Autumn – Chapter 1 – 04

            Greg found Marin with Kellin, seated by the fire, each with mugs of tea cradled in hand, spattered here and there with mud, much as he had been, though theirs were mostly around the cuffs of their jeans and on their shoes.  Kellin spotted him first and offered a faint smile and a slight wave as he ambled over to join them.  Drawing closer, he realized that their pants were not only muddy, but damp.
            “What the hell were you two doing?” he asked.
            “Checking out part of the ravine,” Kellin said with a rueful smile and a shake of her head.  “My idea, not hers.  I needed to get closer to the lines themselves so I could get a feel for what’s been happening.”  Her nose wrinkled slightly.  “They’re still shifting, but different now.  I can’t describe it.”
            Marin smiled wryly over the rim of her mug.  “You know we’re in a little bit of trouble when Kel’s at a loss for explanations.”
            Greg grunted, pouring himself a mug and settling down with the two women.  “Whatever’s happening down there, Phelan and I got the holly planted.  Brandon’s giving it all a little water now.  Took a bit, but it’s done.  That should help.”  He paused.  “We’ll seed lavender in the spring.”  Whenever that comes.  Hopefully the growing season will be long enough to get it started.
            “Could we start it in the glassed planters?”
            “We could, but I’m afraid it’d crowd out everything else we’re trying to grow in those,” he said.
            Kellin shook her head.  “Spring will have to be soon enough.  Let’s not bite off more than we can chew, right?”  She smiled at both of them.  “We’ve got enough on our plates already.”
            Greg arched a brow.  “Now, I could have sworn that the biggest things on our plate were food, shelter, and security.  Are you going to tell me that there’s more we’re worrying about, Miss Willis?”
            She blushed and shrugged helplessly.  “You mean beyond worrying about what’s going on in the world around us?  No, of course not.  But there’s the hallowing ceremony in another, what, day and a half, Mar?”
            Marin nodded slightly.  “That’s when the new moon is.  I don’t know what Phelan’s planning for it, but I’m thinking that doing it at twilight would be best—the ways are thin enough then.  It won’t be midnight, but it should take just as well.”
            “You sound like you think that might be a problem,” Greg said.  “It not being midnight.”
            “It might be.”  Marin shook her head.  “But I’m not going to hike that far away from here in the dead of night, and I’m not going to expect anyone else to, either.  I’m not that brave.”
            “Or foolish,” Kellin muttered, then shivered, looking up from her mug.  Her gaze swept the area around them, her brows knitting slightly.
            That doesn’t look like a good expression.  “What’s wrong?”
            Kellin ignored the question for a moment, still looking around.  She finally slumped and sighed heavily, shaking her head a little.  “Apparently, nothing.”
            The hairs on Greg’s arms stirred, then laid back down again.  He frowned, looking around himself.  “Did you feel that?”
            “Like someone just walked over my grave?  Yes.”  Kellin said in a bare whisper.  She set down her mug and unfolded, standing up.  She looked around again, more slowly this time, swallowing hard.
            “There isn’t anyone here,” Marin said softly, wrapping her arms around her knees.  “But there’s someone watching.  I don’t know where and I don’t know how, but I know.”
            A shudder ran through Greg and he stared at Marin.  “Shouldn’t we do something about that, then?”
            “Like what?”
            “I don’t know.  Throw metaphorical acid in the eye that’s watching?”  He imagined doing it.  A few heartbeats later, the uneasy feeling vanished.
            Now both women were staring at him.  “What did you just do?”  Kellin asked.
            Greg blinked.  “Nothing.  I just imagined doing it.”
            “Then you just made yourself a target,” Phelan said from behind them, expression grim.  “If anything sinister happened to be the thing watching, anyhow.”  He scratched his tattoo and stepped around them to get himself a mug of tea.  “Will-working used to be a rare skill.  Seems a little more commonplace these days than it was in the old days.”
            “You mean you don’t know what was looking at us just now?”  Kellin asked sharply, watching as Phelan calmly filled his mug and sat down on the other side of Marin.
            He shook his head.  “No.  I’m not omniscient, Kellin.  I just happen to know a little more and sense a little more.  That comes from experience.”  He held her gaze for long enough that she finally sighed testily and looked away.
            “Then what good are you?” she snapped, then turned and marched off.
            “Kel, wait,” Marin started.  Greg put a hand on her arm.
            “Let her go,” he said quietly.  “Taking a walk might help her put some order to her thoughts.  She’s in a rough patch.”
            “I know,” Marin muttered, scrubbing both hands over her face.  “That’s still no excuse for all of this.”
            “She’s just unsettled,” Phelan said, sipping his tea.  “Being on the precipice and then being dragged bodily back will do that to you. She’s still reorienting.”
            Reorienting?  To what, still being alive?  Greg frowned.  “But she never actually died.”
            “Tell that to her spirit,” Phelan said, shaking his head.  “You can’t tell me that people who’ve come that close to dying don’t come back different after the experience.”  He shivered slightly.  “There are things that lurk between this side and the next that are drawn to violent death, which is what your friend would have had, if she hadn’t been saved.  I can’t be entirely certain, but I’m thinking she had something at least graze her between here and there.”  He paused.  “Of course, it being the camazotzi likely didn’t help, either.”  He glanced at Marin.  “Has she mentioned nightmares?”
            Greg answered before Marin could.  “She doesn’t want anyone to know about them, but I sleep six feet away from her.  I can hear her whimpering in her sleep.”
            “Secrets,” Marin half growled, half sighed.  “Secrets are going to be the goddamned end of us.”  She looked at Greg.  “Do you think you can talk to her? The next time you notice her having a nightmare?”
            He glanced at Phelan, who shrugged.  “It might not hurt,” he admitted quietly.  “Talking can help.  If she won’t talk to you, tell her that I wanted to talk to her.  You don’t have to say why.”
            Of course I’ll have to say why.  She’ll ask.  Greg shrugged.  “I can try.”
            “That’s all I ask,” Phelan said, looking tired and indeterminably old as he spoke. He glanced at Marin.  “Remind me if I ever see my cousin again to punch him in the gut.”
            She blinked.  “Why?”
            “He should have warned me.”  Phelan smiled wryly, weariness and humor braided together in his voice.  “You people are a bigger mess than I thought.”
            She laughed and shook her head.  “We tried to warn you.”
            “Stupid me for not listening,” Phelan said with a smile.
            Greg patted his shoulder.  “Stuck here now, right?”  He lifted his mug in a toast.  “To cleaning up messes.”
            As their mugs clinked together, all three felt the hairs on their arms stir again, the feeling of being watched returning.  Greg stared at the fire for a brief second.
            The feeling vanished almost as quickly as it arose.

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2 Responses to Autumn – Chapter 1 – 04

  1. When I wrote this scene, I had no idea where I was going with it. Somehow, everyone feeling watched wormed its way into the narrative, and it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

    Chapter 2 begins Friday.

    • Antonious says:

      I must say your having them sense a watcher was, if not expected at some point, interesting in it being the sensing of a scrying. Then you extrapolated the concept of willing alone being an action from the common understanding that the intent of a casting, written, spoken, or acted out is a major portion of determining the results of the casting. Not only its success or failure, but also the way in which it does so. I wonder what passive defenses there might be available to them to prevent scrying. I have never read of any in stories. They were always cast spells, so unless Phelan has any up his sleeve to teach them, they are stuck “throwing acid” in the prying eyes.

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