The house walls shook as dust dropped past ceiling cracks. Osiris stopped meditating abruptly as underground shakes grumbled through town. In Los Angeles tremors were known to have been common before the Underspirits.
“But we ain’t in L.A. honey” Osiris laughed to herself. Or Kansas at that…
When the tremors eventually stopped, Osiris was reeling uneasily. Similar to when a professional hygienist flosses a set of teeth, the patient is left feeling vulnerable at just how delicate their foundation is. Her house had that same feeling of vulnerability now. Book piles were a sea on the floor, and lilac dust was still scattered on the skirting boards. That is my fault though, I have to cop to that.
Osiris recalled the question she’d asked (Should I tell her?) simple, even including the guilt it was weighed down with.
But after its pointless response of forming to the shape of a damn question mark, Osiris had gotten angry and swept the whole pile of lilac powder from her table. Frustration having turned hollow a few hours afterward. Hollow, the word was one she rarely used. It struck the mystic as familiar somehow, like it had belonged to someone.
Obsidian crystal candles burned at the window, and on the curtains she’d crudely scrawled a pentagram in ball-point pen. She’d only ever rejected the lilac once before, and in possible retaliation Osiris had been cursed with sleepless nights. Studies of even more gross rituals, and seeing dead bodies fall from the sky. Only to find nothing on the ground the next day. Whatever happened to her was fine, all part of the grand cosmic plan after all. That being the hope anyway.
Ruth had been gone with the book for a night and day now, Osiris had worried to a peak, crashed from fatigue, before reaching a new peak and starting up the cycle again. Paranoia normally reserved for the Belushis of the old world, had been implanted in her by Ruth unintentionally. Or even worse, all this could be worrying traps in her mind set long ago by the Baron, springing free at last.
One. By. One.
It had been a terrible mistake to let Osiris go off with that book on her own, more than a mistake. Fucking stupid.
Osiris had avoided leaving the house for fear of never being able to come back again. But procrastination was overgrown and stale. Osiris went to her closet, grabbing the coolest most bad-ass armour-ish clothing she had. As she tightened the straps on her combat vest, she looked in the mirror. “I hope if I die wearing this it’s covered in blood, spare the shame at least.”
Shutting the door behind her and wearing a rucksack at breaking point with weapons and magickal tools, her head felt lightly buzzed. Osiris ran to the smoking husk of a church and did not look back. In her window, obsidian candles stood burning still.
As Ruth looked into the book, it expanded. The original arrangement of words on paper, charcoal-black lettering awkwardly spaced on yellowing paper, dissolved and warped. Its paper deteriorated faster and faster into atoms. Like it was aging faster than her dimensionally-limited brain could process. Beneath her body the ground was shaking. It was the work of Underspirits. The church walls, already on their last legs, gave up completely to them. The book shook violently on the podium. Ruth realised the Underspirits’ plan.
“Trying to distract me.” She spoke it in her brain and aloud, both at once.
Despite the attempted distraction, Ruth forced focus back on the book, scrunching her brow as she did so. She didn’t let herself pay attention to them.
As before, the diary’s words disappeared, stretching into bloated lines and separating at the middle. Half of the split pile fell downward and the rest elevated. Both vanished in a blink and Ruth was left with the paper. Blank, yellowed and drying fast thanks to the fire. Whatever searing pain it gave Ruth just made her focus burn white-hot on the paper. She leaned in, the church was gone, the fire scorching her arms and shoulders forgotten. With that Ruth closed both eyes, and went in.
There was a flash of colours, bright white, green, purple and orange. Ruth was falling, her body pulsed in an empty void while all four limbs and torso glowed with energy. A silver cord fused to her navel yanked down hard, and Ruth fell to earth.
Noises of birds chirping and a slight breeze reached her eardrums. Ruth opened her eyes. Pain throbbed in the sockets, she soothed them with a comforting rub. Her fingers had no ash stains. Raising herself to stand, a vibrant field swayed back and forth. Long grass reacted to her gentle touch. Newfound sun pierced at her and Ruth raised a forearm. “Am I at…” She was. The graveyard from the diary. Before the creepy ritual it seemed.
“What the girl wrote about wasn’t this…nice.” Where the diary entry had talked of an area cold wet and muddy, the place Ruth stood, or at least her mind projection stood, teemed with life. Heat here affected her greater than the fire somehow, when she’d gone into the book the fire had been an afterthought cooked up to jumpstart the magick. The same way Crowley used a house or altar. But this sun’s touch ran sweat down her arms. Metal from the air rifle’s barrel poked against her right shoulder blade.
“Gross.” Ruth muttered. Panic snapped at her senses, and Ruth looked up sharply. Fuck, who can hear me?
The place was empty, but a few trees stood together. Sighing as a way to combat her confusion more than anything else, Ruth stomped over to the biggest tree with the most shade. Each step became heavier than the last, the muscles in her calves twitched in a slurred manner. Ruth remembered a common problem in video games back before it all ended, it seemed like the same effect. What was the word?
Lag. She remembered. Maybe more like having invisible strings pulling her back, making moving into a chore. Ruth got to the tree after some bursts of digging deep. Sitting down on the roots didn’t bother her, being eager for any kind of rest. She took off her boots and let the sun actually help her. Flexing all ten toes, the blood rushed back to them. A rustle sounded above her, the branches and their leaves were also swaying, brimming with lively shades of green, which broke as two of the gnarliest branches gave way. From between the leaves a hat fell. Wiping away loose dirt and bugs, she looked at it. The hat was Straw and the brim flopped down easily. The sort of hat an alcoholic painter would wear. Ruth put it on, pushing unkempt hair behind her ears. From against her back the butt of the rifle moved, scraping at her spine instead. Ruth unslung the airgun, letting it rest on the ground.
Along the iron-wrapped fence perimeter, flowers that should have gleamed a healthy canary shade in the sun instead sat hunched as a collection of gloomy mustard colours. Ruth didn’t like the look of them. Beyond the cemetery gates there was nothing there. Just a quiet fog and a stretched out road leading to nowhere, it made the place feel like an island of sunshine and skulls.
But the graves were nicely upsetting. Sure there were dead people underneath, but that didn’t matter…right? The child from the diary had called them ‘dead stones’ Ruth remembered. Whoever the kidnappers were, had made the child watch them, but why? Too many questions for her head, and anyone’s head really. A big one being whether Ruth would even get a dead stone in the weird and ruined world outside of the book dimension.
If I can even leave here.
Wind rustled again, and Ruth had the absent wondering of if her mortal non-astral body was just a smouldering wreck of bones and melted skin back in the church. Just another skeleton on the road. Ruth didn’t let herself think of Osiris.
Time didn’t pass here, the sun never dipped or shifted, letting Ruth observe every part of the scenery like it was a painting. So when a van drove up to the gates, she was on the ball. The van stopped just short of the gate, buckling and swaying under the easing pressure of all the people jumping from its doors. It was difficult to see how many there were, but all of them had the look of Francis Bacon paintings, glassy eyes with something not quite right behind them. Can they see me?
The creepy Francis Bacon lackwits parted as a tide, and from the middle strolled a tall thin man. Looked like a man anyway. His hair was spiked and gross smelling even from all that way away. He wore a dark blue robe with a patchy suit underneath. Yet he moved as cool as someone not overdressed in summertime. From his pocket a packet of old-timey cigarettes flapped around loosely. Like they had an attitude of I don’t care so why should you? His left hand fidgeted.
He entered the graveyard alone after few hushed words to the creepy people. They opened the gate for him, and he raised a hand to keep them at bay. While that was being done, Ruth scrambled up the tree, air rifle battering against the bark while she held the strap with a sweaty palm. She got to the highest cluster of branches and crouched, stiller than a stone.
The man with singed hair made it to the fifth row of gravestones, and started to do hand signals at each headstone in turn. A Freemason? It seemed a fifty-fifty bet at that point. Ruth pushed that question away too, whatever organisation he belonged to didn’t matter for now. The look of the graveyard told Ruth she had arrived before the girl had been taken there. The diary hasn’t even been written yet. Intuition was the science here, and Ruth felt sure down to her bones.
She spied down the iron sights at him, arms shaking. Nerves and fear were foreign to her body in the material world. Different ways here, intense energy everywhere.
Ruth took aim, finger hugging the trigger, her breaths sharp as a bayonet. The man looked up at her. A sun that never ended sparkled as it bounced from his smug teeth.