INTERLUDE – IN WHICH CELIA, WHO, BEING AN ATTORNEY, SHOULD KNOW BETTER, SIGNS A PIECE OF PAPER
Celia gasped. Phil’s mouth was…everywhere at once, it felt like. She was having yet another full body orgasm, her toes curling up so far under her feet, they may as well have been bound like an old-time Chinese girl’s. Sex with Phil was an electrical storm that caused every hair on her body to rise to meet the lightning.
Phil was so deep inside her, so impossibly huge and filling. And when she stared into the deep wells of his cool blue eyes, it was as if she was seeing all the way down, through his body, and out the head of his shaft and into herself, as if together they were that proverbial snake who swallowed his own tail.
She was neglecting her work. Neglecting her friendship with Sol. A twinge there, of guilt, at how she’d snapped at him. Why hadn’t she wanted to tell him all about Phil! The most wonderful thing that had ever happened to her!
“You’re thinking about Sol,” Phil said.
She blinked. “How can you tell?”
“You freeze up, you frown, you pull back from me.” He sounded hurt.
She sighed, stroked his face. “I’m sorry. I just…” She just what? She looked into his eyes and the thought “just” ran away from her.
“I’m all you need,” Phil said, beginning to move inside her again.
“Oh God,” she said, that dark, sullen lizard brain at the base of her brainstem agreeing completely with that.
No! It wasn’t true! Sol was her best friend, and more than that…they had history together, and not just in this life. She had been the Queen of Sheba, and he the King of Israel, and together they had summoned, and banished, daemons. And with the help of Rob, someday, she’d be a sorceress again, like Sol was becoming.
“Do you want me to teach you…things?” Phil asked her.
She pulled away from him. “What do you mean?” Then it hit her. “Holy fuck. You’re…”
Phil smiled. “A daemon. But you knew that already, didn’t you?”
She confronted her feelings. Of course she’d known. Phil was too good to be true, wasn’t he, the sex was too…too good to be human.
“What’s your real name, then?”
“I’ve told you my real name. Phil Gabeta.” His fingers stroked her skin, and whatever neurotransmitters had tried to lock up her pleasure centers and enable her think clearly, well, those locks were easily tumbled open under Phil’s touch.
But a memory came to her, and not a pleasant one…
Ga’ap Bileth. Roaring with anger as he was forced into the amphora by Solomon and Sheba. Ga’ap’s eyes, not blue but red, full of rage, hate, plans for revenge…
Phil waved that away, literally – a wave of his hand and the image left Celia’s mind, replaced with a rush of endorphins, opiates… Phil, Phil, how could you be the same person, well not person, thing…
He shrugged. “That was long in the past. I’ve let it go.”
“So…why are you here? With me?”
He smiled. “Because you summoned me. With your attempts at magic. With the spells you whispered under your breath as you read those magic books on your coffee table.”
Celia blushed. She thought she’d suppressed that habit, the cliché tic of an idiot, her lips moving when she read.
“Do you want to learn more of these things? Become again the great Queen you were?”
“Yes…” she whispered. It flickered through her mind, the words of the Lemegeton: He can cause love or hatred, and make men Insensible… Surely she was being made insensible now with these rushing waves of delirious joy.
“Yes,” he whispered in agreement. He sat up, reached for his pants, pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “All you have to do is sign here.” He handed her the paper.
She tried to read it, but the text was so hard to decipher. The words were written in a dark script on old parchment, and they were English words, she knew that, but somehow when she tried to follow the sense of them it was like entering an Escher drawing, where down was up and all staircases led to sideways. Which wasn’t right, because she was a lawyer after all, and well accustomed to sentences designed to not make sense, to conceal their true intent, conceal the facts that had to be stated but not necessarily clearly.
“I should talk to Sol about this…”
“What for? Does he tell you everything? Does he offer you the details of what he’s up to with…” He scowled as if he couldn’t even say the name. “The other one? Does he share what he’s learning?”
“No,” she said, suddenly aggravated. The two of them, Rob and Sol, they’d treated her like a child! She sulked angrily, thinking of the injury, only now realizing it.
“Well then,” Phil said, “you’re entitled to your secrets, too.”
She nodded. He was absolutely right!
Phil handed her a pen, and she reached for it without looking. “Ow!” she said as it pricked her finger. A drop of her blood fell on the page.
“The pen’s ruined, now. Just sign it with your blood. Your initials will do.”
She said, “I need to read the fine print first,” even as she watched her finger travel across the page, smearing her initials.
Gently, he took it away from her. “Never mind, you can read it later. Now, let me teach you something new.”
And he put his hand between her legs and she forgot everything.
CHAPTER FOUR – IN WHICH SOL LEARNS TO TELECOMMUTE MAGICALLY, LEARNS THE TALE OF LUCY AND EDGAR, AND TRAVELS TO THE LAIR OF JEFF THE SORCEROR, WHERE HE RECEIVES A NASTY SURPRISE
“Why are you doing that by hand?” Lucy asked me.
I paused. I’d been transcribing the “diamonds” from the Dark Lord Melvin’s book, typing them line by line into my computer.
“Umm, because you don’t have hands and can’t do it for me, my helpful familiar?”
Gary chuckled. Lucy smirked.
“Oh.” I felt like a fool. “Of course.”
“How’s that for helpful,” she said, her eyes narrowed at me.
“I accept your apology,” she said in a tone of false generosity.
I got my wand out, thought for a moment. Waved it about.
“ ‘From analog to digital, these must be transferred.” Damn, nothing rhymed with transferred. “But typing it out is not the answer.’”
It still really unnerved me when Lucy rolled her eyes. “Try again.”
I sighed. “ ‘From this one grimoire, I must make three books. For the lines of the new ones, a symbol’s the hook. Triangle, circle and square, move from here,” I tapped the book, “to there,’ ” and the keyboard.
I jumped as the keyboard clattered to life. The book’s pages flipped to the end and I watched with delight as the screen filled with words.
Then the keyboard fell silent as a prompt opened on screen. “Save as,” it commanded me.
I typed “Diamond Book.”
“No!” Lucy hissed. “God, use your imagination!”
“Shit. Fine.” I racked my brain. The “diamond book” was a book of treasures, no doubt. But that was a double-edged sword, wasn’t it? A book that could make life easy, too easy, by just handing you all the money you’d ever need. Diamonds were beautiful, but also sharp, could cut you, could cut anything. And I bet, knowing daemonkind, that it couldn’t really be that easy, that every rose…
“The Book of Roses,” I typed, and hit Save. As soon as I did, the Dark Lord Melvin’s book flipped back to the first page, a new window opened, and the keyboard madly clacked out the next book.
Lucy looked at me.
“Think about it,” I said defiantly. When she got it, she purred loud enough to beat the band.
The “square book” was easy enough to name. “The Book of Legions,” I typed in, enjoying the double meaning of both Roman legions and the (false) notion of legions of daemons – daemons were far too independent and ornery to ever be organized into a militarily obedient hierarchy. I knew Rob had “command” of a number of subsidiary daemons, but that word was a pretty loose definition of their relationship.
Then the “circle book,” the protective spells. “The Book of Love,” I decided. After all, what was the most powerful protection of them all, what was the thing that kept the whole world at bay?
“Super,” Lucy said. “Now let’s get to work.”
The next few weeks passed in a blur. Lucy let me sleep, eat, and go to the can, and that was about it. Otherwise, it really was the cruel tutelage of Pai Mei 24/7.
“I need sunshine,” I protested one day. “It’s July, and I’m living in a cave. Besides, I haven’t talked to Celia since…”
Crap! Not since our little tiff. Waves of guilt washed over me. “I’m calling her right now.”
I got her voice mail. I hoped it was because she was busy, not because she didn’t want to answer me. “Hey Celia. I’m sorry I was snappish with you. I can’t believe we haven’t talked in weeks. This is like the longest in…forever, right, that we’ve gone this long? I miss you. Call me. Sorry. Again. Okay, bye.”
I frowned. “Something’s up,” I said.
“It is odd,” Lucy admitted.
“Can we, you know, astrally project to her house or something, go see what’s going on?”
“It’s funny you should mention that. Because it’s about time you learned how to do that. Since we need to pay a visit to Jeff and let you get the lay of the land there.”
“Am I ready to fight him?”
She laughed, a weird, eerie cat laugh. “Oh, no. Not even. But a short trip to Celia’s, a place you know, hmm, yes, that’s a good way to start out. So. Do you know anyone who has access to some magic mushrooms?”
Yes. Yes, I did. Lawrence The Hipster was a regular pharmacopeia. That was his full legal name, now, mind you – he even had monogrammed hankies with those initials. Lawrence was the guy who sported the haircut last year that made you gasp at its absurdity – you know, a modified version of which is now sported by every tool in the Marketing Department at your day job. He’d been a steampunk, a dandy, a phreak, and was now heavily into Carlos Castaneda, so I guarantee that your favorite band will be doing a concept album around “Journey to Ixtlan” sometime in the next year.
I’d met him while hanging out at Homage, doing my reading or editing work, and at first I’d dismissed him as the sort of crackpot who goes to cafés because they provide a captive audience for various absurd rants. I’d nod and murmur noncommittally at his theories about fluoride, and bury myself deeper in my book.
But then I’d started my magical reading, and he’d seen the cover of my current learned tome, “Religion and the Decline of Magic.”
“You know,” he said, “it wasn’t magic the Church objected to, per se, it was the competition. The Church agreed that amazing magical things were possible; it just insisted on the monopoly on miraculous powers.”
“True. But people kept on practicing magic on their own, even after they became Christians. They just fed pages of Scripture to their cattle to ward off evil, or some such.”
“Do you believe in that sort of thing?” Lawrence asked me. He had wide, spooky eyes, brown irises flecked with yellow and sclera of the same tinge, probably from too much…experimentation. “In magic?”
I was hardly going to say, yes, and I’m being trained in its mastery by an ancient daemon. Instead, I nodded in the direction of his Castaneda book. “I believe there are inner worlds in our mind that we can explore, worlds therefore not subject to ordinary, ‘daytime’ rules. Isn’t that magic?”
He blinked. He knew I was putting him off. “I can see your aura,” he said. Only this time it didn’t sound crazy. “It’s growing since the last time I saw you. Auras aren’t supposed to grow. Unless…”
He waited for me to finish the sentence. I knew in that moment that he knew what I’d been up to – not the details, but the gist of it.
I didn’t blink. “Name, rank, serial number,” I said with a straight face.
Lawrence burst out laughing, high-fived me. “Okay fine, be that way.”
So when I called him up and asked him for assistance in the psychedelic department, he was more than enthusiastic. Naturally he had some shrooms dried and ready.
“Can I come along?” he asked when I picked them up at his place, meaning, can I trip with you.
“Not this time,” I said. “It’s…complicated.”
Lawrence paused. “I was cycling past your house the other day. Saw your cat in the window.”
Now, this would have sounded like a total non sequitur in most cases. But I knew what he meant – he had seen Lucy, and Lucy had seen him, and they’d made eye contact and had a…moment.
The jig was up. “Well, she’s in charge of this expedition. And she’s not going to go for that. Sorry, man. But it’s…preparation for something serious.”
“You’re going to war,” Lawrence guessed.
“Yeah.” It was strange to hear it said. Even stranger to acknowledge it. Something changed at that moment for me. So far I’d been a recipient of the supernatural world’s powers, its events – being changed into a bird, taking in the learning Rob had on offer, getting what I now thought of as the Masked Grimoire. Finally it was time to act in that world, and change it, instead of just letting it change me.
Lucy could see it when I got home. Neither of us spoke. Gary wagged his tail nervously as we went downstairs. I stopped and petted him. “It’s okay, boy. Just a trip around the block.”
I somehow knew that even though they took a while to come on, I shouldn’t even do the shrooms until I was in the magicking room. I’d moved a comfy chair in there, with the understanding that only because I’d be “under” so long would Lucy permit me to sit down during a magickal exercise.
“Blecch,” I said, washing down the awful-tasting, blue-tinged fungus with some Seven-Up (it had to be a drink with no caffeine, as that would alter the shroom’s chemical influences in my brain) to mask the taste and help with the nausea bound to accompany its ingestion.
Lucy sat silently on the altar, watching me intently, her tail twitching rhythmically back and forth. When I started seeing the tracers her tail-flicking left behind, I knew I was coming onto the drug. She just kept that thing moving, this way and that way, and I couldn’t stop watching it. Soon I was in a pleasant hypnotic state. All I wanted, all I needed, all I had to do, was just follow the tail.
“Close your eyes,” she said gently. “Tell me what Celia’s living room looks like.”
“It’s white. Mostly. White couch, white chairs. White wood coffee table with a glass top. But there’s color. She has this Hockney print, a view down Mulholland Drive…wow.” The explosion of color in my head as I stared at the picture on her wall was like your first bite of candy after you’ve been on a strict diet for two weeks, all your sweetness receptors rested and ready to enjoy it. Blue, green, red, orange, a feast of color. The kind of picture that, when you’re tripping, you could stare at forever.
I could smell it again, too. Apples, cloves, and something else, something darker, smokier. Like the smoke from a match that had just been blown out. I heard Lucy take a sharp breath, opened my eyes.
“No,” she said. “Focus.” I closed them again. Of course she’d traveled with me. Everyone who’s ever had a cat knows they can teleport. You look for them literally everywhere in the house, and they’re not there. Why? They’re hanging out in the Interdimensional Kitty Bar, shooting the shit with the other kitties. Then they realize you can’t find them and the jig is up, so they teleport back into whatever room you’re not in at the moment, and saunter into your line of sight, oh hi!
I got up off the couch, Celia’s couch, where I’d been sitting. I was there, in her house, and that didn’t surprise me at all – it was the most natural thing in the world. I got up and walked around. She wasn’t home, unless…
She had a basement, too. The basement door was shut. I went to put my hand on the knob and to my surprise, I could grasp it, and turn it. I opened the door. It was dark downstairs. I started to descend…
Well, I tried to descend. The door was open, but there was something else blocking me. A door of another kind I couldn’t see, couldn’t touch, but that kept me from going any farther.
“Let’s go back to the couch,” Lucy said. I went back through Celia’s kitchen, back to the living room, sat on the couch. “Close your eyes again.” I did as I was told. “Now open them.”
I was back in the magicking room, sober as a judge. The mushroom had worn off, which meant I must have been there for hours. “How long was I…”
“But I’m not tripping…”
“No, you’re not. The psilocybin was a fuel, and you burned it up, astrally projecting. You did really well, Sol. Congratulations.”
That was a shocker, coming from her. “Thanks. So…what was that all about, at the basement door?”
She hesitated. “I’m not sure. I don’t like it though.”
“Did you smell it? Apples and cloves and something burnt?”
“Yes. I think you need to ask Celia a few questions next time you see her.”
Her eyes were unreadable, I could only see those flat reflective discs at the back of them that so unnerved me. “Like whether or not she’s consorting with daemons.”
“Don’t be silly,” Celia said when I met her for coffee. “Of course he’s not a daemon.”
“Okay. I just…look, I’ll confess. I was in your house.” Her eyes narrowed. “I mean, astrally projected there. Part of my training. And…”
She shook her head. “Sol. I can’t believe you violated my privacy like that.”
I blushed. It was true. I’d done a bad thing, hadn’t I? “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
She smiled, took my hand. “Listen. I am dating Phil, okay? And I’m sorry I haven’t told you about him. I’m just not ready. You know. Because once you start talking about a guy to your friends, it’s…real. It’s happening, it’s not just some fly-by-night thing. And he’s asked me to be…discreet.”
“Is he married?”
“God, no.” A flicker of doubt crossed her mind, her face, too. But then it disappeared, her features recomposed into a placid arrangement. And that probably creeped me out more. I was used to frowning Celia, narrow-eyed Celia, sharp with a retort and ready with her wit. This was like Stepford Celia.
“But you’ll meet him soon, I promise,” she smiled, and I believed her, because I could see that it was true.
Lucy sighed. “You’re not calm. You need to be calm.”
“I know!” I said irritably. I’d taken a much larger dose of shrooms, but this time, her tail-flicking was like one of those little floaters you get in your eyeball, that keep drifting into the center of your vision no matter how you roll your eye around. Not hypnotic so much as aggravating, like the buzzing of a fly or that squeaky chick in the Beezid.com commercial.
“Tell me a story,” I said. “You’ve been around. Sorcerers I Have Known or something.”
She snorted. “Oh, I could tell you stories. Hmm. Well, okay. If it’ll relax you. Here’s one.
“This is a story about the greatest sorcerer I’ve ever known. You may have heard of him. It was a cold night in Philadelphia, 1839. I had just been reincarnated as a kitten, a tortoiseshell. I wasn’t completely myself, what with being a kitten and all, so I hadn’t recaptured all my memories yet or come into my full powers. I only had the one all kittens have, my completely irresistible adorableness.
“Well, my mother’s owner, or more to the point, her owner’s husband, had put me out in the street while his wife was out. In an alley, where he was sure nobody would ever find me or rescue me. Hateful old bastard, that was all there was behind his action, just his pure evil awfulness. I was cold and hungry and scared, just a few days old and not nearly ready to be separated from my mother’s teat.
“It was a bitter winter night, and it was pretty likely that I would freeze to death before dawn. But then a man came stumbling down the alley, clearly lost. Drunk as a skunk, or so you might have thought. Really, he had a terribly low tolerance for alcohol, so it only took a few drinks to make a mess of him, so people saw him like that and said he was a terrible drunk, which he wasn’t. He just had very bad timing, or bad luck, when it came to when he drank, or when people saw him drink. Well, later on, when his wife took sick…but anyway.
“He heard my mewings from the deep box I’d been dropped in, given no chance to even climb out of it and make a go, and he stopped. He saw me and his face changed, just marvelously transformed. I’ll never forget how all the blurry dissolution was erased by the kindest smile. ‘Little kitten, what’s this? How can you be out here in the cold? What manner of monstrous villain would do such a thing?’ And tenderly, carefully, he took off his cravat, picked me up and wrapped me in it, and took me home. Whatever stumbling gait he’d had before was gone, as if the responsibility he’d taken on himself had sobered him.
“His house was warm, his wife was delighted.” Lucy sighed. “She had the most wonderful lap. She’d let you sit there for hours. She nursed me on the bottle till I could eat solid food.
“And as I grew, I repaid him. He was a great magician, he only needed a little…confidence, encouragement. Inspiration he had in spades, oh yes.. I never interfered in his process, really, I just sat on his shoulder when he wrote his stories, sometimes subvocalizing little hints as to how he could write his way out of a corner he’d put himself in. People thought he took drugs, but who needs drugs when you have me helping you create your ingenious stories?”
I interrupted, something not right in the tale. “A writer? I thought you said he was a magician.”
“Edgar was a magician. Didn’t Rob teach you that? That all writers are sorcerers?”
I blinked. Her tale, and her tail, were starting to do their work on me now. “You were Edgar Allan Poe’s familiar.”
“Indeed I was,” she said proudly. “And now I am yours. So you have some very large shoes to fill, Solomon Cohen. Now, close your eyes. We’re going very far from here. I want you to think about that splashy magazine article, about Jeff Faustus’ palatial home in the Hamptons…”