Monday, January 3, 2011

My talk with Rowan doesn't take long; she's already anticipated her needs and made plans accordingly.


I pull the truck up outside the tavern just as the sun is dipping below the horizon. I punch in Stoney's cell number and Alise picks up.

"Hi, this is Jack's 'Funerals To Go - We will be the last to let you down'. Is the man of the house in?"

"He just woke up."

"Then get him and our other friends out here, darlin', we're burning moonlight."

It's only moments before our little group assembles outside - Stoney and Alise, Nick and Raina, Rowan and Yours Truly. I bow toward the open passenger-side door.

"Hop on up, Alise - Stoney, give her a hand, will you? Rowan, you ride shotgun." I turn to the rest. "Sorry, that's all the space we have up front. There's blankets in the bed if you need 'em. Stoney, are you going to fly?" He shakes his head. "Okay, everyone, hang on; I'll try to make this trip as smooth as possible." I key the ignition and we rumble down the road toward the farmhouse. Alise tries to hide it, but she grows steadily more tense as we near the place. Rowan notices, too; she holds Alise's hand and murmurs something I can't make out.

I stop the truck and keep up a running fire of patter as I wave everyone out. "Okay, people, look alive" - I wink at Alise - "especially those who formerly weren't. We've got some prep work to do here… Stoney, can you hand me those bags, and the backpack?"

The bag is fairly hefty, but I manage. The other one is really heavy; I hand it to Stoney. "If you have to fight, just drop it. There's nothing breakable in it, and I'd rather not be broken myself because you're worried about a bag." The gargoyle grins.

The backpack fits nicely over my shoulders; I don't want to restrict any of our fighters. "Okay, guys, let's get going." I turn to look at Alise. "Darlin', I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to lead the way; you’re the only one who's been inside the damned place.

Stay together, people, and be ready for anything." I notice for the first time how Rowan is holding her hands, like a martial arts stance, and they're limned with a faint golden glow. Stoney puts one hand on Alise's shoulder, keeps it there as we walk into the place.

Walking like a sleepwalker, Alise leads us unerringly to the basement, the living hell where Jean-Marc tortured and murdered his victims. The place is dank and musty. I almost turn us back, but I remember in time - this is what I do.

My flashlight picks out the center of the room and I shrug off the backpack. With the fighters in place. I quickly take out and set eight camp lights in a large square; they light up the area like midday.

That's not really a good thing….

Stoney gently passes Alise to Rowan; then he moves to the center of the room, to the large bloodstained table there. For a moment he just stands there, frozen in space - then he roars and slams a taloned hand down on the table, gouging chunks of wood from it. He rips through the table like a chainsaw, and when he's done, there's not a piece of wood left larger than three square inches.

"Nice going, big guy," I say at last. "We could've just moved the table, now we have to clear up a big pile of wood." I sigh. "Okay, folks, let's get this crap cleaned up. Dump it in one of the cells or something - we need this space."

It takes about ten minutes with us all working together. I open the bag and take out a three-foot piece of doweling, sharpened to a point at one end. Nick freezes when he sees it, but I press the point into the dirt floor and hold it steady. "Hey, Goliath." Stoney turns, a thunderous look on his face. "How about working out some of that latent aggression by pounding this stake into the ground for me?" Nick winces at the word "stake" and Stoney steps forward. With two powerful blows, the stake is embedded two or three inches into the earth.

I reach into my pocket and pull out a roofing nail, use a claw hammer to drive it into the top of the stake. The other pocket yields up a long piece of twine, marked red and black at regular intervals.

"Rowan." The redheaded witch comes over, leaving Alise with Raina. I notice they're careful never to leave her alone… "This cord is marked for length. Each black mark is twelve inches; each red mark is six inches." I tie a slipknot at one end, slip it over the nail and tighten it. "Take this and draw me a circle, whatever diameter you please, with this."

I pass her a sugar dispenser, like the kind found in restaurants. It's filled with a reddish-orange powder.

"Jack - what's in here?"

"That's red clay from Alabama; the red color comes from trace elements of iron ore. It's been dehydrated with sea salt and whizzed to a fine powder in a food processor." She gives me a strange look. "What? I eat at the Tavern; I don't cook."

Using the cord, Rowan draws a perfect circle, maybe ten feet in diameter.

I rummage in Stoney's bag and take out two folding chairs, the main reason the bag was so damn heavy. I bring them inside the circle one at a time, careful not to break or smudge the line, and set them up in the center. Then I tug the stake out of the ground and dump it outside the circle.

"Okay, ladies, your thrones await. Be careful not to touch the line when you go inside the circle."

They move carefully over the line and sit. I turn to Rowan. "Okay, Rowan, this is your show. Cast your circle inside this circle and make it strong; it may have to stand up to a lot."

To Alise: "Darlin', I need you to understand this completely, so listen close. Once we start, you do not leave this circle at any time, for any reason until I say it's okay. If I see you even get near that line, I shut everything down and we all go home, finished or not. You sit and you watch - nothing more."

Back to Rowan. "Okay, I guess we're as ready as we're gonna be…."

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