It was clear to Melissa that something was wrong with Alex. Aside from his gaping mouth, his face was pale, almost sickly. What little hair Alex had was tousled, his blue eyes trapped within a sleepless red.
“Where’s Jen?” Alex asked, his words apprehensive, eyes sifting over the room.
Alex was unable to distinguish if this was reality. Had he stood before a flaming cyclone with Jen just moments before? There was also the dilemma of not knowing whether or not the present moment was real. Perhaps both were dreams and he was unconscious somewhere.
“No clue. She wasn’t in bed when I got up this morning.”
Jen and Melissa had been sharing a bed since Melissa had moved in two years prior. Not to say there weren’t many nights with one of them on the couch, but Melissa always ended up back in their shared room, the couch had too many lumps to allow for comfortable sleep. Neither had ever thought of converting the second living room into a bedroom. Rather it sat at the front of the house with a worn out piano and cherry wood tables collecting dust, Jen visiting once a month to wind the grandfather clock that watched over the space from the corner.
The room itself was out of place in relation to the rest of the house. With the intricate wall hangings about the massive single-pane window, immense gold leaf mirror above the piano, and the tangerine paint on the walls, this looked to be a parlor for entertaining extravagant guests.
Meanwhile, the rest of the house looked like an overused motel that had been poorly cared for over the years. Not that Jen didn’t do her best to keep things clean, but you can only blow out walls and windows, burn holes in the floor with potions, and put it all back together so many times. Melissa had pondered the untouched room on several occasions. She had always stayed out for fear that there would be some sort of hell to pay if she were to be caught inside.
Alex stared at Melissa; desperately searching for something that would tell him this was real. Melissa felt her face flush, the uncomfortable sensation of being stared at without reason.
“What are you looking at?”
Alex continued to stare, silently examining.
“Can you hear me?”
Melissa looked at Alex as if he had lost his mind, spoon in her mouth she replied,
“No. I mean… can you hear my thoughts?” Alex asked.
“I’m not a psychic.”
Alex shook his head, knowing now he wasn’t in a dream.
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
“I don’t know what I am,” he replied. “Can you tell me something?”
Melissa shrugged, her typical response. Her natural instinct was to be difficult with Alex. Though it generally caused an argument, there was a small thrill to be found.
“Has anything happened lately that you can remember, maybe something in a dream? Like… a dream of me dying, or something about Jen… or Meg?”
Melissa rolled the question around for a short second.
“Nope. I’ve pretty much just been having the same old dreams I always have. You know, things like demons and vampires attacking in the middle of the night. No big deal,” she smiled shrewdly.
“Something’s wrong, but I don’t know what. I feel like I’m in a daze… or a spell maybe.”
Melissa’s interest was firmly peaked for the first time during their conversation. Alex noted the gleam in her eye that came from the change in topic. There were traits in Melissa that leaned toward the darker side of magic. Her knack for absorbing information from books, something most wizards were unable to do even after proper training; a small thing Alex was afraid could easily fly out of control.
“What kind of spell?”
“I woke yesterday… maybe it was today. I woke and I was here, alone. I woke up and the sky was red and Atticus’ shop… had vanished… and Jen. Jen was someone else.”
“Alex… you should drink less,” Melissa suggested, quickly becoming less interested at the mention of Jen’s name.
“I’m not crazy, or drunk.”
Melissa gave a half-hearted grin that reeked of skepticism.
“Maybe I am crazy,” Alex sighed.
Then it occurred; Atticus’ shop. If he were dreaming all of this the shop would still be standing.
“We have to go see Atticus!”
Grabbing Melissa by the hand, Alex yanked her from the table and her breakfast. The bowl of cereal jolting from it’s stationary position, crashing upon the floor with a loud slop sound that someone was going to be forced to clean up later. Melissa was drug behind Alex, barley staying on her feet. Stripped pajama bottoms, not the best match for running as they slipped beneath Melissa’s fumbling feet. Alex stopped, the car, the red car he had stolen was still parked in the driveway.
Melissa threw her hair back to free her face, climbing into the passenger side of the car; fastening her seat belt as Alex peeled out of the driveway. The car bounced wildly as they came down the driveway, well above the suggested speed limit. Skidding into a turn, the car hurdled towards Practical Magic. Keeping his fingers crossed as they came upon the beginning of Fifth Street, the same green sign with the bruised silver pole beckoning.
Alex slowed the car, creeping along the street slowly, glancing at the houses to his left. Someone shuffled past a window; another woman was on her knees in a colorful floral outfit pulling at weeds in her flowerbed. Coming to the block of brick buildings that were like something from another century, Alex was dumbfounded to find the building that housed the magic shop still standing just as he had remembered it. Coming to a stop in front of the shop, Alex and Melissa exited the car.
“But… it was gone,” he cried lowly.
“Looks like it’s here to me.”
“Mel, don’t taunt me right now.”
Alex walked up the cracking concrete steps, grasping the handle of the door. The tarnished handle was cold to the touch. Pushing it open the rusted bell above the door rang as if nothing had ever happened. Stepping into the shop, Alex felt his heart stop beating as he saw who stood behind the counter. Melissa came up the steps behind him,
“Move, please!” she hissed, pushing her way into the store.
Alex didn’t understand her non-reaction to the man that stood before them.
“You’re… dead,” groaned Alex.
Alex looked at what he thought to be his deceased friend. Atticus looked the same as he always had. His face carved with craters from his days of vampire hunting, a table leg with an unpleasant clawed paw attached to his right knee. His clothing the same worn and dusty rags he always toted.
“Na tha’ I c’n t’ll,” replied Atticus, his harsh accent coming across thicker than ever.
Alex had always had a difficult time understanding Atticus. His solution had been to put a charm on his ears that translated Atticus’ speech into something audible. A charm Alex had been rather proud of himself for concocting at the time.
“No, I saw your body in the back. Amen killed you and left you for me to find. He came for the amulet.”
“Al’x, ya ok?”
“No. No, I’m not ok. I am far from ok.”
“He’s been acting like this all morning,” piped Melissa.
“Yar needin’ me t’ mix ya sumth’n up, Al’x?” Atticus asked, looking concerned, visible even through his worn face.
“I might need you to put me in an asylum,” responded Alex, dropping on the stool that sat in front of Atticus’ sales counter.
The counter itself was as worn out as Atticus. Green paint was poorly spread across brittle wood, chipping in several places around the edges, completely worn off the top; fraying wood exposed. Melissa was wandering about the aisles of tin shelves with their colorful assortment of bottles. A touch of this and that, several powerful mixing ingredients you’d be hard pressed to find even in the best shops of Terra.
Alex often questioned how Atticus came by these rare and nearly illegal treasures. Atticus always had a fanciful story to back up his merchandise, Alex knew them to be lies, but there was no harm that would come from the shops selling of these ingredients. Mortals were only drawn to the specialty items Atticus had charmed and set in a back corner; preventing any of the real powders, potions, and elixirs from falling into untrained hands.
Alex shuffled out of the shop, back to the car, leaving Melissa to continue browsing a collection of antique amulets. Atticus kept a close watch, convinced she would help herself to something from his assortment of treasures. Alex sat in the driver’s seat, doors locked, cupping his face with nervous hands.
“What’s happening to me?” Alex muttered, feeling he was plummeting into insanity.
Alex felt inclined to peel the pale flesh back from his face in an effort to feel the present moment. Amen had murdered Atticus months earlier. Alex wasn’t sure of Amen’s true intentions, but it appeared he was trying to send a message regarding his new surge of power. Amen had left Atticus’ decaying body behind as a warning to Alex, this he remembered vividly. At least Alex thought he could remember seeing the body lying on the floor between the crates of Practical Magic’s storage room. Had that been a terrible dream, and nothing more? Lowering his hands Alex once again found himself out of breath.
Nearly throwing himself from his seat, Alex’s body tightened from the shock. He was sitting in the living room on the green and white-checkered couch that Jen had replaced. Grasping the cushions below him for some kind of support, Alex burrowed his fingernails into flesh of the linen.
“Hey, Alex,” piped Jen, sounding her jaunty self.
Alex didn’t waste a moment, jolting from the couch. Terrifying Jen he clasped her shoulders tightly, knocking the stir stick she had been holding into the boiling cauldron on the table. Familiar flames of orange and blue licking the sides of the cauldron, leaving the wood of the table unharmed. Bubbles of black and yellow excitedly leapt over the scorched rim, sizzling into the air as they diffused.
“Have you had any dreams lately?”
“Like… what?” Jen asked, her face pale; how Alex knew her best.
“Dreams about me dying? Dreams about Atticus dying? Dreams about red skies… tornadoes… Meg?”
Jen was terrified by Alex’s rant. Playing nervously with her hands, she answered cautiously,
Alex dropped his head in frustration, squeezing Jen a bit harder in the vain hope that a real response would be issued.
“Where’s Melissa?” Alex asked, needing to have dual confirmation of his madness.
“What?” Alex brought his eyes to meet Jen’s. “You don’t know Melissa?”
Jen shook her head; afraid Alex would topple her roaring cauldron by way of rage. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Jen was surprised, even relieved, as Alex pulled away.
Escaping to his bedroom, Alex locked the door behind him; fetching his prized possession from the rickety table that had been through its fair share of abuse. Solid, untarnished black leather flawlessly composed the cover of Alex’s book. This was no ordinary book of spells, but a compilation of everything Alex and all of his counterparts, a useful tool for any wizard or power hungry warlock. This was not how Alex remembered the book; white marks where the color had been stripped from the leather were missing, or the marks he may have dreamt were missing.
Jen had once poured liquid life on the book in an effort to revive Alex; under the impression he had succumb to death. She quickly learned a valuable lesson about liquid life. Not only does the powerful silver liquid bring wizards back from the grave through their possessions, but it also brings along everyone else that has come in contact with the object and passed on. In this instance, Jen and Melissa had been overwhelmed with a swarm of colorful witches and wizards looking for answers. Alex could recall Jen telling him the story; he knew this had happened. Had Jen found a way to mend the book?
Pulling back the cover with caution, the pages were filled with spells, stories and directions. Thumbing through the pages, everything was in tact. Chapters on devilish poisons, helpful charms, and a few entertaining jinxes. Thousands of pages all decorated in curved letters, some dancing about, fading away, a few that even dripped from their places.
Then something occurred to Alex, he had power. If this was the time before Melissa, then it was also the time before Meg had claimed his powers for her own. Alex looked into the back of his mind with nervous anticipation, picturing his book lifting from his lap and into the vacant air. It took only a second, the spell book of smooth black leather rose into the air, hanging above Alex’s head. Pulling it back to his knees, Alex again turned the pages, searching for something that might explain his predicament. This was one area where the book was obnoxiously helpful. Through an ingenious charm of Trejun’s doing, Alex’s book was able to match the reader’s thoughts to potential pages of use.
The book furiously turned its aging yellow pages. Time Travel blared from in the heading, the letters rearranging themselves; the book’s initial reply to Alex’s unspoken thoughts. Alex ran his eyes down the page; unfortunately none of this seemed to fit what he was experiencing. Sitting the book on his unmade bed, Alex, glanced up. There, sitting upon the blue shelf that was built out of the wall was the Pharaoh’s Eye.
“Come,” Alex commanded.
The colorful wooden headed lifted itself from the shelf gliding gently down to Alex, coming to a rest within his open hands.
“Meg,” he instructed, a flare behind his distant eyes.
A pinhole of light came from the center of the forehead, the wood separating around the edges until a glowing ring encompassed the head; the top lifting back. A misty blue rolled out in flares, Alex lowered his face into the fog. Something that was comparable to breathing beneath murky water enveloped his nostrils, a deep cold pressing at the bare flesh that had intruded.
Opening his eyes, Alex could see Meg. This wasn’t the apartment she had made into her temporary home during her stay in the Mortal Realm. The room was constructed of gray-stone walls, and a wooden floor that looked as if it were moments away from collapsing into whatever was below. From the walls, lengthy tapestries of red had been positioned. They reached from the unseen ceiling, down to the decrepit floor. There were no windows, no self-portraits; if this really was Meg’s home then it was definitely temporary. Never before had she inhabited a place without infecting every corner and crack with her presence.
Dark lived in the corners of this place, a figure emerging with hastened steps. A woman of incredible beauty stepped into the light. Long brown hair gave the illusion of kindness, a face that could kill with a single glance, and two blue eyes that were hard to pull away from. Meg paced around the room through her frustration.
“WHY?” she screeched. “Why is it so hard to do this simple little task?”
Alex hadn’t noticed before, but two servants crouched in the corner at the edge of the darkness. The twosome shook from their tremendous fear of their master. They had patches of long black hair, the rest missing, perhaps from Meg’s angry hand. The skin that remained on the faces of the two servants appeared to be badly burned.
“All I ask is that you bring me the Primary, and you can’t even do that. What’s the point of keeping you if you can’t do anything for me?”
The two servants apologized and pleaded at Meg’s feet in a tongue Alex couldn’t decipher. Clawing at their own flesh through fear and anxiety, drops of blood appearing on the already filth laden floor.
Alex pulled his head from the Pharaoh’s Eye, a blast of warmth attacking his face. Clearly he had traveled back in time. This was a point before Meg had come to the conclusion that the Primary was Melissa. Perhaps this was a second chance for Alex to save Melissa and himself from Meg’s wrath. All he had to do was stop jumping though time when he closed his eyes.
Read more or get your copy of ‘The Anomaly’ at www.robertbrianwinters.com