Monday, November 9, 2009

Chapter Four

When Luke got home, the coyote was back. This time, he was waiting by the front door. After throwing the coyote a resigned glare, he opened the apartment door, and followed him in. “What now?” He asked as he walked into the bathroom. He left the door open.

“You sent them to the priest? That's an interesting choice.” The coyote called out. It's tone suggested that in this case, 'interesting choice' meant 'staggeringly moronic choice'.

Luke finished, flushed. “What else should I have done?” He asked. He walked over to his couch and threw himself down on it. The coyote shuffled over and sat nearby. Looking him over, Luke thought that he seemed to be in much worse shape than he had been in the morning. The coyote looked about ready to die. The exertion of crossing the living room had left it panting.

He noticed Luke noticing. “I'm not meant to stay in one animal this long. This one is wearing down.”

“So leave it. There's a backyard full of feral cats down the street.” Luke said. “Where'd you even find a coyote? And why?”

He got a reproachful look at that. “You must be the dumbest shaman the world has ever seen.”

“I'm not a shaman, and that wasn't an answer.”

“Whatever you say, Luke. You're talking to a spirit manifesting itself in a coyote, without batting an eye. This afternoon, you spoke with the ancestor voice, and sent two young women in peril on a quest. Sounds pretty shaman-y to me, but what do I know?”

“The ancestor voice? Is that what that is?” Luke shrugged. “Doesn't matter. You're still not answering me. Why the coyote?”

“It's a symbolism thing. Coyotes are supposed to be sources of wisdom, spirits of mischief, totemic guides.”

“Okay, be that as it may, it's just symbolism. You could tell me the same think in a cat's body. It's only a shape you wear, anyways.”

The coyote leaned back, looking as baffled as an animal can. “It's just symbolism?” He repeated, incredulous. “The shape you wear determines your nature. Why would it be any different for me?”

Luke let that thought settle in his mind. It implied something, though he wasn't sure what yet. “So you'd have a different nature if you were in another body? In what way?”

He growled. It turned into a hacking cough midway, and then a series of wheezing gasps for air. “I'm not sure. I would have another perspective, and it would influence me. But at the moment, this perspective seems to be the total of myself, though I know it isn't. I'm not the same now as I am in my world, but while I'm here, the way I act and think seems natural.” He lay down, curled up in a ball. “I don't exactly pick and choose my form in your world. This one was needed. Soon, I'll need another.”

Luke blinked. “You're going to die, then? Tough break. Could you do it outside?”

The coyote laughed at him. “I'll try.” He stood, then, and gave Luke's hand a lick.

Luke started. “What was that for?”

The coyote stared at the floorboards intensely. “I'm sorry, Luke.” He sounded sincere. “The fortune-teller is dying.”

Luke sprung to his feet. “What? How?”

“Non-men, with steel teeth. I can feel their fury.”

Luke grabbed the coyote by the scruff of the neck, gave a hard yank that raised a yelp, and glared into his eyes. “You bastard,” he hissed out. “Why didn't you warn me?” He felt, from a distance, tears building in his eyes, but his grief was lost in the wild storm of his anger. With manic strength, he flung the coyote halfway across the room, then fell back onto the couch, hands shaking.

The coyote lay where it had landed. “I don't see the future. And I had no idea this was coming. Any of this. The dreamers, the fortune teller... It's all confusing. I can see by the moves our opponent makes that there is a master plan, but I can't unravel it.”

“Our opponent? How many times do I have to say I'm not interested?”

“Your friend is dead. Doesn't that anger you? Don't you want revenge?”

Luke's face went stony, and when he spoke again, his voice was winter. “I want you out of my life. You and all you stupid fucking egregores, you dreams and nightmares, you vomited up little pieces of subconscious, I want all of you to go back to Pandora's box, and die in it. I am not,” he continued, voice raising to a shout, “interested in your war. I don't care if you break the barrier, or if you fade out of existence. Find someone else to peddle your crap to, because the witch doctor is out!”

The coyote dragged himself to standing again. “You can try telling that to them, then. I can feel them coming this way. I'm sorry, Luke,” he said, and then fell to the floor. Luke watched the coyote breathe out a last few gasps, and then grow still.

“God damn it,” Luke spat. Fight or flight?, he asked himself, both sounding pretty appealing. They'll keep following, if I run. Fight it was, then. He began to prepare, not noticing when a grim smile began to spread across his face.

Susan didn't stop fuming until long after they'd left Luke Conley behind at the bar. “What an ass,” she finally muttered, and Mary surprised her by breaking into a laugh. “What's so funny?”

Mary laughed even harder. “It's just, it's all so crazy. I can hardly believe it, and I'm the one that's supposed to be killed. That guy not wanting any part of this is the only thing that makes sense. I can't even figure out why you do, Suze.”

Susan stopped cold. “Because you're my best friend, you silly bitch. Nobody's allowed to kill you but me,” she smirked. “I can't believe any of this either, but I don't know. At the theater, I believed him. I think you're in trouble.”

Mary nodded. They kept walking for a few minutes, and finally found St. Andrew's, home to one Father Daniel Lawson. The church, like most of Trenton, had seen better days. It was a tiny chapel, obviously never the home of a large congregation, and some particularly rebellious teenager had thrown his tag across the front door in bold, black spray-paint. The windows were new, but the shards of colorful glass around the frames hinted that somebody, probably the youth with the illegible tag, had shattered the stained glass, and the church had to make do with colorless replacements.

They walked in, and while the interior showed its age in a lot of ways, it was much better maintained. The benches were clearly ancient, and the paintings of the stations of the cross were fading with age, but it was clean, warm, and inviting.

“Hello?” Mary called out. The echo of it seemed to carry on, and Susan marveled (not for the first time) over the acoustics of churches, even small ones.

“Just a minute!” Someone shouted back, from the room behind the altar. It took two, actually, before the man came out, and when he did, neither woman responded with anything more than stunned silence.

Father Daniel Lawson did not look like a priest. Not that there is a template for priests, but Daniel Lawson had the look of an old soldier. His face was angular, lined, and hard. He moved purposefully, crossing the church in long, sweeping steps. Well over six feet, he towered over Mary and Susan. He greeted them both with a handshake and Susan noted that he had the knuckles of brawler and the calluses of a ditch-digger. “Sorry I'm not in uniform,” he said, with a wide, engaging smile. “I don't get much of a crowd on Wednesday nights.” He was wearing, of all things, a T-shirt from a Buzzcocks tour, and blue jeans that had seen a lot of years, most of them hard.

Mary jumped right into it. “A guy named Luke Conley gave us your address. He said that you might be able to help us.”

Daniel jumped at the name. “Luke sent you? I'm guessing that you aren't here for confession, then.”

“Not exactly.”

“Come on, I've got a pot of coffee on, it's probably not completely poisonous yet.” He ushered them back behind the altar, and the three sat around a hardwood table as the girls, talking over one another, managed to relay to him the gist of Luke's warning.

“Holy shit,” the priest said when they'd run out of words, and then gave an embarrassed laugh when he realized what he'd said. “That's a lot of bad news coming down on you. On a scale of one to ten, ten being absolutely, how much do you believe all of that?”

Mary said “Six”, while Susan could only go with “Five”.

He leaned back in his chair. “That'll have to do. Let me guess, Luke gave you a whole song and dance about how he was 'out', yeah?”

Susan's blood boiled again. “The guy was a major dick.”

“He's young, it's in his nature,” he said, and then gave a deep, rumbling laugh at the look of skepticism on her face. “He's terrified of responsibility. If he helps you, he runs the risk of failing you, getting you both killed. As long as he refuses to do what he's supposed to, and tells himself it's not his job, then he can't screw it up.”

“Are you?” Mary asked, frowning anxiously. “Afraid of helping us, I mean.”

“Nope. My days of hiding my light under a bushel are long over now. Besides,” he added with a deep chuckle. “I believe in Heaven, so even if I get you killed, it doesn't necessarily mean I failed you.”

“How reassuring,” Susan said, dryly.

“Don't worry, I'm not giving you the last rites yet. I'll keep you ladies safe, I promise.”

“How?” Mary asked, voice starting to shake. “I don't even know who is trying to kill me!”

He stood up from the table. “That's as good a place to start as any. Let's find out.”

His house, attached to the back of the church, was unexpectedly cluttered. Bookshelves dominated the walls, the books on them arranged in haphazard order. Dozens more lay on every flat surface, most dog-eared or left open and spine-up, like birds in flight. The table was piled high with records, circulars, and coffee cups. The sink overflowed with dishes, the floors with laundry. “Ah,” he said, chagrined, “it's a little bit bachelor in here, I'll admit.”

He took a few minutes clearing the table, then spread a wide map of the town over it. He stood above it with a permanent marker, and his eyes seemed to go out of focus. “Let's see,” he said, his voice strangely muffled. “here's something.” He made a mark on the far right side of the map. “Just a ghoul, never mind. What else have we got?” His hands jerked back and forth above the map, dotting it here and there. “Nothing, nada, nope. Oh, what's this?”

He made two X-s on the map. “Heavy hitters,” he muttered, then looked at the location. “Oh crap. Hope you're ready for them, Luke. Guess you're wearing your dance shoes tonight after all.”

“What are you doing?” Mary asked, perplexed.

Hands still moving almost of their own accord, he looked up at her, though the faraway look never left his eyes. “For lack of a better word, magic. I'm pinpointing all the supernatural entities in Trenton, looking for whatever might be after you.”

“Magic.” She said, voice flat. “You can do magic.”

“You sound skeptical, and rightly so. But yes, I guess I can do magic.”

“Does that mean that you're like them? I mean, from the dream world, or something? Fuck, I don't know. Yesterday, I was pretty damned sure that magic wasn't real.”

“You've accepted that there is an esoteric world along with our world, right?”

“Grudgingly, I suppose.”

He laughed. “That's a common first reaction. Luke believes that we created the esoteric world. I think that the two were created together, but that debate isn't exactly pertinent right now. Either way, there was initially a lot of interaction between the two worlds, because we were sort of co-existing in the same space. Then they started to diverge. But that didn't happen quickly, and there was a lot of resistance to it. Even many of the benign manifestations weren't happy about being isolated.

“It got pretty messy. But at that point, some of the esoterica were halfway between our world and what we're calling the dream world. Even if you wanted to, you couldn't open up a dialog, or try and end hostilities, or when necessary, take some heads off of some necks.

“That's when people like me started being born, people with one foot in each world. We can talk to and interact with the supernatural in both worlds. We're meant to bridge the gap between the worlds. There are others, from their side, who can do the same. I call them Enkidus, after the wild man from the epic of Gilgamesh. They can take the forms of animals in our world.

“Between us and the Enkidus, we can kind of mediate between the two realms, and keep the status quo intact. When something from their world crosses over to ours, inadvertently or not, we need to keep an eye on them. Sometimes they're harmless, in which case we help them if we can. Sometimes they're dangerous, and we try to send them back or neutralize them.

“We've picked up more than a few tricks over the years. This is one of them.” He marked another X on the map. “Here's another major player. I can't get a focus on it, though. This could be the one after you.”

Susan jumped in. “Where is it?”

He frowned down at the map. “The movie theater on Main.” The girls gave each other an Oh shit look. “Let me guess – your place of work?”

“Yeah,” Susan said. “You're making not believing all of this pretty hard, here.” Mary stood, and started to pace. “So now that you know where it is, what now?”

“Now, we wait.” He scratched out the two X-s he'd placed on the map earlier.

“Wait for what? For whatever it is to come get us?” Mary asked. “Great plan.”

“No, for Luke Conley.”

Susan laughed. “I don't think he's coming, Father. He made that pretty clear.”

“He's just killed two esoterica, in his apartment. His blood's up, now. I imagine he'll be by once he's finished cursing.”

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