate was pretty much the most awesome thing she could have done for me right now.

And that helped get me out of arrogant mode. I didn’t want to be in arrogant mode, so I was happy that she was pulling me back to ordinary girl mode.

Well, never that, but sitting here with her, sipping hot chocolate, I could kid myself for a few minutes, or even a few hours. That was, of course, exactly what it was. Kidding myself. But what else could I do?

I couldn’t be like that, even if part of me wanted to be. It would be abandoning her. It would be turning into somebody I wouldn’t even like.

So, instead, I sipped my hot chocolate. “I’ll see…maybe I’ll help them after all, but they do need to know they can’t act like that.”

“Maybe we can get another witch to find out what happened?”

I shook my head. “They talk to each other if they’re allied, but only then. A lot of people, according to Bruce, think that if you share magic you weaken it, so it’s best to keep everything secret.”

A pause, then she rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t agree, right?”

“No, although he does note you need to be careful not to share stuff with people who don’t know what they’re doing yet. They might…well, you know, get themselves possessed.”

I had a feeling, now, that I’d end up dealing with it all. One way or another.