21.2 Natasha had a third-floor room. It was in an old creaky house converted into small apartments. People came there to consult with her.
21.3 Her first name really was Natasha. Her last name was just Smith, which bored her, so mostly she forgot to mention that part.
21.4 Her business card was shiny purple with her exotic name in gold script, then “Psychic” below that, and then her cell phone number.
21.5 Saturday morning she sat on the bed and wished she had an ocean view instead of being eight blocks from the sea with a view of a garage roof.
21.7.1 There was a seagull on the garage roof. She looked at it, trying to read its mind.
21.7.2 She found birds difficult. There was something reptillian about them. Their minds were not easily penetrated.
[you are so bad]
[I was adding character. I thought the seagull was interesting]
[God. Now I am afraid to continue.]
[No, carry on. I’m going to bed. It’s late. No more seagulls, at least not for a bit]
[– I don’t believe you. But I shall continue.]
21.6 And the rent was due on Thursday. A customer was coming in a few minutes, and that would pay part of it. There was never quite enough.
21.7 At the closet she selected a blue silk wrap & slipped into it. She looked at her face in the dresser mirror– wrinkles looked back.
21.8 She rose & drew a wall of curtain behind her-which is what divided a space for a client room, with its little round table & two chairs.
21.9 This portion of her room had another window, but she closed out the daylight with a blind and lit a candle on a sideboard by the wall.
22.0 She checked in a hand mirror: ten years younger now. She smiled and winked at herself in the little oval glass.
22.1 Was there time for a smoke? A knock at the door meant there wasn’t. “Come in,” she called mysteriously, and Wendell opened the door.
[Roman exile to Newport?]
[Well. Now you have thrown down the gauntlet, sir.]
22.2 Sometimes Natasha found herself speaking with an accent. She could stop it, but it felt comfortable, like soft clothing on her body.
22.2.1 Today she felt Italian, with just a hint of Russian. She was a refugee from the Revolution, living life in Roman exile…
[what are you drinking?]
[nothing. Just closing down….honest. But I like Natasha.]
22.3 “Mr. Oat,” she said. She could feel the accent slipping on, like the blue silk. “Is so nice to see you. Please, sit down.”
22.4 She had forgotten the incense. Atmosphere was so important. Matches. Soon a ribbon of smoke sweetened the air with patchouli.
22.5 Then she seated herself, took a breath, and looked into Wendell’s eyes with such intensity that he had to look away.
22.6 “What can I help you with, Mr Oat?” she said in her darkest voice. “You gotta promise,” he said, “not to tell anybody…”
22.7 “No-no-no,” she said, “of course it is not–all is private–to you and to me only.” She smiled. He breathed and then smiled badly.
22.8 “There is a woman,” he said. She nodded in understanding. He continued. “The first woman who ever mattered. I have to know…”
22.9 “If she cares for you,” Natasha said. “If she returns the sentiment and passion of you. If you have a future of love together.”
23.0 Wendell nodded. He looked miserable and glanced around like a cornered animal looking for a way out. “Is okay,” Natasha said.
23.1 “Now be all quiet.” She sat back and closed her eyes. Soon she experienced a darkness, and heard only her own breath.
23.2 She moved farther; deeper, until she reached a peaceful nothingness–because, although Natasha’s accent was pretend, her trances were not.
23.3 Somewhere her mind considered Wendell’s question. She frowned as she probed. She shivered, eyes shut. She felt tears.
23.4 Wendell’s eyes were wide as she shook her head slightly. She almost spoke. Wendell shifted in his chair. He was afraid to hear.
23.5 On the sideboard behind him the burning stick of incense tipped, from a tiny floor vibration. Hot ashes fell onto the linen below it.
23.6 “There is a shadow,” Natasha murmured. “over this woman.” She began to rock a little. “A black shadow, a potent shadow.”
23.7 Wendell leaned forward. “What can I do? Tell me—what to do.” Behind him, on the sideboard linen, there was a tiny flame now.
23.8 “She needs help.To save herself,” Natasha spoke dreamily. “Greed is a great evil.” Could it be that Wendell burned a cigarette…
23.9 …or possibly a joint? Or what WAS that smoke? Natasha’s eyes slowly opened and she struggled to wake. A flame flickered behind Wendell.
24.0 Natasha was up. She flew to the corner that served as a kitchen and returned with a quart of orange juice from the refrigerator.
24.1 She dowsed the fire and stomped out embers on the floor, then stood, panting and irritated. Wendell stood with an open mouth.
24.2 “A dead cat,” Natasha said then,“and now this goddam sticky mess.” She carried the rest of the juice to the sink and returned with a towel.
24.3 She picked up the charred linen runner from off the sideboard, then mopped up the orange juice spilled there and on the wood floor.
24.4 She carried the linen to the wastebasket in the bedroom. When she returned Wendell was seated again. “But can you help me?” he asked.
24.5 He might have been six, and looking for his shoes. Natasha sat down, exasperated. She put her hands on the table, and leaned toward him.
24.6 “You heard the words,” she said. Then she sat back, but left one hand on the table, palm up. Wendell put the bills on it as he left.<
[Natasha doesn’t have much luck with her seances, does she?]
[Everything was going just fine until that seagull showed up & disrupted the space-time continuum.]
24.7 When Wendell had left, Natasha drew back the curtains and opened a window to let out the smell of charred cloth.
24.9 Perhaps the bird was not all it seemed. She needed a new Familiar now that poor, dear Fluffy was gone. She missed the cat,
25.1 but she had to admit that Fluffy had lacked the gravitas of a creature in touch with the occult. A seagull on the other hand
25.2 would certainly impress clients. The bird had a yellow, evil look. She was sure it shimmered slightly in the light.
25.3 That would be the effect of passing between dimensions. She made up her mind. “I shall call you Beaky,” she said to the bird.
25.3.1 But then, what was that? Another cat, big and orange, on the roof, & suddenly the distracted gull was dead. Natasha sighed.
[Damn, I didn’t think you’d be around yet]
[I have to watch you every minute.]
[That seagull really had a role to play. It was going to be at the Sunday seance]
[Natasha NEEDS some creature to aid her. I can tell. She is very lonely]
[Natasha is not a witch. She is a Psychic. Not very organized, but talented.]
[I thought BILL needed a cat once. And he went and lost her. Poor Cupcake.]
[Cupcake is not lost. No indeed.]
[Can’t psychics have Familiars? Or is that just a witch-thing? I wouldn’t know. I’m too prosaic]
[It is a witch thing. And Cupcake better be in the PINK of health.]
[I suppose I have to live with this arbitrary slaying of Beaky, But there will come a time….]
[Beaky deserved it. He was spying on poor Natasha. Probably worked for Rupert Murdoch.]
[I’m a little worried now. Not only do you have a remarkably murderous attitude to potentially occult creatures….]
[..but you also seem to know rather too much about this witchcraft stuff. I shall guard my characters carefully henceforth]
24.7 Two hours later found Wendell and Evie walking together on the beach. It was gray and cold and there was some wind.
24.8 Wendell was surprised when Evie agreed to spend the afternoon with him. She wore jeans and a thick sweater, boots and a parka.
24.9 Somehow everything looked fashionable on Evie. As they walked he tried to remember Natasha’s words. Something about Evie needing help…
30.0They walked north, into the wind. Suddenly she took his hand, and then she slipped both their hands into his warm coat pocket.
30.1 A rush of happiness almost drowned Wendell. He resolved to protect Evie, to take care of her. Smiled up at him. “Cozy,” she said.
30.2 Later they sat at a table at the Rogue pub, over bruschetta and beer. No one had ever shown so much interest in Wendell before.
30.3 He answered all Evie’s questions, and she teased him, and held his hand. Her cheeks were pink from the wind, and she laughed easily.
30.4 She was suddenly serious: “I have to tell you something. I was seeing Blue. It’s over.” She looked down. “He drinks too much, and drugs…”
30.5 Wendell was surprised. “Oh,” he said. Then, “Jill’s teacher.” Evie looked sorry. “But you didn’t have to tell me, Evie.”
30.6 Wendell went on. “Really it doesn’t matter at all.” She looked up and he saw the ready tears. “You are a good person,” she said.
30.7 Then Evie spoke again, with a new voice.“Let’s go somewhere tonight.”
30.8 At that point Wendell would have cheerfully followed Evie to the moon. But instead they went to Spirit Mountain Casino, an hour inland.
30.9 Evie was a lucky gambler and came out ahead on the slot machines. Wendell watched, and contributed some cash; she won it all back for him.
31.0 There was a fabulous steak dinner and champagne, and somehow they ended up at the casino lodge, in a deluxe suite.
31.1 So of course somehow they didn’t get back to Newport until Sunday morning. (Evie woke up smiling, and so did Wendell.)
31.2 On Sunday afternoon a circle of people sat around Margaret’s dining room table. A weak candle flickered in a brass holder.
31.3 The people could dimly see each other in the light coming in around the edges of the window blinds. Even outside it was a dark day.
31.4 Margaret, Iris, Jill, Billy Killins and Natasha. No Blue. Jill sat by Billy in silence, almost bored. He winked at her and she winked back.
31.5 Natasha spoke. “Welcome friends,” she said. Her eyes glittered in the candlelight as she offered a separate glance at each of them.
31.6 Billy marveled at her–such an overdone work of theater. But something about her kept his interest, kept him coming to the circles.
31.7 When her gaze fell upon him he had to concentrate to keep from turning his eyes away. She moved on and he breathed again.
31.8 Natasha sat beside Margaret, and took her hand. “We come,” Natasha said, “to help Margaret, to seek with her, about her great loss.”
31.9 Margaret fought tears. The others knew to join hands. Eyes closed, heads bent as in prayer. Natasha relaxed more with each breath.
32.0 “We ask for help,” she said. “We seek help. We reach, to the good and the benefeecial, to those who would with us to help Margaret.”
32.1 The accent was back. Then Natasha became silent, deep breaths, relaxing into trance. Billy thought: ‘She puts it on like lipstick.’
32.2 The circle waited, each in their own thoughts. Billy thought of how he needed to research “Uncanny Death,” from that message…
32.3 The air in the room felt heavy. “The animal is free.” Natasha’s voice came at last, changed, almost someone else’s voice. “He is free.”
32.4 The voice continued. “Murder,” it said. Margaret sobbed. “There was murder.” Natasha’s face seemed distorted in the dim light.
32.5 Billy still held Jill’s hand. He felt her other hand too then, both clinging to his, as if she were suddenly afraid.
32.6 Natasha was in some kind of distress, then relaxed. Her head bent low. There was a great sigh. “He is already dead,” she said softly..
32.7 “Fluffy?” Margaret asked breathlessly. “He is already dead,” Natasha repeated. “Forgive. It is over.”
32.8 Without warning, Natasha stood & awoke, as from a dream, and caught the table edge. Then she sat, or fell, back into the chair.
32.9 Iris brought her a glass of water, and they tried to talk with her, but Natasha remembered nothing. Margaret looked weak & pale.
33.0 After Billy had poured the brandy for Margaret, and after Natasha had collected her fee and gone home, there was the garden gravestone..
33.1 Margaret kept flowers there. “It’s not 3 feet high,” Jill whispered. “Pish posh,” Iris said. “20 inches,” Billy said.
33.2 When Billy got home, he made some notes of Natasha’s words, then he went to his computer to catch up. An email from Jill already.
33.3 “Billy – so who killed the cat? xo Jill” “All is avenged,” he typed. “Right,” she answered, & he smiled at her irony.
33.4 By third period on Monday the rumors were moving through the high school. Mr.Filp, (Blue) hadn’t come in and hadn’t called.
33.5 His first and second period English classes had no teacher. The kids had a nice time until the vice principal happened by.
33.6 By lunch there were new rumors. Jill heard it, in the cafeteria. She was in line, waiting for a sandwich, and heard two girls talking.
33.7 She asked questions. They explained in excited voices. After Jill heard their words she put down her tray and went to her locker.
33.8 She felt like a zombie as she gathered up her things and put on her coat. Blue dead? How could this happen? It could not be.
33.9 There were two police officers in the hall. “…his head,” she heard as she passed by them. She felt sick.
34.0 Blue dead? She said it over & over and each time a cold shock wave moved through her body. Dead. How could he be dead?
34.1 Jill came home to an empty house. She went to her room and instantly dissolved into tears. She had so recently seen him, in his office.
34.2 Just the week before– he had given her paper an A. She rummaged through the books and notes on her desk. Where was it?
34.3 She found the paper, and looked at Blue’s note. “Great work Jill” & the grade. It wasn’t much. She dug some more to find the earlier one…
34.4 It had been the first real assignment in the class. She’d spent a lot of time– careful research & thoughtful presentation.
34.5 All about the ancient & powerful plant, Aconitum. Monkshood. Wolf bane. She loved the words, the stories & traditions, myths & magic
34.6 The paper had been pure pleasure & had inspired her poison plant garden. Now she stared at Blue’s note, red ink at the top of the page.
34.7 “You are a talented writer Jill. Can’t tell you how I enjoyed this paper—A.” The words had meant so much to her. She began to cry again.<