WitchWood

WitchWood



Chapter 1 - Persephone



   I’m starting to lose my patience, by the time you finally arrive.

   It’s August, in Virginia, so the interior of your car is just a few degrees shy of what might be considered balmy in Hell. I’ve opened all the windows I could, but what passes for wind today feels like Virginia has decided to stand slack jawed outside the passenger door, mouth breathing on my face. While I’m grateful you at least had the decency to park in the shade, my only remaining recourse for coping with the heat is dozing until your return. So I wait for an hour, feet kicked up on the dashboard, the book who’s seat I’ve stolen resting open over my eyes, Virginia exhaling hot and heavy down my neck.

   I hear the driver’s door open right as I’ve half made up my mind to get out and track you down.

   “What did I tell you about breaking into my car?” you ask immediately.

   And now I’m glad I made myself stay put after all, because I’d made a bet with myself about that being the first thing you said to me, and the payoff really has me tickled.

   “Nice to see you too, Jonesy,” I reply, to remind you how polite people are supposed to greet each other, a smile creeping across my face.

   “Not the answer to my question.”

   I roll my eyes. Unfortunately, the book I’m using as an eye mask keeps you from appreciating the response. So that you might at least witness the eye rolling I’m sure awaits the future of this conversation, I pull the book off my face.

   Arcanum and Parapsychology: Analyzing the Intersection of Magik and the Extrasensory. You always manage to find the driest reads. It’s mostly bogus, apparently, despite the academic sounding title. I don’t need to read it to know that; I can tell by looking. Yellow sticky notes for misinformation, green for anything accurate, pink for tidbits you’re unsure of, and blue for whatever else. I’m well familiar with your system by now, and you’ve almost doubled the thickness of this book in yellow post-its.

   “Well, if we remove all the swearing, I believe you said something along the lines of Persephone, break into my car again and I will hex every-” I stop halfway through my excellent impression of you because I’ve gotten a proper look at your face.

   Under the best of circumstances, you’re not exactly what one would call good looking. Whoever constructed your face did so with a great love of hard lines and right angles and osteology. They were bold when deciding the size of your nose and thickness of your eyebrows. Still, to a lot of people you might have been close enough to handsome, if you weren’t so damn tall and unsettling on top of all that.

   These are not the best of circumstances.

   Your hair has gotten longer since I’d last seen you -- it’s down past your shoulders now, in greasy, snarling black waves. The rings under your eyes are doing their best to match color with your irises, which is really saying something because they’re dark enough that I’ve never been able to tell where your pupils start and your irises end. There’s a half healed cut held together with butterfly closures down the side of your face, a pad of gauze peeking out from under the collar of your black button down, and a suspiciously hand-shaped bruise wrapped around your right forearm, stark against your pale skin. You need a shower, a shave, 48 hours of sleep, and probably a medical professional.

   “Wow. You look like shit,” I say, because someone ought to let you know.

   All you do in response is sigh. There’s no vocalization to it, or even a dramatic heave of breath. You simply let your lungs empty themselves of air, in a barely audible hiss out your nose.

   That, more than your appearance, lets me know what kind of week you’re having.

   “Come on, sit down,” I say, patting the seat next to me. “And give me your glasses,” I add, having noticed the crack held together with scotch tape through one of its lenses.

   You’re slow to move, but when you do, you collapse into the driver’s seat, tugging the door shut behind you. Without a word you hand over your glasses. Their black, rectangular frames are horrendously unfashionable, but no matter how many pairs you break I’ve never known you to try a trendier style. I begin sketching spellwork over them, the glowing pink runes hovering in the air, while you lean back on the headrest, eyes closed.

   It takes only a minute for me to finish fixing the lens, but I’m surprised you don’t fall asleep in that time. It takes about another ten minutes after you take them back to say anything, but I let you have your rest in silence. (Which, by the way, is an incredible display of restraint from me, because I really wanna know how you got that gnarly bruising on your forearm. I hope you appreciate it.)

   “What do you want, Percy?” you finally ask.

   “Can’t I just be popping by to see how you’re doing?”

   Your eyes crack open just enough to slide your gaze over to me, without moving your head. Though you don’t say anything, your point has been made.

   “I’m heading to Norton,” I admit, “and since you're going there too, I figured it should be no trouble for you to give me a ride.”

   You snort. “It’s never ‘no trouble’ with you. And what makes you think I’m going to Norton?”

   “There’s been a string of disappearances in Norton, hasn’t there?” I answer, smiling. “And since you’re in the state, feels like a safe bet that your nosey ass is aware and you’re on your way to investigate.”

   There’s a lull in the conversation, before you reply. “I still don’t see why I should take you along.”

   So I was right. “I’m going one way or another Jonesy. Might as well have me where you can keep an eye on me.”

   You reach forward, letting your hand rest on the steering wheel, index finger tapping on the wheel’s rim. Thinking.

   As much as I’d like to believe you wouldn’t leave me stranded in a shitty parking lot to hitchhike my way across Virginia, experience has taught me better.

   “I have some intel on the situation in Norton. Give me a ride and I’d be happy to share,” I say, deciding to pull out my bait before you finish the end of your deliberating.

   Your finger pauses its tapping. “Alright. Let’s hear it.”

   “Oh no no no, Jonesy. Ride first. Then information.”

   “Hm. Let’s make sure I understand this correctly. You’re asking me to drive you across the state, where you will undoubtedly be wreaking havoc in a town I’ll be attempting to investigate, in exchange for information you will not share ahead of time, and therefore cannot be judged for usefulness.” Something -- maybe it’s your wording, your bland tone of voice, or the flat line your eyebrows are forming across your forehead -- leads me to believe you might not be exactly impressed by the offer.

   Fair enough. “My source is Lilith.”

   Aha. That got your attention. You frown. Your finger resumes its tapping. “That’s a very nice claim, Percy. But it’s still very possible that you don’t have any information and you just want me to take you to Norton.”

   “And ruin my good faith with you?” I drawl out my question to make sure you look over and see the eye rolling properly this time. “Don’t be ridiculous, I’d never get you to drive me anywhere again.”

   You mull it over some more, but I can already tell I have you by the way the creases around your mouth deepen.

   Your answer comes as you jam your keys in the ignition. The engine coughs, sputters, then rumbles to life. The AC awakens with just as much struggle, blasting hot air as it kicks on.

   “Don’t make me regret this,” you say.

   I give you my brightest smile. “I wouldn’t.”