Whips of lightning cracked the dreary night’s fragile shell.
The sea was a harridan, driving away what little warmth was left in the wind. The beastly sky rumbled. The earth trembled. The explosive boom of a star ship taking off ripped a hole into the distant horizon.
The earth had long become another backwater industrial throwaway. Most ships only stopped here long enough to fill up on fuel and necessities on the way to someplace else. Even the meanest weather couldn’t convince a pilot to delay departure.
Vivian’s front door flew open. The intruder was tall, silhouetted by the curtain of tumultuous elements at his back. Wet was dripping from his head to his eyes. His locks were knotty and littered with leaves. There was a smirk and then a feral show of sharp, sharp teeth. Vivian’s ire bubbled forth.
“You’re letting the rain in,” she muttered darkly and went back to watching rivulets of rain snake down her window.
Honestly, the world must be in dire straits, she mused. Still, all was not lost. Misfortune for a reality so washed out and tattered equaled a boon for purveyors of certain magical crafts. The Unseen World had gradually become the proverbial Cup That Runneth Over.
Lately, all manner of spectral manifestations had been running amok. They popped up like the unexpected dandelion poking its head out of sheet rock or the gutter-flowers that graced the deep end of rot-laden alleyways.
Stars only knew why this one seemed to have latched on to her person like a tick—a spider to be more precise, she silently amended.
“As I was saying,” he began in earnest. “Until you die, people will still come to you. Strangers pick you out of a crowd. They pour their hearts out to you, don’t they? They tell you their dreams?”
“I don’t ask them to. Don’t want them to.”
She’d carved out her place under a sheltering rock, far enough from the maddening booms of ramjets. Not quite far enough, though, to escape that ever present and the increasingly acrid stench from the massive Leoline generator or the endless progression of locomotives–decades upon decades past their decommission dates.
Practical magicians made a meager living but as long as she squeaked by and had her quiet time by the sea, Vivian was content. What use did a wobbly world on its last legs have for a prophet anyway?
Shapeshifting liar, here he was—the grand-daddy of all tricksters—come in earnest to sell her the mother of all cons.
When he said nothing, she eyed him archly, peering up from her spectacles. “Ah, you didn’t really want that answer. Is that it?”
“It wasn’t simply superstition that drove Balan to bury her baby’s navel-string with a naseberry seed,” he finally quoted, stopping just short of stomping his foot in childish indignation. "That tree grew up strong, healthy and so did that boy!"
Vivian finished with the lesser known ending of the proverb. “And when they chopped the naseberry down, though, what do you suppose became of that man?”
“This isn’t your riddle!”
“It’s not a riddle, though, is it?” She eyed him askance. “It’s a warning. Earthbound deities bring nothing but trouble. You aren’t a lot that can be trusted.”
He laughed lowly. His eyes glowed copper in the firelight. The smoke rising from the pipe caught between his slender fingers was beginning to sting her eyes. He wasn’t exactly bad to look at, that man… that thing.
Behind him, the rain poured down from the boiling clouds and moon-dogs worshiped the ghostly disc in the tilted sky.
“Humans are a forgetful sort, is all.” He shrugged.
“Why don’t you just leave me alone?”
He eyed her speculatively, amber flecks glowing. “All the time, you pray. Your little mortal heart cries out to your god like some spoiled kid throwing a tantrum–“
“I don’t pray to any god!” she snapped.
“The universe then,” he pressed with irritating tenacity.
She sighed. Just as well. With a live subject on hand, she’d had ample opportunity to fine tune her word-magic. She’d whittled the inflection and intent behind his treatment down to a single word. No better time than the present to test her theory.
She opened her mouth to speak. “Ana–“
“Wretched human!” He was the kind who caught on quickly. “I forbid you to utter that word!”
“Forbid?” She skipped a beat, eying him as one might, a mite.
“Anansi!” she invoked spitefully.
“Uncalled for,” he complained, with an affronted snort. His mournful shake of the head suggested her incantation had been a dart, aimed quite well enough. “I’ll have you know it hurts a little more every time.”
There was a pop and then a flash, like the explosive death of a gaslight. Her gaze swooped down to the floor. The black-bodied, eight-legged thing scurried across the threshold and back out into the wet, wild dark.
Vivian rose up from her cot and firmly shut the door. She re-secured the latches and frowned down at the water seeping into her floorboards. That had been the specter’s fourth visitation tonight.
“The least he could have done was close the blasted door behind him,” she muttered, hurrying to the washroom in search of a mop.