Built into a hill, Vernon High’s four floors sit upon it like steps. The top faces east with a little back road that leads to the faculty parking lot. The bottom overlooks both the stadium and the baseball field. The road from two larger parking lots to the north curves in a switchback between. The hill is so steep it requires hiking boots to navigate it with a reasonable expectation of not falling on your butt. Therefore, concrete steps lead from the school to the stadium and faded crosswalks intersect the roads between.
Even on Saturday, the high school bustles with activity. The Decathlon team tosses trivia questions at each other while cleaning and rearranging Mrs. Greenfeld’s room. Scales echo down the corridor from the band hall. Pep Squad, cheerleaders and Drill team clean the stadium before their day of practice on the field. Volunteers for the student-run school play run back and forth to the parking lot, pulling out tools and supplies to build the stage.
When the ancient-looking pickup pulls into the switchback, only a few guys notice the smooth roar of its engine, the complete lack of nasty exhaust normally puffing from the muffler on something so old, and comment on the random colors of its external pieces. The driver’s side door is black and the engine’s hood a deep blue. Beneath it all, the original frame seems to be a dark green. It looks like the boys just picked the best puzzle pieces from a junk yard, and buffed them all up.
This is where my vantage point works well. If I back up just a bit and let emotions and thoughts fade into the background, the foreground becomes full of interesting physical/magical responses.
No matter their physical locations, magical beings react to the boys as they park and get out of the truck strolling through the parking lot.
Werewolves sniff the air. Shapeshifters cock their heads, listening to the ether. Dreamwalkers lift their heads and turn in the boys’ direction as if they could see through walls. A semi-permanent substitute teacher rises from his chair behind a desk and moves to the window side of his room. He slides his fingers through the slits of the blinds and stares out into the parking lot.
A girl, pulling out a box from the trunk of her car, stares at the boys as they walk past. She lets the box slip through her arms and drop to the concrete, spilling its contents of random props for the play and tools for building and painting.
Nick reacts instantly moving quickly to her side, picking up hammers, tape, a staple gun, an empty liquor bottle with a cork. An old electric fan, the weight in the box, tilts precariously and Nick rights it before putting pieces of the mess back inside. He lifts it with ease and no intention of returning it to the girl.
In the shadow of the trunk’s lid, the girl looks average if on the short side. Nothing spectacular draws anyone’s attention. But when she drops the lid and the sunlight hits her full on, her hair sparkles with natural highlights. All shades of red and blonde dazzle through the base brown. Large grey eyes peer at Nick as if studying him through the strands that had come loose from the barrette holding back her amazing hair.
Nick barely keeps himself from flinching.
“Thanks,” she says softly. “I can take it.”
“It’s no problem. Just tell us where you want it,” Nick says.
The girl pauses for a moment. “Well, since you’re offering, there are a few other boxes that can go.” She meets Logan’s eyes over Nick shoulder.
“Sure,” says Logan hesitantly, as he moves to her car.
The girl pops the trunk again, falling into its shadow and pulls two more boxes from the darkness.
Logan stacks them and pulls them from the trunk. The boys wait while the girl closes the trunk and moves to the side of her car to pull out an old floor lamp from the back seat.
The car chirps when she presses the fob on her keychain as she walks to the front doors of the school.
“We’re going to the auditorium, if you don’t mind.”
“No problem,” Nick says again.
As soon as they pass through the glass doors, hallways open up on both sides of the foyer. In unison, all three heads swivel to the left where a teacher stands in the shadows of the unlit hallway.
The girl’s hand tightens on the lamp. She forces her eyes forward and keeps walking. She barely registers Logan’s whisper, “Vampire.”
Nick responds just as quietly, “Not our main problem right now.”
As they pass the front office, both boys examine the people inside through the glass wall. The person they are looking for is not there. Maybe this girl would know where to find Chloe.
They follow the girl up two flights of stairs and through double doors that open through the back onto the lively stage filled with students focused on individual and small group tasks.
“James!” The girl calls into the audience where a couple of people circle a light board and small table with a laptop open before them. “Got the lamp and the fan. Where do you want them right now?”
The boy calls back, “Closet, down stage, left.”
The girl turns to the boys and pulls the fan easily from Nick’s box. She motions to a table to their left and says, “You can put those boxes there. I’ll be right back.”
The boys share a look as they watch the girl walk to a closet and hide the lamp and fan inside. They place the boxes on the table while watching her closely as she stops and talks to a few people on her return.
“Thank you guys so much. You just saved me a few trips. My name is Aidan. Can I help you now?”
Logan steps forward and takes her hand in an almost-but-not-quite-handshake. He wraps both of his hands around her small one. “I’m Logan and this is Nick.”
She pulls her hand from his and peers at his face.
Nick grabs her attention. “We’re looking for Chloe Hunt. Her brother says she volunteers here sometimes.”
“Sure she does. Don’t know if she’s here today, though. She mainly works the library.” Aidan swivels on her heel and finds the dark head of another girl. “Celia, have you seen Chloe today?”
“Nope, haven’t been by the library,” Celia responds without lifting her head from her position on the floor over a diagram, “That’s your haunt, not mine.”
There is a significant pause in the conversation. Celia looks up and takes note of the boys. She smiles warmly.
Nick feels a somewhat familiar tickle at the base of his neck. He rubs at it, notices the wrinkles between Logan’s eyebrows and tries to place where he’s felt this before. But then it is gone and Aidan turns back to them.
“I’ll show you where the library is. We’ll see if she’s here. And again, thank you so much for carrying those boxes. They were pretty heavy.”
The boys share another look as Aidan heads back the way they came. Back through the stage doors, down the hallway and up another flight of stairs. Being Saturday, most of the lights are off and through the hallways lined with large windows, there is plenty of light so that no one notices the lack of electricity.
But in the hallways that were built into the hill, it is so dark, Aidan flicks on the flashlight app on her phone. It dances as she walks, throwing shadows better than a torch. She never holds it up, never faces it forward. She merely carries it at her side and lets the light play in the darkness.
They pass an entrance to another hallway. Something flickers in the corner of Nick’s eye. He stops. He peers through the darkness to where the hallway opens up with light through windows. Nothing moves. Nick shakes his head and takes a few longer strides to catch up with Logan and Aidan.
They turn into the library that takes up half of one floor of the school. To the left is a row of windows overlooking an inner multi-leveled courtyard. To the right, the front desk, sits empty. Stacks of books cover the desk. A wheeled shelf sits behind it half full of returned books already checked in. A closed laptop sits atop a random stack of papers. A desktop pc takes up part of the desk. A bobcat, the school mascot, paces back and forth in the screensaver on the monitor. The only light is the sun shining through the windows. The back of the library lies in darkness.
“Is anyone here?” Logan asks.
Aidan purses her lips. “Don’t know. But we could look around a bit.” She leads them in a systematic tour through the darkened part of the library. “There are smaller rooms off the main one, hiding behind all the contemporary fiction. We can check reference first. It’s just over here.”
As Nick takes a step to follow, something again catches in the corner of his eye. This time he glimpses a long blonde ponytail disappearing around a stack in the far corner.
Think about going home. You travel the same roads, see the same buildings, houses, trees, neighbors, etc. No matter how far you go, when you reach a certain point on your return, your mind switches into auto and simply follows the route. You park, check the mail, unlock the front door and start dropping things on whatever flat surface greets you. Maybe you drop your keys in a bowl, maybe your purse lands on a nearby table. Maybe you walk through the living room, checking your phone, flipping on the TV. Maybe you make it to the kitchen and browse for a snack or start thinking about supper. Maybe you stop to make yourself a drink before returning to the living room and falling on the sofa, finally finding the first tendrils of relaxation after a long day.
Technically, the end of my day is not much different.
I cannot find any evidence that my blood contains any hint of demon. Which is why I cannot just blink home, you know, travel from one place to another in the blink of an eye. Unless it is a recessive trait that completely skipped me. I also cannot telekinetically lift myself from one place to another, i.e. fly. Think of it like trying to pick yourself up physically. You can’t physically carry yourself, so I can’t psychically carry myself. Kinda works like that.
I do, however, have several other viable modes of transportation. Just because I’m magic doesn’t mean I don’t employ mundane means of travel. I have a bike, a couple of boats, and I drive a ’69 Charger that has seen better days. And yes, I drive around town and run errands just like any woman. I have to keep up some appearances. I am not a complete hermit. Keeping my home safe requires a presence in my town.
Sometimes, I quite literally hoof it home in the least magical, most mundane, most hidden way possible…the sewers. The bigger tunnels aren’t used anymore, because they all end at the river and it’s just not environmentally sound to deposit waste in the muddy waters of the Mississippi. So they redirected and now recycle and filter the water in several plants south of the middle of nowhere. And I get to travel through ancient, mostly dry brick tunnels.
I have had to create entrances that never existed in the original plans, of course, because, seriously, who would drop waste through a secret panel in the basement of the town’s only library, or a broom closet in some random office building, or even the ladies room on the second floor of the courthouse? I’ve lived here so long…long enough to create my own spider web through the town. And, I, in my various forms own a good chunk of it.
For me, going home is never exactly the same.
I can walk beneath half the town, speed through its streets, or drop sprinkles of powder and bam! I’m home.
Tonight, I walk through the tunnels checking various points on my way. I make sure that the magic has not deteriorated and the boys can get through them safely if they follow the directions I slipped into Logan’s pocket. If they follow the directions, I will not have to reset my booby traps, they will automatically reset themselves and that will be one less thing to think about.
My home is my sanctuary. It is a monument to decades of work, some mundane, some magical. I made many mistakes, but learned from them and now my home protects me and anyone else inside from all the bad things outside. For all but me, it is not easy to enter. There are dead ends and traps that confuse humans, demons, and many other magical creatures.
After entering my home from one of the tunnels, it takes a full five minutes to get to my inner sanctum; the most magically and mundanely protected area of my entire home. Three rooms: sleeping, records and workroom lay hidden behind so many tricks and trips that only I can simply walk through. It is only paranoia when no one is out to get you. It is precaution when there are unlimited things out to get you.
And I do fall on the sofa, kick off my boots and seek relaxation. A glass on the table next to me fills itself full of deep red wine. I take a long sip, appreciating the otherworldly vintage. The glass is enchanted. It chooses whatever beverage it thinks I need. This time it is the second best from my collection: a red from an agricultural-based world I visited about five years ago. The best is the white, closest to the taste the Greek gods enjoyed in ambrosia.
I toss some magic into the fireplace and welcome the brisk flames, urging them higher and higher. Here, I can work all the magic I want. Here, protected, my magic doesn’t even brush against the ether.
I pull a small table close to me and drag a blanket over my legs. On the table is a carved frame holding a crystal square. It is one of the divining tools I use to monitor…stuff. Tonight, I watch over the boys sleeping in Jim’s loft, Jim’s arrival at his own home and a couple of others I keep on the backburner because, frankly, they are either family or key players on the board or both.
I pull my blanket tighter and watch my distant cousin meet her future best friend for the first time. I smile and breathe words that make her memory of this event fade to dream-like status so that when she sees him again a few days from now, it won’t completely freak her out.
I’m a meddler.