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FUNK brs @FUNKbrs

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Posted by FUNKbrs - June 17th, 2008

Chapter 18

The Light beamed on The Glass. So clear, so magnificent The Glass, to distract their enemies with reflections, to control the minds of those who would abet their enemies and turn them into allies. To The Light, The Glass was a greater tool when used with finesse, honing the power of The Light into a laser-like ray of influence.

The Glass owed its existence, its allegiance to The Light. The Light was the true creator, not The Word, who is an illusion. The Word who claims "I AM" and is not could not be compared to The Light, who is self-evident by his glorious creation.

Without The Light, The Glass was powerless, but with it, there had been no enemy capable of withstanding it, even The Blood of The Word fleeing its onslaught. The Light had been betrayed by The Dark, bastard son of The Word Which Is Not, who is known as The Lie of the Void to those who serve The Light. This was no fault of The Glass, who was a perfect tool, but was the fault of The Dark. Only The Light need fear The Dark, and only The Dark need fear The Light, for to bring The Light and The Dark together is the sign of the return of The Void, which proves The Word a lie.

The Glass reflected, then, that The Left and The Right, the bastard twins who also saw The Word as a lie, should be their allies. Unlike The Dark, however, who believes the perversion that The Void gave birth to The Word, and that the two are aligned towards a creation beyond the power of The Light, which is blasphemy. The Light, however, rejects the alignment of three of four of The Brothers, fearing The Void would reject her children whom she cast as individuals, and the conflict of whom powers the world. To do so would be to reject the chaos of The Void, and ultimately to accept the will of The Word.

The Prince of Lies smiled the ancient smile of one who knows the comedy of existence, of its futility and the freedom of its meaninglessness. Nevertheless, it had been a productive meeting with his servant. It was too easy for him to assume Nate could just pull in the big guns for some upstart of a mixed blood shaman. The world was a web of lies, nihilism the only great truth. Should Rodney and Pete ally with him while he was still allied with Dom, it could push things over the edge and bring the return of The Void, which would destroy all of his creation. Despite what he told his minions, Father was real, and eventually Father would take this world from him and send him to comfort The Void with his brothers, a fate worse than death in Nate's eyes.

Senora Maya's family had been nearly decimated by Rodney, and Rodney had even been slick enough to convince the family it was all Nate's doing. Rodney had actually arranged things to force Nate to do his dirty work, leaving poor Pedro with his family in ruins. It was enough to make a big brother proud.

Rodney had corrupted every single possible matriarch of the family, and had used the hate so powerful it only exists between blood relatives to ensure whoever Nate hadn't killed, Pedro would.

For now, thanks to Dom, the girl was out of bounds. There was no chance of converting her to his side; she was too biased against him. How was she to know he was he was the reason for her existence, and for the existence of all people of blood?

It was his angels, sent among humans to create the races of renown, who were the pure source of the blood that gave them their power. Each strain of blood came from a different angel with different abilities, and no two were quite alike, which was the reason for the various different families.

At this point an ignorant girl like Caroline was expendable, having just as much value dead as alive. Alive, she was a dim hope of a convert. Dead, Lucille would take her place, barely setting the family back anymore than the death of Mrs. Black had. Scared, though, she could be manipulated. She could be a tool, if a blunt and unwitting one. Fear was the only handle he had left on her, but with time that hold could grow into respect and ultimately service.

It was settled then. The Glass had the go ahead.

At any instant, a cloud could hover anywhere in the sky. Sometimes here, sometimes there, sometimes nowhere to be found. This is not important. However, there is a cloud, now, blocking the sun. A ray of darkness fails to shine onto the ground, contrasting a single house in a sea of other unimposing homes. In front of this home is a basketball goal and a flowerbed, behind, an expansive vegetable and herb garden. This, again, is unimportant, but less unimportant than the cloud, because inside this house is a room, and inside that room is a matronly black woman who appears to be in her late forties. Her skin is coal black, yet it glows from inside with self assured vitality. It speaks of hard work and perseverance in the face of ultimate depression and despair. It speaks of a culture far away, a culture of the Egyptian lotus and of continent spanning wisdom, of rising above the constantly surrounding filth to create beauty that is all the more beautiful for its pestilent environment.

Mama Agnes clucked her tongue in her dark back bedroom, warmly lit by gray light that despite being dimmed by a cloud managed to eat its way through the antiqued curtains. It was enough to see by, but more importantly, enough to sleep by. She hated herself for being forced to wake Caroline, being at her core a caretaker of the weary and a mother. She couldn't blame Dom for calling on her despite her well know distaste for him touching the world outside of his authority. Unlike Mrs. Black, Mama could never get over who Dom really was no matter how much honey dripped from his lips.

Still, she had to wake up Caroline now before Jaleesa hung up. Caroline had to face this in person, and she needed to know Mama would never shield her from a hurtful truth. Whatever differences they may have, truth was the ultimate power, the foundation of wisdom, and wisdom was the key to making all things possible.

"Caroline, it's Jaleesa. It's bad news." Mama said, distracting Caroline from who she was with and where she was so she could deal with the matter at hand.

Caroline answered groggily, "Hello?"
"Why didn't you show up this morning? Bob tried to call in a special order at nine, and there was no one there. He wanted to fire both of us, but luckily for me he had to keep one of us to train the new employee." Jaleesa spat, her jaws operating a mile a minute, each word having been composed in her mind long before they were released.
"Wait... what the fuck? I'm fucking fired?!"

It was then that Caroline realized she didn't recognize the texture of the quilt she was laying under, didn't know who the matronly black woman who handed her the phone was, didn't know where she was.

Jaleesa calmed down, her initial anger dulled by sympathy. "I did all I could. What did you want me to do, give up MY fucking job?"
"Did you know I had a friend try and kill himself last night?" Caroline played her card, not bothering to try and sweet talk her way back into Jaleesa's good graces.
"No... but what the fuck does that have to do with you almost getting ME fucking fired?" Jaleesa responded, her earlier anger creeping back into her inflection.
Caroline, for once, was fed up. "You know what? Fuck you."


It was almost as surreal as waking up covered in dried blood, solemnly strolling through the icily air-conditioned hallways of All-Saints Cogic. Every wall was covered with some sort of iconic imagery, most of it scrolled into decadent wood paneling as part of the building design. Caroline followed last in a contingent consisting of Mama Agnes, Starburst, and Straight Mike wearing a borrowed conservative black dress and second hand heels, her hair slicked back in a pony tail, still wet from the shower.

They took their seats at the front of an opulent auditorium as large as any secular concert hall venue. It was then that Caroline looked around, and realized Mrs. Black's mourners packed the converted sanctuary, now a funeral hall, behind her. On the front stage left, sat the rows of her new blood family.

Caroline had never met the Black family other than through Thug, Lucille, or Mike and it was unsettling to see the attending members at the funeral take up five rows. What was more unsettling was to see the rest of the auditorium at All-Saints scattered with Mama Agnes's family, easily three times the size of the Blacks. How could one little meeting with one drag queen affect the lives of so many people?

The service itself was short, but not sweet. The pallbearers carried Mrs. Black's symbolic coffin uneasily, walking a little too fast with the empty box than what respect dictated. This was despite warning glares from Thug and Lucille's husband, whom Caroline still didn't know the name of. The three poor boys other than Straight Mike that were drafted unknowing from their homes to carry an empty coffin barely knew what they were doing, and it was clear what they did know they were nervous about.

The minister himself seemed in an unseemly rush to get Mrs. Black's spirit consigned to the afterlife, as if he did something wrong she might get impatient and rise up to take vengeance for them having the audacity to declare her dead. It gave Caroline a morbid giggle to know that box was empty, and that Mrs. Black's mortal remains sat in an urn in 646 Cottage Church Lane. How much did these people know? The Black family maybe had a glimmering, but the greasy minister and most of Mama Agnes's people seemed oblivious.

It shocked her then when in eulogy the minister, a mister Willie C. Banks, mentioned Belforte by name but not in conjunction to what Mrs. Black had done. Then she realized the connection. This wasn't about Mrs. Black personally, this was about civil rights, about honoring the memory of a white woman who risked everything to stand up against her own people in the name of justice on behalf of some poor black men she'd never even met.

This funeral, then, was the ground level cementing of Mama Agnes's family and the Black family, a way of Mama Agnes letting her children know who Caroline was and who her children were, and how similar the two families truly were. The emphasis was on the fact that justice shouldn't exist merely within an individual governed family, because an individual family may face odds it cannot overcome on its own. True justice against the greatest of evil, such as men like Belforte, could only be had through the alliance of not only individuals within a family, but of different families altogether working towards a common noble goal.

Mama Agnes was aloof, obsidian grace seeping out from under her colorful headscarf. The contingent had retired after the memorial service to a somber dinner of store-bought take-away supplied by Mama Agnes's family at her home, its old school veneer interior warm and welcoming in a way that the over-ornamented All-Saints could never be.

"So what happened to Raz? Did... did I save him?" Caroline asked; glad to be able to speak the question she'd been holding inside since she realized what had happened.
"Raz is ok Caroline," Mike answered, "We've got him checked in at Lakeside right now, getting help. No one could figure out how he survived, but since he was ok when they got him, they didn't ask too many questions."
"But how did you know to come?" Caroline asked naively.
Mama Agnes's eyes went steely with Mike's reply. "Dom called us. Both you and Raz were passed out after the shock of the separation. We only had a few hours until the funeral at that point, so we just dropped you off at this house while we took care of Raz." Mike answered.
"But why isn't Dom here now?" Caroline asked, to some extent wishing for the warmth of the gregarious Italian.
"Because only a fool invites Death into her home," Mama Agnes snapped icily. "And furthermore, by any name, I would prefer you not draw his attention here by talking about him."
"They didn't know, Mama," Starburst apologized.
"Mrs. Black's relationships were never normal for someone of her education." Mike said diplomatically. He was showing a side of him Caroline had never been exposed to at The Fool's Card. Maybe Mike was more of an asset than she had once thought.
"True." Mama Agnes conceded. "Regardless, her blood is not my blood, and her ways are not my ways. Neither are they Caroline's, except by adoption. There was another blood in her that got her into this trouble, and while the Black's blood carries allegiance, Caroline's natural blood may still have it's own alliances."

Blood, blood, blood, it all stirred something inside of Caroline. Hadn't Mrs. Black said something about blood being involved in the sacraments that drew The Glass to her? Blood, knife, glass, plate, hand, foot, and eye: that was it. Other than the blood, all were common, almost accidental objects.

Caroline hated being so ignorant, of not having a more intelligent way to phrase the question. Without Mrs. Black, though, she had no one else to ask.
"What do you mean, 'other blood'? Are you saying I was born like this?"
"Not everyone in one of the families shows their blood," Mama Agnes answered, "However should a member of a family become separated from their ancestors, they become targets for the Devil. Mrs. Black adopted you into her blood partly so you would have protection she understood. Compared to my family, or even Pedro's bloodline, Mrs. Black was an upstart. Most of what she knew she learned from books or from demons like Dom. The short answer, though, is yes. You come from an independent bloodline that has no local roots I recognize."
"So you mean I can't apprentice under you? With Mrs. Black gone, who's going to protect me? I have no idea what I'm doing!" With every word, Caroline felt more frustrated and alone. Why was she always the most ignorant person in the room?
"Even if I did accept you, it's doubtful anything I taught you would work. Blood isn't supposed to mix, and the histories normally associate the mixing of different strains of blood with wars. There has never been a mixed blood matriarch that hasn't been dragged down by an alliance of victimized families and other local heads."
"But the other local heads... you mean you and Pedro? I've got Thug to protect me from Pedro if he tries anything. I have a feeling I wouldn't have woken up this morning had you been out to get me"

Mama Agnes said nothing; the room taking her cue and watching as she slowly opened an old wardrobe and pulled out a small velvet bag. She casually tossed the bag onto Caroline's lap.

Finally, she spoke. "Do you know what this is?"

Caroline was confused. She loosened the drawstring and reached inside the bag, feeling a stringy tuft of something hanging from a hard knot of slick, lumpy leather. She pulled the tuft, and nearly dropped what she saw.

"That, Caroline, is the preserved head of Marcia M'buto. She is an object lesson passed down through my family. She was the last person in our history know to have mixed blood."

Immediately Caroline put the head back into the bag, thrusting the grisly artifact towards Mama Agnes. Mike and Starburst wisely kept their mouths shut as the two matriarchs tried to come to terms.

Mama Agnes refused to take the bag.
"No, Caroline, you keep that. Let it be a reminder of the stakes we're playing with. Marcia M'buto was a powerful priestess during the Slave Wars who enlisted slave-takers to abduct the other family heads. Once she had them, she sacrificed them to herself, trying to become a living goddess by absorbing their power."
"How did she sacrifice them?" Caroline blurted before she realized what she was asking.

Mama Agnes's throat bobbed, uncharacteristic of her warm demeanor.
"She pinned them to the ground with wooden stakes. Then she made an incision just below the left floating rib. She dug around inside their still living bodies and pulled out their livers to give her access to their beating hearts. Once she had the room inside, she cut the veins and arteries to the heart and sucked the life blood from it, then cut the heart into slivers and ate it in front of the other staked down victims."

There was something about the way Mama Agnes recalled every detail as if she were replying to a quiz by a teacher that sent a chill through her bones. Is this how Mama saw her, as some kind of monster? She'd never killed anyone, not by her own hand, not intentionally. However, Mama's historical example made it clear the few known mixed blood matriarchs were brutal power hungry killers at best.

"That's not me. I just got caught up. I never planned this..." Caroline whimpered, for the first time as scared of herself as other people were.
"Mike, Starburst, could you please excuse us?" Mama Agnes cut in, her Caribbean accent getting the best of her.

"I've been looking out for you, you know." Mama Agnes said slowly, some of the hard edge leaving her demeanor, "You are about to go to a dark place."
"Why can't you just tell me what's going to happen? You know. Why can't you tell me?" Caroline spat childishly, forgetting herself.
"I CAN do many things. You are the one who needs to learn to do for yourself." Mama replied, the little warmth leaving her voice once more, as if it had never been there.

"The path is hidden from you by a shadow. By THE shadow. He doesn't believe you're capable of doing what needs to be done knowingly, and neither do I. Inside, you're still willing to lie to yourself, to gloss over reality for your own comfort. The upcoming trial will kill this diseased part of you, and it's important that you know that what you MUST do is not your choice. Being who you are, you must accept it all, to be yourself as you truly are, and not as you wish you were."
"But who am I? Who am I now? Some mixed blood victim, waiting to happen? I've sat down and had dinner with Lucifer! Death himself looks at me like some kind of stepchild or something! Just last night, I grabbed a man's soul from nearly dying and returned him back to life. What kind of person is that?! This isn't some stupid movie, this is my LIFE. Why can't I just forget all this and be a normal, boring person?"

Mama Agnes smiled, like a hug with eyes.
"That's who you need to be. Did you know I like crossword puzzles? I have a stack of them in the corner. But people who know what I really am, do they ever talk to me about crossword puzzles? I love the Jerry Springer show, but does anyone ever come to gossip with me about that? No. We've both stuck. That's why I don't tell everyone who I am, why Mrs. Black lived in that rickety cottage reading old books instead of out on the church social scene. Back when she was alive, Senora Maya would go fishing for days at a time."
"Wait... what? What does that have to do with anything?" Caroline broke in, confused.
"Fish can't tell a priestess from a fisherman, baby. I don't tell my kids what I do until they need me. Mrs. Black wasn't prepared for when her children died; she didn't understand she was going to be a grandmother to a giant mob for the next hundred years. I did, but it's still just as hard. You, you don't have any kids of your own, you inherited your people. They came and found you though, didn't they?"
"What, you mean like Lucille? Or when Mike called me to set up that meeting? How much more to this is there?" Caroline asked, finally asking the right kind of question.
Mama Agnes laughed, her dark skin glowing radiantly in the light, for a moment, beautiful in her own special way.
"As little as we can get away with, baby. As little as we can get away with. Do you know why the Father doesn't like to answer prayers?"
"No..." Caroline said, getting confused again. Dom and Nate had talked about a Father before. But their Father would be...
"It's not the kind of relationship he wants with his children. What do you do with a child that whines all the time and says 'gimme gimme gimme!'? You ignore it, you tell it to do for itself. Now imagine if all of creation were your whiny child. Wouldn't you do the same thing?"

Caroline was stunned. She'd never thought about it that way. She'd always been on the other end. Was that how Mrs. Black had gotten Dom's help, by being his friend instead of some kind of supplicant? Was that why Mrs. Black had always had that charming, socialite way about her? If Mama meant what it seems she did, that all of existence was just one big family stemming down from God the Father and it was blood and relationships that held it all together...
"I think I've been the wrong person." Caroline said sheepishly.
"Oh honey, nobody ever told you what to be. I grew up singing the chants, learning the histories from Mama Sadie. You, you were forced to choose death, or this. The Glass would have used you to try and kill Mrs. Black, you know. You'd be fertilizing her roses right now if hadn't wanted to die."
"She WANTED to die?!" Caroline gasped.
"She wasn't cut out for this, sweetie. She never wanted this, never wanted to head a family, never wanted to be anything other than a midwife. I'm PROUD of who I am, who I've trained to be, but she never felt quite right. She always felt guilty, like she'd betrayed Father somehow by consorting with Dom and other entities. Playing with your cousin isn't stabbing your grandpa in the back, though. Even so, how old does anyone want to get, living a life they don't believe in?" Mama explained.

Caroline sat at home, pondering Mama Agnes's words. She had to want her life, she had to believe in it. She didn't want to end up like Raz, or Mrs. Black, giving up on a life that still had an inkling of potential in it. She had a responsibility, a responsibility to her family. She'd seen Thug break down after Mrs. Black's death. She'd spent her life looking for someone to be, and now, like it or not, she was someone. Someone with a responsibility to five rows of people she hadn't even bothered to meet, someone who should constantly be using her abilities to help those around her. She needed to not only admit who she was, but also embrace herself and be that to her fullest extent.

She was a witch. She should be scrying, looking for potential problems, not for herself, but for her friends and family. Had she used what she'd found with Raz to help anyone other than herself, she could have stopped his suicide attempt. Instead, she acted selfishly and treated him like a sex object instead of a friend under her protection. She'd still have her job, and Raz wouldn't be in Lakeside thinking who knows what about her.

She closed her eyes, reaching for the rainbow static, for the spiritual ether. She pulled out the ball, forming it casually so as not to make any mistakes, to enjoy her craft. She stared into the ball, isolating the information she wanted, looking blankly into the future for the unexpected, the unknown, the...

The sphere went black. The world went black. Suddenly, Caroline was no longer in the trance.

Just like when Dom severed her umbilical to Raz. Death had finally turned on her.

Posted by FUNKbrs - June 5th, 2008

Chapter 17

Berry woke with an itch.

She pulled herself off the couch Sunday afternoon, twisting her mangled hair back into some semblance of order. Her fashionable wristbands hid the still savage looking scars on her wrists, but then again, that wasn't the first time for that, either.

She stood and stretched, leaning so far back as to fall right back on the couch where she started, where she'd laid since dawn that morning. She lay there in a heap, savoring the luxury of sleeping late until the itch struck her again.

She stood once more, this time not stretching, her head cocked to the side as she tried to locate the source of the itch. It wasn't a physical itch, but a mental one, a hunch, a tickle in the back of her mind that something was wrong, like an unlocked door or an oven left on. Millennia of instinct were going nuts, twisting her guts, screaming at her that she had been betrayed, that she needed to discover some dirty, hidden truth.

Despite Berry's cute appearance, her childhood and teenage years had been anything but coddling. Sometimes knowing when her mom was cheating on her dad was the only way to avoid a vicious fight, fights that sometimes kept her out of school for a week at a time while her bruises went away.

Never again.

The itch. The itch was how she knew, how she survived. You feel the itch, and you start looking. You start looking, and you find mom's blow, or her meth, or her pills, or whatever it was her new boyfriend was hooking her up on behind dad's back. Once you knew, you could steal it, throw it away, sell it, or leave it, because either way mom would deny it, and if dad found it, he'd blame it all on you if he could.

Raz. It had to be Raz. The itch always struck close to home. It was a survival instinct, an animal thing, the same itch that makes a dog howl in a thunderstorm. However bad things were, Raz was her lifeline, her sole means of support. If he left her, no more car, no more apartment, no more ramen noodles, nothing. It would mean back on the all-night scene, sleeping in gay bars while gray-haired queens watched her with worried mother's eyes. It would mean living off of free beer and bummed French fries, going on dates just for the hot meal and a place to stay.

Which was how they met, wasn't it?

No. She'd already lost her focus, her drive; whatever it was inside her Mrs. Black had taken away. She wouldn't lose her meal ticket, not without a fight, not without standing up for herself. She wasn't anybody's bitch, not his, not anyone's.

When reputation is all you have, even the slightest insult has to be met full on. Otherwise, they'd just peck you to death, wouldn't they?

Todd looked over at Raz, over at his quiet, introspective friend. He didn't feel any different towards him, though he felt he should. There was no connection there as there was with a woman. It was like something just came over him, something new, something that hadn't been there when they had first started hanging out.

It was gone now, whatever it was, leaving him in this awkward position. Raz had scared Caroline away, but then again Caroline had been starting to weird him out lately anyways, showing up to his bed with fresh scars and talking out of her head all the time.

Raz was more than willing to fill that vacancy, but then again, he always had been. Raz had always been this way; it was him, Todd that something had changed in.

The sex had felt amazing. There was no doubt of that. Raz had a way of taking what he wanted while still respecting his boundaries, something Caroline couldn't seem to keep a handle on with her kinky excesses.

Still, Todd felt there was a pallor over the affair. He didn't feel in control of himself with Raz as he did the first night with Caroline, although the first time he'd felt that weird detachment had been with her. He was tempted to talk with Berry about it, but considering Raz was all but living in his apartment due to Berry's anger issues, it was probably a bad idea. What if she was jealous with him the same way Raz was with Caroline?

Things were so confusing; it was so much easier to sit back ad lay in the moment, letting events wash over him like the tide. Right now, right now he was sharing a bed with a good friend, a caring friend, and a surprisingly good lover. Why question it? Why label it? Was it really so necessary to judge the things that he did based on what he thought he knew of himself?

No. It was much better this way, allowing life to take shape around him, living like a bird, pecking whatever caught his eye with no worries as to why it appealed to him. Just let animal instinct take control; that was the easy way, the fun way, the passionate way.

He'd spent enough of his life with logic, with philosophy, with school in general. All it really did was force him to conform, and charge him so much for graduate tuition that even his job teaching general education courses in public speaking left him in this dumpy little apartment.

Raz suddenly snapped awake next to him, not once yawning, just bolting upright in bed.

"Did you hear that?" He asked in a burst, tense and fully lucid.
"Hear what?" Todd replied, trying to croon Raz back to sleep.
"My car. I heard my car." Raz continued, if anything becoming more tense.
"It's a whole complex. There's lots of cars going in and out all the time."
"My brakes squeal funny. It's my car."

With no sound to compare it to, he had no way to get Raz to relax. After all, it wasn't like Raz didn't have a legitimate reason to be worried about where his car was all the time.

Before Todd had a chance to think of something to say, there was a bang at the door.

"Aren't Jehovah's Witnesses supposed to be in church on Sunday?" Todd mumbled jokingly as he threw on an old pair of workout shorts to answer the door.

Raz didn't laugh.

"Where's Raz?" Berry demanded, trying to peer past Todd into the apartment.
"...sleeping..." Todd said slowly, as if to say, "What else would he be doing?"
"That's funny. I don't see him on the couch." She fired back spitefully.
"Who said he had to sleep on the couch?" Todd diverted. He knew what Berry was like when she was looking for a fight.
"Well, considering that mop on your head screams 'I just woke up' I'd say because you guys don't normally share a bed."

Berry took advantage of Todd's sleepiness to duck under his arm, bolting into the apartment like a stray cat.
"Raz!" she cawed like a tiny harpy, "You better fucking be here." She finished under her breath.
Raz walked out of the bedroom, surprising both Todd and Berry by wearing nothing but a sheet.
"Oh, I've been fucking here. Been fucking TODD," he said with emphasis, nodding towards him. "You know, someone who actually gives a shit about me."

Immediately crocodile tears began streaming down Berry's face.
"You know I fucking love you!" she wailed hoarsely, trying to cover her lies with emotion.
"Bullshit." Raz spat. "You only ever 'loved' me long enough to get your shit moved back into my apartment."

Todd was taken aback. He didn't expect Raz not to play along, not to try and hide anything. Raz was burning bridges he couldn't build back. It was too late now to realize that Raz had nothing to lose if he though he was going to have a relationship with Todd. To Raz, it seemed perfectly logical that good friends who start sleeping together would become more serious, but Todd had never even considered the idea.

"C'mon, guys, you two've been on and off for years..." Todd attempted to mediate.
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Raz and Berry yelled at Todd in unison.

Then Berry took the offensive.
"Don't give me that shit!" I've been devoted to you this whole time!"
"Devoted to me this whole time?!" Raz repeated incredulously. "That's funny, you spent a lot of time with Caroline for someone devoted to me."
"You knew about Caroline! You were in on it the first night we were together!"
"What about those other nights?" Raz threw in her face. "We were supposed to share her, but you just wanted her to yourself."
"I couldn't help it she wasn't attracted to you!" Berry defended.
"And you think I was attracted to HER? You were the one that started on that, not me."

All of a sudden Todd realized how deep this all ran. Raz had a vendetta against Caroline for stealing his girl; that's why he exploded when she tried to butt her head in between them. He was trying to get revenge by stealing Caroline's man: Todd. He was gambling everything on a bond he thought they shared that Todd didn't return.

Todd saw what was coming, though he should have known it all along, and now it was too late to stop what Raz was about to say.

"Look Berry, it's taken me a few years, but I see through you now. I didn't want to be alone. Now that I have Todd, I'm not. You may need me, but I don't need you anymore."

This time, Berry's tears were real.

"Now give me back my keys."

It was over, Berry thought. No chance to runoff with the car until Raz cooled down, and a witness to stop her from slapping him. If she didn't give up the keys now, it would prove Raz right.

She handed over the keys, contorting her face for sympathy. She found none. Berry couldn't believe her ears, as Todd said the stupidest thing she'd ever heard.

"Raz, no, you don't understand. I...I was just in a weird mood, and you were available. I mean, I thought you were in a relationship. I didn't expect you to get ideas..."

That sealed it. Raz's eyes blinded with tears, despairing that he'd ever find people who wouldn't use him that he'd ever fit in, or be content. He marched into Todd's room, haphazardly yanking on his clothes. Todd tried to touch his shoulder, to say something comforting, but Raz pushed him away, his face soaked with rejection.

He'd gambled everything, gambled everything and lost, that was all Raz could thin as he drove manically down the street. He couldn't go home; too many bad memories. He'd just left Todd's, maybe never to come back, and he was in no mood to deal with any of The Fool's Card regulars.

He hit the expressway loop, trying to lose himself in the mindless pattern of driving fast, trying to feel he was a winner, like he could achieve something.

Raz was startled back to sanity when he realized he was low on gas. He was thirty-five, and everything was ending. His friendships, his relationships, and now his gas tank, all empty. He'd always been depressive, even as a kid, but when he'd become an adult he thought he'd grown out of suicidal tendencies.

What did he have left to lose, though? He'd never wanted children; he knew he would have been a terrible father. Other than sex, what was his goal? He'd even fucked his fantasy, and it hadn't been worth it. Stupid kids games had eaten his life. Really, he'd never been alive anyway, just faking it to try and make everyone else happy. Right now, he just wanted it all over.

Raz reached into his glove box for the baby .22 Berretta he kept in a fake purse. He'd never told Berry about it because he didn't trust her, but he'd promised his brother he'd keep it ever since the robbery.

If only his brother knew what he planned for it now.

Raz smiled, the easy answer coming into view. The best years of his life were over, he was losing his looks, and he was only getting older by the minute. He had nothing to lose anymore, not now. She wanted to kill him inside, to strip him of all he was over a quick fuck? She might not have known what she was doing, but he'd be damned if she didn't find out before he'd drawn his last breath.

A flurry of angry knocks startled Caroline awake Sunday night, just an hour after she'd finally been able to rest. She scrambled for clothes, the tension of the past few days slamming back into her and knocking her out of whatever peace she'd had. It had happened too many times, a stranger showing up on her doorstep, and she wouldn't allow herself to be caught unaware again.

The banging continued as her oversized nightshirt full of holes settled over her panty-ed figure, covering the flaws in her skin tone. She popped open the utility drawer, grabbing an old rusty screwdriver and cupping it gently behind her wrist with her fingertips, giving the illusion of her hand empty at her side despite holding a stabbing weapon. If she'd only kept her kitchen knives, she thought in perfect hindsight as she walked quietly to the door and peeped through the hole.

Not Thug, not Nate, not Mike, but Raz was on the other side, a madcap grin smeared across his face.
"What do you want?" she asked through the crack in the door with the chain still in place.
"I just came back to say I was sorry." Raz replied, his grin threatening to stretch all the way back to his ears.
"Oh God, thanks for that!" Caroline whooshed, relieve the situation wasn't serious. "I'm sorry for what I did too. I never even considered your feelings before I acted."

Caroline brought the chain down to let her friend into the apartment when Raz interjected.

"...sorry I can only do this once..."

There was a loud CLACK and suddenly everything went red. A sound came, like a laundry basket falling off a doorstep, then silence. Caroline tried to calm herself; she wasn't in any pain, but she couldn't see. She realized she was still standing, just blinded by some inconsistent dark red shadow. She reached up towards her eyes to feel for the damage, but the stickiness on her glasses foreshadowed the grisly scene her eyes were glad to be unaided to see.

Caroline's nearsighted blur helped cover the details as she looked at what a blindly optimistic person would call a pile of wet laundry, but her blood called the incapacitated body of Raz.

There was no fear now, only calm as she focused on the trance. She pushed through the rainbow static, bull-dogged her way in as hard and as fast as she could with the strength of a mother pulling her babies out from under the rubble of an earthquake.

Already Raz's dark purple soul had the telltale hairs Dom had warned her about. The solution... solution... the solution... didn't he do the avatar bubble first?

Caroline formed the rainbow static into a ball, only to slip in her control and have the whole thing dissipate back into the ether of the dream-space. She pulled again, the time more calmly, but she couldn't figure out how to hollow the ball. The hairs on Raz were ever lengthening and beginning to writhe like spaghetti thin worms as she berated herself over what to do next. She tried to form a depression in the ball, only to have the whole thing shatter once again.

The umbilical! She had a knack for the umbilical!

She formed the image in her mind of a tendril extending from her navel, just as she remembered doing with Dom. The umbilical extended, taking a tiny strand of her own soul with it just as it had done before. She braced herself for the non-numbness of contact, contact she remembered all too well from Mrs. Black.

Unlike with Mrs. Black, however, Raz's soul avoided her umbilical, dodged it just as Raz consciously rejected life by spraying his brains all over Caroline's apartment. Suddenly a voice projected itself, Dom's voice in black oscilloscope lines, like tiny tears in the dream-space ether.
"Don't worry. He'll accept it when he gets desperate enough. Poor kid doesn't know what he's done to himself."

It was then she recognized Dom's black vortex avatar, nothing like any soul or avatar she'd ever experienced. Why was he different? More morbidly, how did he know to come?

Sure enough, Raz's dying soul latched onto Caroline's umbilical. The thickening tendrils ceased and were reabsorbed, but unlike Mrs. Black, Raz had no idea how to communicate in the spirit world. He was still alive, but in a zombie state, like some sort of human pupae.

"So what are you going to do now?" Dom asked, still not bothering to explain himself.
"I...I...I don't know." She said through the pain, a pain she was learning to cope with even as it increased over time.
"Do you know why I'm here? Have you figured it out yet?"
"No...I just don't want him to die. Not another one. Not because of me."
"Right now, I'm the only one that can help you." Dom expressed reservedly. "Do you remember how Mrs. Black's soul reached for something? That something was me. I'm not a man, and I don't claim to be an angel. I'm the garbage man of souls, the counterbalance to the promise of everlasting spiritual life. I'm Death."

The pain and shock overtook Caroline as she fell through the umbilical into Raz's body, her soul mixing with his in a lover's embrace. Every touch was pain and pleasure, Raz's raw life force caressing hers with abrasive destructiveness as it scrabbled at life like a drowning man pulling a would-be rescuer to a watery grave.
"Come with me and let go." Raz called to her from inside his head. "We can go forever. Forever, together, alone and forgotten."

The peace and pleasure of it almost overwhelmed her before it struck the hardened core that had formed with Lucille, that iron core left in her after tasting the flesh of her new bloodline. She separated herself from him, refusing to mix their souls and become one only to die for nothing. She regained control of herself, the pain now like being dragged across a gravel road.

"Tell me what to do, Dom!" she wailed.
"You have to fix his head, so his body can hold his soul. A living soul can't inhabit a dead body." Dom advised sagely.
"HOW?!" she blasted at him.
"Feel out the damage. Use his body to heal itself, but use your soul to force it to happen more quickly. The healing comes from him. The power comes from you."

She entered Raz again, this time riding his pain into his nervous system to the damage, demanding the individual cells reconnect before permanent damage was done, domineering the small copper slug the size of the tip of a pinky out of his head through the peristalsis of his knitting flesh.

"Quick, get out before Nate finds me!" Dom trumpeted.

Too late, a brilliant sphere of pure light appeared, the opposite of Dom in every way, projecting its light through the ether.
"Ah, Caroline, nice to see you've come along," said the brilliant sphere, almost godly in its magnificence.
"No Nate! She doesn't get a choice! I won't let her!"

The glorious sphere of shimmering light touched everything around, like the smile of a god. It was so warm, so unlike the cold clutches of death Caroline had struggled with. She reached out for it instinctively, like a toddler stretching out a hand to the warm licking tongues of a summer bonfire.

It was then she noticed the black bar, the silvery blade. It was then she noticed Dom for who he really was, seeing past his gregarious demeanor to the Angel of Death it hid, saw his brother for who he was as well, the liberator, the light-bringer, the... the...


Dom dropped his scythe across Caroline's umbilical, and it was all over.

Posted by FUNKbrs - June 4th, 2008

Chapter 16

The Glass sat behind the eyes of its host, its victim this time. Unbelievers are so weak, never truly understanding the power they could possess. What a shame, a waste, an ... inefficiency. Together they could do so much more, but it was not to be. When a souled host struggles, the soul must be ... subjugated. Minimized. Shoved into a corner to wither and die if weak, or merely be forgotten if strong.

Still, this host had more function than the last, more brawn. The Glass gleamed as though freshly shined, like a hotrod with a fresh coat of paint and a new engine.

Mrs. Black was gone, that smudge was finally rubbed out. A victory, but one that had been had countless times with different enemies. So much clarity had been wasted there, so much brilliance, but no longer.

Direct action had failed. Defenses had been made; a tactical advantage had been lost. Lying low, that was the key. Create a false sense of security. Wait for the sigh of relief, wait for the pattern. Find the hole in the pattern, and then strike.

The Glass was good at watching, that was its nature, and now it had the tool it needed to get what it wanted, and no one was there to stop it.

Straight Mike spoke tersely into his phone frustrated and irritated that his cousin was so hard to work with.
"Look, I don't fucking CARE how you feel. You did your job, now I've got to do mine. You're an idiot if you don't think they already know, and they're not going to wait for the funeral, ok? So just give me the goddamn number, and let me handle this part."

There was a brief pause as Mike listened, his face screwed up with stress.
"Look, if you're that worried, dig a couple of holes in the back yard. I've already gotten calls from Nate AND Dom, and if she's not ready to give orders, THEY will. Once that starts, there's no stopping it. So unless you want fucking NATE," he spat the word like an epithet, "calling the shots for the next hundred years, I suggest you give me that number and let me do my fucking job."

There was another pause, this time because Mike was busy entering numbers into his phone.
"Alright, thanks. And don't worry; this'll all blow over real soon. She'll get up to speed, and we can all get back to normal. See ya, cuz."


"Now where the hell am I going to get reservations...?" he mumbled to himself.

Caroline sat in a dark corner, clutching her knees to her chest, rocking gently back and forth. She was dead, that was all she could think. Dom had been nice, but was quick to leave when it was all over, not even waiting for her to exit the trance before disappearing. Thug was inconsolable, not even capable of speaking in anything but a blubber. He had just pulled that cotton sheet up over her head and started gibbering, and there was nothing she could do but go home.

Go home to what, though? There was nothing here for her. She had already shut off from the outside world for fear of her dreams taking hold of her once again, and it's not exactly like she had a lot of friends to begin with. Everyone was gone, everyone except her...


Cell phone? She didn't believe it until it rang a second time.


She ran for the phone, ran for it like a lifeline. It didn't matter who it was, as long as it was someone other than herself.

"Hello?" Caroline answered the unfamiliar number.
"Hey Carl, it's me, Mike, you know, from The Fool's Card?" Answered the somewhat familiar voice.
"Hey Mike... sorry about your grandma..." she apologized.
"Yeah, this call is kind of about that." He said bluntly. "Look, I know Todd's probably told you some bad things about me, but I'm a part of this family, just like Thug, just like Lucille."
"So? What's your point?" she stated flatly, sensing an ulterior motive.
"So you know Thug's first boy, right? Well, we all have jobs like that. Lucille's head mother. Her job is handling internal family politics. Thug's in charge of all external, non-family stuff like security. Me, I'm chief liaison to the other families." He explained.
"Wait... what other families?"
"Look, Mrs. Black wasn't the only witch in the world. Locally there's two other families, families we have truces with. As the new head, it's your job to meet with them, let them see everything's kosher, and most importantly let them know we're not about to fall apart and go back on any of the agreements. It's been a blood bath since Senora Maya died, and Mama Agnes might move on us if she thinks the Blacks are going that route. We're small, but we stay alive by not pissing anyone off. That means keeping up the protocols."
"Wait, what the fuck are you talking about?" Caroline spat, irritated by Mike's self-importance when he should be in mourning.
"I'm talking about a meeting. Tonight. Mama Agnes had Starburst arrange a meeting with me the second she saw what happened, and Nate's been calling ever since he found out."
"Nate? Starburst? Who are these people?" Caroline asked, confused again.
"Ok. Starburst is Mama Agnes's emissary; basically her version of me. She's the tall black girl with the shades from The Fool's Card. You've never met, but you'll recognize her. Nate... you're gonna have to ask Dom about Nate. All I know is I hate the greasy bastard, and I hope his lying ass rots in hell." He explained.
"So what do I have to do?"
"Ok. Dom's gonna come meet you and Nate at the Applebee's on Westingham and Norwood down the street from here. Don't worry; Dom's paying. Nate won't cross Dom, and I'll have Starburst meet you there."
"What time?" Caroline asked, trying to get this all over with as soon as possible.
"Oh, just show up. Dom'll call me when he sees you."

Caroline walked form her car to the restaurant to see Dom just closing his phone as he stood next to a tall, tastefully dressed middle-eastern man with sharp features.
"Hey!" Dom called, waving and smiling cordially, wrapping Caroline in an unexpected fatherly hug as she approached.
"Caroline, this is my brother Nate Task. Nate, this is Caroline Parker, new matriarch of the Black Family."
"Pleased to meet you, Caroline." Nate said with an infectious smile, showing his pearly white teeth. "Really, so sad to hear about your loss." He continued, sounding earnest.
"It's ok. She told me she wanted it this way." Caroline answered him somberly.
"C'mon, lets go ahead and order while we wait for Starburst." Dom cut in awkwardly.

Dom sat next to Caroline in the booth, with Nate tucked away in the back corner.

"So...you two don't look like brothers. Are you step brothers or something?" Caroline asked, trying to kill the mystery.
"Hah, no..." Nate laughed gregariously, sounding strangely inappropriate. "You could say we're only related by marriage, as it were."
Dom made a weird face. "We're not related by blood. It's rather complicated." He said, sounding slightly embarrassed.
"Our two brothers are a lot more like me, although none of us look alike. Pete and Rod have always thought of Dom as a bit of a snitch. He's always been the white sheep of the family, you could say." Nate explained.
"Nate's the oldest, I'm second, then Pete, then Rod. Nate's always tried to be like Dad, but I had a bad case of middle child syndrome and Pete and Rod have never let me live it down." Dom finished wryly.

Their drinks arrived.

"Ok, let me cut straight to business." Dom said as he sipped his gin and tonic. "Mama Agnes is an old school African national priestess that can trace her roots all the way back to the Congo, even WITH the slave ships. Her family's big, HUGE, but they're pretty disorganized and the fact Mama Agnes is a witch is pretty hush-hush even with her own kids. She's only in her mid-nineties, and she stays pretty busy with her own affairs. She'd always respected Mrs. Black because of the stance she took against Belforte. Apparently the oral histories they use speak quite highly of it."
"Then why does she want to see ME? I wasn't even involved!" Caroline interjected.
"Oh, that's simple, Caroline." Nate answered. "It's because you're Mrs. Black's descendent by blood, albeit in a circuitous manner. These families are generational, so the descendent is treated the same as the parent."
"Basically, Starburst is coming BECAUSE Mama Agnes likes you. Normally a witch's only concern is her own family, but in this case if you get caught up, Mama Agnes will be the only person capable of getting you straight again." Dom finished.

Along with their drinks, the waitress arrived with an amazingly tall black man, built thin and lithe like a track star. The man wore skintight jeans and an undersized Rainbow Bright t-shirt and sandals. His shoulder length hair was beautifully straightened, and he wore a pair of Bootsie Collins-esque shades.

"Caroline!" said the effeminate baritone as Dom relayed the order to the waitress. Taking a second look, Caroline realized where she'd seen those shades before; talking to Straight Mike with the other queens at The Fool's Card.
"You must be Starburst." Caroline said, doing her best to imitate Mrs. Black's stately grace as she extended a hand.
"Pleased to meet you. And these gentlemen are...?"
Dom rose to the challenge. "I'm Dom Borden, and this is my brother Nate Task. He's just along with me. I'm one of Mrs. Black's old friends."

Something wrinkled above the bright yellow star-shaped shades on Starburst's head.
"Wait... Dom? I remember you now. I'd heard the rumors, but it's strange to find out they were all true like this."
Dom laughed. "Oh, it's not as serious as all that! Once Caroline gets up on her feet, me and Nate'll back out of the picture. Isn't that right Nate?"
Nate pretended not to hear as he sipped his drink.

Caroline broke the awkward pause.
"So, what's going on with Mama Agnes? I've heard good things."
"Oh, everything's nice and solid on our front. It's a day by day struggle, but even though the cops keeps getting worse, we keep doing better anyways." Starburst smiled. "In fact, I'm here to give you Mama's personal number. She knows you need a lot of advice and support right now. In fact, we're willing to handle the arrangements for Mrs. Black's funeral."
Dom spoke up. "A-S Cogic?"
"Yeah, down at All Saints Cogic." Starburst answered. "The Church of God in Christ knows Mama Agnes's place in the stream of things, so they don't ask too many questions in how she runs the place."

"Good, good." Dom crooned. "We want to keep everything small. Pedro needs to think everything's under control, otherwise he might do something stupid."
"Mama Agnes also wants everything nice and unified. Things are way too unstable now, and Pedro's running on fear. Did you know he completed the purge?" Starburst supplied conspiratorially.
"I did." Dom said ruefully. "I was there. That's why I'm here now."
Stardust swallowed, the cold nature of Dom's voice reminding him of something he was trying to forget.
"Of course. You probably found out first, maybe before even Pedro himself."
"It's worse, Star. Pedro's been watching me, that's why I had to bring Nate, even though I didn't want to let him come."

Suddenly Nate jumped to his feet, looking back towards the kitchen. "Speak of the devil..." he muttered as a commotion broke out. A paint splattered young Mexican man was arguing loudly in vulgar Spanish with a female member of the kitchen staff. Things died down, but the pair immediately came to the table where Nate was standing.

The stocky Mexican pointed at Nate, yelling accusatorily in guttural Spanish. Nate chuckled and smiled sharply, replying with smug fluent Spanish. The man turned to the girl, barking orders. The woman answered him, then turned to Caroline.
"He says he's not afraid of you." The unnamed girl said in a voice that would have been musical if it wasn't under such stress.
The man barked more orders to her.
"He says he knows what you did to Mrs. Black." She said, her eyes darting around nervously, her arms crossed protectively in front of her.

Nate said something disgusting in Spanish and then licked his fingers.

The small man snapped, yanking a big awkward utility knife form his tool-belt and lunged towards Nate across the table, just inches away from Caroline. Nate grabbed the man's overextended arm at the wrist just below the knife, bringing his other elbow down all in one motion crushing the small bones of the Mexican's knife hand against the table and the handle of his own knife.

Before the Mexican could recover or retaliate, three large servers grabbed him and yanked him from the restaurant. Already the waitress came running to the table, apologizing.
"No, that's fine." Dom smoothed. "No, we don't want to press any charges. Just get us our food and we'll be on our way."

Starburst looked shocked. "Is that who I think it was?"
Nate's sadistic grin nearly cut his face in half. "It was. Fool, he'll end up just like his grandmother if he doesn't see the light."
"Don't rub it in." Dom placated. "You wouldn't even be here if I had the freedom you do."
"Yeah, well, Father learned his lesson the hard way with me. That's why he was so much stricter with you three."

Dom sighed, and the wait staff hurriedly delivered everyone's food.

"So who was that?" Caroline asked, scared of her ignorance when everyone else seemed to know exactly what was going on.
"Pedro." Dom answered shortly. "He followed me here. I can't fight him, but Nate can, so I had to bring Nate for insurance."
"He doesn't speak a word of English." Starburst cut in. "He just recently got control of the family, so he doesn't have an emissary yet to meet with. In better times, he would have sent someone like me instead."
"So why is he coming after Nate with a knife, then?" Caroline asked.

Nate smiled again, coldly.

"Because I killed his mother and drank her blood."

Starburst started to speak, but Dom cut him off. "Look, Senora Maya knew what she was getting into when she started dealing with Nate. She crossed him, and she paid the price. Now you know the price of dealing with him, too, so you won't make the same mistake."

"There goes my brother, ever the snitch. Are you going to tell her my real name, too? Or are you scared I'll tell her who YOU are?" Nate oozed acidly.
"She'll find out all too soon as it is." Dom admitted with a hint of sadness. He looked Caroline dead in the eye. "I'd tell you if I could, I swear to God. You'll know who I am by the end of the week."
"Promises, promises." Nate chuckled, his fork held delicately as he spoke.
"So is Caroline dealing with Nate?" Starburst asked Dom pointedly, ignoring Caroline.
"Absolutely not." He said, solid as tombstone granite. "Nate's here doing me a favor, nothing more. I can't do anything about Pedro, but Nate needs me enough to where he won't cross me."
"You mean I won't cross myself." Nate interjected after sipping his wine. "You know we work to the same purpose, in the end."

Dom changed the subject, slightly shaken. "So, Starburst, what day is the funeral set for?"
"Thug turned in the body for cremation today. We're filing to have her declared dead without the body, though, to get her will enacted without too many questions. It shouldn't be too hard with her birth certificate saying what it does. We're setting it for the afternoon on Monday."
"But I have to work Monday..." Caroline responded instinctively, reverting to her old self.
Now it was Starburst's turn to chuckle knowingly. "Oh, Mama Agnes said that wouldn't be an issue."
"Hear that Dom?" Nate teased.
"Hear what?" Dom snapped, successfully baited.
"Oh, nothing." Nate said flippantly, turning his attention back to his meal.

"I'm sure I'll figure something out." Caroline said, just beginning to realize she was supposed to be in charge here.
"Don't worry honey, we're here for you. Mama's been holding everything together for us since the Great Depression. She apprenticed her whole life before she inherited the family; we don't expect you to be able to just jump in after a few months." Starburst consoled, which he was quite good at. "The bottom line is that the funeral's tomorrow at three, at All-Saints Cogic. There's still a lot to lose if you Blacks don't' keep your guards up, because Pedro can take a big chuck out of us if our allies are weak. He's about as new to all this as you are, though, so if we can get you up to speed before him, we'll have the leverage we need to get the three families normalized."

"Thanks Starburst." Caroline said earnestly. "Things have been hard for me. Everything's happening way too fast."
"You're telling me, girl. Don't you find a pretty young thing like me stuck in all this?"
"I didn't mean..." Caroline stuttered.
"No, it's ok. We all get caught up for different reasons. We all owe someone something. Debt and payment are what this is all about."

With that, Dom motioned for the waitress and the check.

"Well, Starburst, I'd like to thank you and your family for your help with the funeral." Caroline said, seeing it was time to leave.
"Ha, well, you'll be doing plenty of that on your own, soon." Starburst said as he handed her a card. "Oh, and don't worry about Pedro. We'll get him so busy he won't have time to mess with you."

Things were fuzzy to Caroline as she came home early that Sunday evening. It had seemed like only a moment after saying her goodbyes to Dom and Nate that they both left, not even walking with her back out to her car.

She shrugged it off with a sigh of relief. The entire situation was overwhelming, and it was clear things were only going to get more complicated after the funeral. Still, she no longer felt alone in her struggle. She had big shoes to fill, but now that she knew she wasn't the only one filling them, she could finally relax and go to sleep.

Posted by FUNKbrs - April 4th, 2008

Chapter 15

Saturday is the day of the satyr, a day for feasting and drinking after a week's hard work. The seventh day, the holy day on which God himself rested after creation of the earth. Also Saturday is the last day of the week, a day of endings, of having nothing to lose and looking forward to Sunday's forgiveness and absolution.

Friday is the final day of working struggle, the last day for war, but Saturday was more ominous, the day after war, the last day for life. Saturday was the day that decided the survivors from the casualties, the day on which the wounds of war were stitched shut or became infected beyond all repair.

Saturday is a closing door, the intersection of the shearing blades of a pair of scissors, the thick leather cover of a book slammed shut after a week of reading.

That was why Saturday was the day Caroline got Thug's phone call.

Caroline was at an emotional low. She didn't have a single friend she could trust with everything, and no one who could help her even if she did. Jaleesa was too closed-minded to understand. Raz, Todd, and Berry each had special reasons to avoid her during the past lonely Friday, and the last thing Caroline needed was an emotionally awkward night down at The Fool's Card fending off the likes of Straight Mike and his unnamed cross-dressing friends.

She'd spent the day alone in meditation, re-enacting the episode at Todd's house in her mind over and over. The episode at Lucille's grated at her as well, the events of the past piling up on top of her faster than she could make sense of them, like her life was a game of slow motion Tetris gone awry with bits and pieces coming in too fast for her to organize them.

It was sometime that afternoon then that Caroline finished washing up from a light but filling meal of eggs and fried rice to the sing-song sound of her cell phone going off. She reached down to her hip and checked it, but the incoming call was from an unknown source.

She answered it.

Thug's voice was cold and urbane like polished granite.
"Tonight's her last night."
"But I thought she had stabilized..."
Thug cut off her equivocation sharply.
"You knew she was going to die. "
"But I mean, there was hope, right?"
"No. Tonight. With or without you."

Caroline opened her mouth to a dead phone, Thug having punctuated his last words by hanging up. She stared at the glowing light display, cold steel climbing into her spine. Things had changed since Lucille, changed in subtle ways, visceral ways. To watch a person die, even one as distant and unsympathetic as Mrs. Black would once have been devastating to Caroline, and there was still a kernel of denial in her heart about the repercussions of what Thug had told her. There was a deeper instinct, a root in her blood now, that saw this death as a challenge. Having pulled life into this world with her awkwardly gnawed fingernails, it now felt natural for her to be there when one slipped away into the unknown.

Caroline drove her car calmly; keeping within the speed limit with tight precision on the off chance even a slight flaw on her part could ruin the spirit of the upcoming events in some illogical way. She held to her old path along cottage Church Lane, making all the unnecessary turns just to stay on a path she knew, just to deal with the familiar and mundane for a few more short minutes.

Lawns turned into hedges, hedges turned to fences, and soon Thug's slick black Cadillac cruised its way into view. Caroline strolled up the rose encrusted path to Mrs. Black's large wooden porch, savoring every step she took in the old world, the world where there was a larger guiding force, however malevolent. Every inch that close between her and that door was another chunk removed from the disconnect between Caroline and reality.

Unconsciously Caroline knew there was a mental innocence she was about to lose that she could never regain. Her older future self sent this knowledge back through her soul via one of the fiber-thin connections that had developed there since her spiritual awakening, a spiritual awakening that was not quite yet complete.

The door was so close she could smell the rosin in the antique wood, her right hand reluctant to turn the knob before the last possible moment.


The door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges like a million other doors, revealing the converted sanctuary as it had countless times before. All this repetition only served to reinforce the severity of the ending of a long, almost supernatural lifespan. Would these doors still open with their mistress gone? The logical answer was yes, but logic was no longer an ally to Caroline as her brain scrabbled to avoid the oppressive guilt of being the reason for Mrs. Black's suffering.

The house still wasn't familiar, but Caroline remembered the uncomplicated path to Mrs. Black's bedroom. It was a pleasant surprise then to see a smiling if unfamiliar face waiting patiently outside the door.

"Caroline Parker, is it?" the robust Italian said in a hearty voice that could easily have been the cousin to Pavarotti.
"How did you know?" Caroline said, meeting his extended hand with one of her own.
"Oh, Mrs. Black mentioned you." The chubby man said energetically. "She said we'll be working together quite a bit from now own. By the way, I'm Dominick Borden. You can call me 'Dom', though."
"Well Dom, I'm sorry to have to meet you in these circumstances..." Caroline said politely, using vain pleasantries to distract her from what she was about to face.
"Hah! It happens to me more often than you'd think." Dom said with a merry twinkle in his eye.

The doorknob's lock spun as the other end completed the half turn it took to unlock it. Thug peered sheepishly through the door, shocked to find Dom there.
"You... You... You're too early..." Thug stammered in quiet shock.
"Please Thug, we're all old friends here. I may be here on business, but I'm not ONLY here on business."

Thug visibly relaxed. "Well, I guess there's no time to waste. She's ready to see you now."

Suddenly Dom and Caroline were standing on either side of Mrs. Black's bed. She lay under her covers, only her neck showing above clean cotton sheets. Mrs. Black was an odd mix of bloated and gaunt, the flesh of her face telling the tale of her gross internal struggle.

Dom took her hand graciously, like the hand of queen taken by a prince. He looked with open love into her eyes.
"Who'd have thought after all these years, it would be ME of all people here holding your hand."
Mrs. Black smiled weakly. "Well, they always said I was special. Thank you for coming under these terms. It's a greater compliment than you could know." Mrs. Black's voice strained, but she refused to allow that to detract from her eloquence.

Mrs. Black turned her eyes to Caroline.
"Caroline, this is Dom. He's here to give you your lesson on necromancy."
"Necromancy! But I though...I thought we were here... you know... to be with you..." Caroline stuttered.
"You'll never get a better opportunity than today, and I refuse to waste anything, even my own death and besides, there's no better teacher than Dom."
"You flatter me." Dom said with a smile incongruous to the subject at hand.

"Never the less," Mrs. Black soldiered on, "Necromancy is the magic of death, but not the magic of murder. It is the most conservative of the magical arts, and its techniques have a wide base in the medical industry."

Mrs. Black took a deep, savored breath.

"Today, you will watch me die. My death is not a worst-case scenario, but a best-case scenario. Have no sadness in this, because I have seen the alternatives, and I have chosen this."

Dom spoke up, sensing Mrs. Black's voice fading. "Everybody has to die, Caroline. Necromancy is a much older word for what a doctor might call hospice or palliative care. Necromancy can be used to revive the dead under the common name of CPR or First Aid. There are no zombies involved, just sick, dying people who want to use their last moments instead of wasting them."
"So, what are you going to show me?" Caroline instigated.
"Basic medicines, mainly. But towards the end, soul manipulation. Wait, has she..."

Dom turned to his patient as Mrs. Black's breaths began to become gasps. He scooped a white powder from a vial in his pocket in tiny sprinkles into Mrs. Black's open mouth.

"For example," he continued nonchalantly, "Methamphetamine. Nasty stuff for the mind, but it can give the dying just the jolt they need to stay lucid for a few more hours."
"Wait... you just gave Mrs. Black a bump of meth?" Caroline gasped incredulously.
"Basically. Pharmaceutical grade, though. She'll be talking again in under five minutes, tops. It shortens the death-span, but what good is being alive if you're not lucid?" Dom explained casually.

"Where did you learn this?" Caroline asked, dumbfounded.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, but when I get more time, I will anyway. Let's just say me and Mrs. Black have worked out a lot of deals in the past and have been personal friends for many years."

The finely grained powder dissolved quickly on Mrs. Black's membranous tissues, osmosis pushing it into her blood stream almost as fast as if she'd injected it. Two minutes and sixteen seconds later the drug had fully infiltrated her brain.

"Ah, there we go." Dom intoned, self-satisfied, looking down at Mrs. Black's blinking eyes.
"Dom?" Mrs. Black asked sleepily.
"Yes?" He answered, warmly.
"Could you leave for a second?"
"Sure thing." He quipped, popping jauntily from the room.

"Caroline." Mrs. Black called.
"Yes?" Caroline answered, feeling formal for some reason.
"Do you know what it means, what happened with Lucille?" Mrs. Black struggled to keep her voice audible, the drugs failing to provide more than symptomatic relief.
"I know what it means." Caroline said with more surety than she realized. "It means their blood is my blood. Our blood, now. That for better or for worse, I'm part of the family."
"And do you know what that implies?" Mrs. Black pressed.

Caroline swallowed.
"It implies that you chose me to replace you. That's why Lucille and Thug were so eager to have me as midwife."

Mrs. Black sighed.
"The nature of a witch is to bargain. We don't have any "power," only knowledge, which is better, because power can be spent, but knowledge can be remembered forever. Our bargain, between me and you, whether you accept it or not, was that I would spare you knowing what fate The Glass had for you. Through prophecy I made normal decisions, decisions anyone could make if they had my knowledge of prophecy. I knew the cost from the very beginning, but I knew you would never agree if you knew I would die for it."

"A life for a life, Caroline. Yours for mine. I die, you live. What you pay me for my life is you life. You serve my family as I would have had I lived. That is your price, and you're in too deep not to pay it now, may God Himself have mercy on me."

It wasn't even a shock, not anymore. Why else would Thug have been so nervous and polite since day one? Why else would anyone have been so secretive? But also, worse, was admitting that knowing what she did now, she would do it all again without a drop of remorse. That lack of remorse was hers, Caroline's, and it was there long before the first time Mrs. Black entered her dreams. It was there that first night with Todd.

Accepting this was who she was, who she wanted to be, and how she wanted to be remembered. Mrs. Black needed her, her family needed her, but there was no pity in this decision; only power. In the end, Caroline did this for herself, and for no one else.

It was Caroline's turn to be the witch, now.

Caroline gave Mrs. Black an innocent peck on the lips, like a four year old might give her grandmother.
"I didn't know then, but I know now. I know, and I accept. I accept because I have tasted power, and I refuse to ever be weak again."

Mrs. Black smiled a slow, knowing smile.
"We could have been sisters, you and I. Now call Dom back in here. There is one last thing I can teach you."

"Is it time already, Lil?" Dom said, using Mrs. Black's first name familiarly.
"Yeah, Dom, the crank's finally making my heart sputter. Next time use coke, it has a shorter duration and it's easier on the heart."

Dom chuckled.
"A nit-picker to the end. They're going to miss you."
"Liar." Mrs. Black said, and then closed her eyes.

Dom nudged Caroline's shoulder conspiratorially.
"Get a good look now, while you still can."

Caroline took the hint immediately, her funeral home calm helping her to enter the trance state. Mrs. Black's soul seemed... furry, blurry, and inconsistent, like a threadbare blanket all-full of static from the dryer, clinging to a random sock for dear life. She looked at Dom through the rainbow static, and was shocked. Mrs. Black's soul existed in an avatar as an aura, but Dom... Dom was a round, black... hole, warping and distending the patterns around him, drawing them in and absorbing them.

"Dom, what are you?" Caroline projected through the dream space.
"Try not to think about it." He replied, chuckling through the void. "Quick, watch."

He pointed, almost puppy-like with enthusiasm.

Caroline changed her focus back to Mrs. Black. The fuzzy hairs on her soul were becoming longer, fewer, and more defined, the longest ones curving towards Dom.
"See those strands? They're little conduits, little escape holes for the soul. Eventually one will latch on. A simple, basic technique to stop this is to create an avatar bubble."

Dom demonstrated, slowly coalescing a ball of the rainbow ether just as Caroline had to spy on Todd. The ball first went opaque white, then clear as it hollowed and expanded. Finally it moved into position, encapsulating Mrs. Black and blunting the strands escaping from her soul.

"It can only hold for so long. A dying soul creates a kind of negative spiritual pressure. Because they exist being created from nothing but pure will, souls distort the world. When they die, the natural forces stop distorting. The avatar bubble artificially maintains this distortion, like the glass of a light bulb maintains a vacuum so the filament inside doesn't burn out. Once the soul is weak enough, though, you're basically trying to create a soul by your will alone, and that's like trying to pick up the entire universe. Needless to say, it doesn't work."
"So she's not dead yet?" Caroline queried.
"Not yet, but she's too weak to control her body anymore."

The black strands writhed within the bottle, growing longer and more distinct. There was a popping blackhead quality to it, the purulent material of a dying soul being pushed out of the universe in cohesive strands. Unlike a blackhead, though, these strands were alive, like the flagella of microorganisms.

"By the way, always remember to reinforce the bubble. As the pressure increases, it can overcome your will and escape, resulting in the death of your patient." As Dom said this, he added a second coat of coalesced static to the capsule.

"Now, there's another technique that can strengthen the soul. Well, several, really, but they're all based on the same principal."

There was something ominous in Dom's tone as he conveyed this.

"If you have another soul, something I sadly lack, you can combine the dying one with the living one using an umbilical, only a purely spiritual one as opposed to a physical one. Two pieces of a soul make a whole new soul, whether one is incomplete because it is dying, or because that piece is a sexual extension. Basically, sex is the extension of two pieces of soul to create a new third self-sustaining one. Her piece will eventually die and break the connection, but this can buy you a little more time."

Caroline saw his point immediately, but with her own twist. An umbilical chord, yes, but also in a way a phallus, if it was to extend externally into another soul.

Herself, with a phallus extending from her containing a tendril of soul, just like the tendrils writhing inside of Dom's avatar bubble.

It was then that she noticed how easy it was to distort her avatar in the trance. With the image fully formed in her mind, the avatar flowed into it with the force of will it took to force out something gastrointestinal. The umbilical formed at her navel as she continued to push, driving it closer to Mrs. Black's dying soul.

"Impressive. No wonder you were so easy to find. It normally takes watching three deaths to figure out the trick of it. When I release the bubble, let one of the tendrils attach. It'll hurt, but if you hold on she may regain strength." Dom informed.

Dom's black-hole avatar drifted behind Caroline's in proportion to Mrs. Black in the defined dream-space. The bubble dissipated, reabsorbed into the rainbow static. Suddenly the tendrils escaped and surged, latching onto Caroline's umbilical.

The sensation was icy, burning cold, like having bare flesh frozen to a piece of metal. Instantly Caroline felt detached and weak, almost the exact opposite of a fever. Mrs. Black's avatar reformed, the tendrils sucking back inside leaving only the umbilical connecting them.

Mrs. Black was reborn; the only sign of her sickness the tendril that connected her to Caroline.
"This technique can be dangerous, Caroline. This can also be used to steal a soul to keep a dying mind alive, or worse, to absorb a second soul. Also, demons and the soulless can use this technique to acquire a soul in various ways." Mrs. Black spoke immediately.

Dom cut in. "I was hoping we wouldn't get this far. Very few people can even form an umbilical, let alone on the first try."

All this was barely registered to Caroline, now wrapped in an increasing torrent of burning, frigid, paralyzing pain, the feeling of a numb limb regaining sensation coursed through her body, tingling every nerve electrically.


It was too much. The umbilical was sucking the life out of her. She had to kill it, before she was too weak to fight back. Her mind formed the image of her separate once again, and with a mental wrench she broke the connection.

Mrs. Black's soul exploded in escaping rays, each one reaching hungrily past Caroline towards the lack of existence that was Dom in the spirit world.

"Caroline!" Dom projected, straining for some reason. "Watch closely! Once I do this, there's no going back!"

Caroline wavered in the trance, her weakness causing reality to fade back into view. She recovered to find a black bar with a shining silver tip radiating light. The bar extended straight from Dom's avatar like an axe handle, the tip making a right angle and hooking towards him almost as long as the handle.

A lump traveled up the tendril, a lump, Caroline realized, that was the bulk of Mrs. Black's soul, with just a thin strand connecting it to her motionless avatar.

"This is the last secret of necromancy, although there are others you still have not learned. Once a soul has been contacted by God's messenger and separated from its body, or its avatar here, it can never return, although it can still be manipulated for a time before it is reclaimed and judged."

There was a pregnant pause.

"This is what it looks like."

The silver tip, now a blade, sliced through the last weak strands holding Mrs. Black to her avatar. The tendrils connecting her soul to Dom drew it towards him, finally being sucked into that space-warping vacuum. With that, Mrs. Black was gone.

Posted by FUNKbrs - March 13th, 2008

Chapter 14

Caroline drifted in from work, from another day of aloof and unfulfilled detachment, from a world that was becoming less and less important to her. Once she'd cared intimately for what she was having for lunch, who got what workloads, or about the personal lives of various celebrities. Now, however, she luxuriated in the respite of the boring, reveled in the simple stillness of her cold, dead room.

Compared to places she's been in her dreams, or worse, places she'd been in real life, the knap of her carpet was every bit as ritzy as a silk couch. She didn't even think of turning on the computer or television. Life was dramatic enough; it was the peace and simplicity of this dark uninhabited room that was rare and exotic now.

Caroline stretched in the middle of her living room floor like a kitten, actively exploring every tendon of her body. She tensed and flexed each one as she examined the mixture of pain and pleasure they released. Thug had called her earlier, saying Mrs. Black had stabilized but wanted to be alone, and Caroline for once was ecstatic she had nothing to do that evening.

Nothing to do, that is, but cook something, her purring belly reminded her.

The peaceful security Caroline felt here, in her own home, was partially due to the faint but pervasive scent of roses, a scent she now associated with the hedges that protected 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church. That scent protected her, too, from the incursions of The Glass and other rogue psychological elements.

Caroline rose from the floor, tucking her stringy hair behind her ears to linger massagingly behind her neck as she meandered towards the kitchen. Her tub of bloody chicken livers had long since been replaced by extra firm tofu, tofu that in fact sounded quite nice battered and fried with garlic and then covered in honey barbecue sauce. She took her time cubing the tofu as she reveled in the simple task of pleasing herself with a home-cooked meal.

Pleasure she had once derived from passively watching television was replaced by craftsmanship, by shifting her focus to caring about things she could change as opposed to just reacting to those things she couldn't. The quality of her meal was a reflection of the quality within herself, giving her the same pleasure a model has preening in the mirror, or an artist re-examining their portfolio. For a moment, life was better without distractions, as opposed to living for distraction and diversion as she once did.

As the tofu slowly browned in it's skillet, Caroline couldn't help but look more deeply into it, not just seeing the bubbling oil, but letting that deeper focus set in, that rainbow static that revealed to her just how well cooked the inside was. There was a comfort in this too, a comfort in becoming familiar with what was once frightening and new, the comfort of mundanity, like she'd felt in the first few months after getting her first car. For once in her life she knew what she was doing, and didn't need to second guess herself or try to ignore what she knew to be true.

She ate her meal hot from the skillet in front of the stove, not paying any mind to useless formalities such as plates or seats or forks in this intimate solitude. The flavors of sweet honey and savory garlic mingled in her mouth orgasmically, stroking her ego in a way no other person's praise ever could.

Where was Todd at a time like this? Caroline mused as she rinsed the sticky sauce from her skillet before it had a chance to set like concrete.

A convocation of thoughts bombarded her at this concept. After all, she was safe behind the protections she'd laid out. In this place, her own altar really, she was at her strongest. The Glass invading her mind was no threat. Could Mrs. Black even interrupt her now? Of course not. She was too sick for visitors, a non-player. Besides, if Mrs. Black really was out of the picture, maybe it was time to expand and stretch her own abilities. She'd already taken the drastic step of joining Mrs. Black's bloodline, it was time to admit she was a burgeoning witch, and start acting like one.

Caroline returned to her dark living room floor, sitting cross-legged on the rough carpet. Knowing where Todd was, that was a challenge; just like the challenge her rumbling belly had been, just like the challenge Lucille's daughter had been. True pleasure, deserved pleasure, came from meeting challenges. To dodge a challenge was at best cowardly, at worst, an act of emotional suicide. Caroline knew that, now, which was why she slowed her breathing and opened her eyes without seeing.

Self possession. That was the key to everything; she knew that now, too. The trance was induced by stoically ignoring by body's needless requests on her conscious mind, by devoting her brainpower to what she wanted, not where it naturally fell by default. That was the key she had learned from Lucille, to react by her own standards. Many of the things she had done and enjoyed her earlier self would have been disgusted by. By interpreting things by the standards of the mind instead of the heart, however, allowed her to pervert any situation into a pleasurable.

The trance, for example, had once been bewildering to her, frightening. Now it was a comfort to be able to shut off the outside world and exist in a world where she controlled who and what she was, even if she didn't know how as well as Mrs. Black. With time and security on her side, though, it was only a matter of practice she had that kind of razor sharp control.

Millions of complicated patterns swirled on her retinas, so many as to seem completely random t the ignorant mind. There was no chance here, no randomness at all, rather, there were only things her mind had the capacity to interpret, and things that were beyond it, nothing more. Details were a matter of perception, not presentation. The illusion of self, of ego, was the only thing that separated her from truth. Dying to herself, freeing her spirit, then having that purified spirit return to her and possess her; this was the path to freedom from her natural, flawed instincts.

The trance enveloped her, buoyed her, like an adept swimmer floating asleep on their back on a calm, warm sea. The trance was merely a tool, though, a tool that Caroline had only just begun learn to use.

The formation of an avatar for example, she had no clue of. Many of the more flamboyant abilities Mrs. Black had in the dream space Caroline couldn't even begin to understand, let alone imitate. Still, she had to start somewhere.

She focused on a single point, and it formed into a ball before her, the irrelevant details seeming to scurry away into the background. This hardened core of relevant detail was still encoded in a convoluted pattern of light, still too complex to be intuitive to the untrained. It related to whom, but not when, or where. This knot of fractal wisdom clarified as she added the condition of time to her request, the time of now. The three dimensional ball lost its internal convolutions, becoming an opaque sphere where it was once semi-translucent. The patterns became recognizable, but distorted, like bad reception on an old-fashioned rabbit-ears television that had many layers of ghost images super-imposed on it. She had the "who" and the "when" right, but something was missing, a refinement she needed to make the pattern cross the line between recognizable and unrecognizable. Todd could only be a handful of places, after all. It's not like he had a car.

Caroline guessed he was at The Fool's Card, only for the colorful opaque sphere to go black. She guessed again, this time his apartment, to be rewarded with the familiar scene of Todd and Raz together on the couch of the tiny apartment playing video games.

The victory was electric, the power of it made her bowels vibrate like a hose full of rushing water. She felt giddy and fresh, like she had a busted lip but still had her adrenaline rushing too much to feel it. The visceral nature of it nearly sucked her out of the trance and back into her own body, but she steeled her discipline again, viciously severing all ties between mind and body.

A hiss differentiated itself from the pure white noise of the trance, a hiss that was modulated by bursts of coherent speech. The speech was visible as well, oscilloscope lines of sky blue with a touch of sunset for Todd, and an almost purplish dark set for Raz. Caroline filled in the details she already knew to clarify the sound, her own inferences on the random pattern giving the sound and picture clarity...

Todd held a piece of bloody rare steak in his bare hands uncharacteristically, the bowl of his wineglass smeared with blood and partially rendered animal fat from his fingertips as he sat on the couch wearing nothing but a pair of satin boxers. He watched Raz play some violent game detachedly, like a hobo staring into a barrel fire. Raz held his game controller lightly and precisely between his knees while the rest of his body leaned in, giving his all to the game, every muscle fiber screaming to escape their mundane prison.

Raz himself was oblivious, barefoot in sweat pants and a weather-beaten button down shirt without a single button fastened, the cuffs hanging limply towards the carpet from just above the wrist. The imaginary world some other man had created sucked him inside, like a creepy physics demonstration of air pressure sucking a cold egg into the vacuum of a once piping hot beer bottle.

Todd spoke, in the gruff way men use only around each other that is generally associated with sports and beer, with overtones of a slamming locker-room door.
"This is good." He mumbled through a half full mouth.
"Yeah, smells good." Raz answered almost as if from the spine, neither his eyes nor face changing without some prompting from the game.
"You want some?" Todd pressed, clearly needing some social entertainment over and above what online gaming could provide.
"Nah, I'm good." Replied the bony gamer, his ribs telling the tale of countless meals skipped for the sake of his passion.

Raz's face developed a scowl, his hands frantically jabbing the buttons just before the screen filtered red over the background of his dying character. Raz dropped the controller dejectedly, like an old poker player folding a bad hand in disgust.
"My turn." Todd piped, snatching for the controller with his greasy, bloody hands.
"No way dude, you'll get gunk all over it!" Raz replied in more words than he'd used in a single uninterrupted stream in the past two days as he diverted Todd's intruding fingers with a supple twist of his bony wrist.

Todd, however, was tired of passively watching his depressed friend sulk in his escapist world. He snatched for the controller again after a brief pause, allowing Raz room to make the tactical error of letting his guard back down, only to have Raz meet him there, each man holding the controller in a crab-like grip.
"You're gonna fuck up the action on the buttons!" Raz hissed between clenched teeth as he pulled as hard as he dared without breaking the controller.
"Whatever! You've been hogging it all day!" Todd retorted childishly, pulling the controller into his hip and then twisting sharply, trying to break Raz's grip with a fast mixture of brute force and practiced finesse. Raz allowed his arm to be dragged forward, keeping his grip while at the same time bringing his other hand to bear, each man now scrabbling at the controller with both hands like scavenging crustaceans on fresh carrion.

The violence of their tussle popped the controller neatly out of its socket as both men wrestled for it in the floor, saving the gaming console from serious damage. Raz pinned Todd to the ground, only to have Todd extend the controller at arms length away from Raz. Raz leaned over to collect his prize only to have Todd take advantage of his lost balance and escape, taking his controller with him. Raz leaped onto his back as he rose, wrapping his legs around Todd to keep him from escaping as he attempted to apply a half nelson to break Todd's two-handed grip.

It was then that Todd noticed something soft rubbing against his left kidney, something that had been less apparent before. As the two had broken a sweat wrestling, Raz had the beginnings of a sleepy erection.

It must be said at this point that whom one chooses for a mate is a deep reflection of self. One of the reasons Raz and Berry's relationship had worked so well at first was because of the fact they were both openly bisexual, meaning there was an understanding between the two regarding liaisons with the same sex, namely that they were allowed provided everything was out in the open. Part of the reason for their current problems was over time Berry and Raz were realizing they were much more homosexual than they had presented themselves, and the whole relationship reeked of cover-up.

It was not the sensation, then, that disturbed Todd, but his own reaction to it. Todd, after all, presented himself as not only a straight man, but as a bit of a Don Juan. He'd been around the block a few times, so the idea of a gay man being attracted to him wasn't exactly alien. He tried to think of them along the same line as unattractive women.

Raz released his grip on Todd, sensing the indecision as Todd's body went stiff. There were protocols between men regarding wrestling, a point at which a friendly tussle could easily become an all-out brawl with a single misstep. Raz valued his friendship with Todd, and that meant respecting his friend's boundaries.

Todd, however, wasn't giving up that easily. He was having fun, a kind of fun that he'd never experienced with another man. Furthermore his ego was too much not to think of Raz as a sexual compliment, another in a long string of people willing to touch and caress him.

It was Todd then, not Raz, who left a draping hand on the other man, giving him a sly wink with a greenish eye. That was all it took for Raz to mentally commit to what his body had involuntarily started...

Caroline watched this from her trance, not knowing whether this was a true dream or just some wild fantasy her subconscious mind had dreamed up. Until recently she'd been a sexual traditionalist, so such a fantasy didn't feel like her own. It was a single man with her that had been the main theme of her own erotic doldrums, not anything as exotic as this.

Was it real then? Was it real like the plane crash? Was it real like Mrs. Black? Or was it imaginary, like the hamster wheel, or The Glass's crystal ball? This practice was supposed to increase her certainty in her abilities, not weaken it. All of a sudden Caroline had a pressing need to know exactly what was going on in Todd's apartment.

Caroline rushed down the stairs; keys in hand, letting the door slam shut unlocked behind her. Once Todd and Raz were done with one another, they might never admit it, meaning she could never know if her vision was true. She didn't dare call Todd and warn him of her suspicions. She didn't feel jealous of Raz, but Todd had no way of knowing that and may lie just to hold the tenuous he and she shared together.

Caroline was excited and turned on by the prospect of catching Todd compromised, not only because of her attraction to Todd, but also because of the sexual attraction she had begun to develop for her own power. She'd never been pretty, and had certainly never felt pretty, but her power made her feel special in a way even supermodels never attained.

The prospect of her power being validated by catching Todd and Raz in the act gave her a gambler's high as she flew down the road, not even giving The Fool's card a second glance as she buzzed past recklessly. Only two more turns....

She took the stairs two at a time, making her fast and quiet although it strained her short legs a bit. She put an ear to Todd's door. Nothing. Gently she tried the lock, and finding it open gave her an excited shiver. Her face hurt with anticipation, her cheeks spasming tight like a kid on acid. She turned the knob slowly and quietly, retracting the tongue of the catch out of its notch in the doorframe as carefully as she could.

She was greeted by the flickering light of a game-over screen in the dark room. The sounds of heavy breathing drew her gaze downward, past the battered second hand couch. She opened the door more and entered, shutting it silently behind her. Her ears pricked to the sound of shifting cloth, adding it to the labored breathing. She was so close... so right...

She paused, not wanting to break the moment, not wanting her brashness to somehow negate the validity of her vision. Her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room and she recognized the short stubble of Todd's once shaven back trembling in the dark. She was drawn to it, her hand reaching out involuntarily to touch his nail-scarred skin.

He gasped, intently knowing where both Raz's hands were, and where his own hands were, for that matter. After all, as a man who had once been a boy, he knew the best way to please a man was with both hands. It was Raz's turn to gasp then as Todd turned from him to Caroline. Raz's eyes were filled with irritation and annoyance, like a house-pet having his belly rub interrupted as he glared up to see what was taking Todd's attention away from him.

"Carl... I can explain..." Todd said smoothly, immediately taking the defensive.
Raz was silent and exposed, neither embarrassed nor caring about Caroline's opinion. Caroline had certainly spent enough time with Berry; after all, if he had to explain himself to her, then she would have some explaining to do as well.

"It's not like that..." Caroline said, her hand never leaving Todd's skin. After all, Todd and Raz had always been strangely close. When she had first met Raz, she had assumed they were together anyways.
"...it's not like that at all." She continued, getting closer to Todd, aching to celebrate her victory over the metaphysical that allowed her to discover this tryst. Todd returned the touch, his left hand leaving Raz's body to stroke Caroline's calf through her pants.

Raz spoke up; one of the rare times he ever did so.
"So it's not enough to fuck my girlfriend behind my back? You have to cock block me with Todd, too?"
Todd looked back at him, shocked that he wouldn't play into Caroline's obvious intention.

Now it was Caroline's turn to gasp.
"Raz, it's not like that... I know we're not as close as you and Todd, but I like you too..."
"Jesus, you really think I'm going to buy that pack of bullshit?" Raz continued, standing unashamed naked. "You've been nothing but in my shit since the night I met you. If I hadn't rolled over for you, you probably wouldn't even be with Todd now." Raz's voice was eerily understated and hushed, as if he'd been thinking about this speech for a long time. Even as he spoke, he was already pulling on his sweat pants.

"Raz...she doesn't mean it like that..." Todd placated.
"Oh, so you're in on this shit too then? Fucking figures." Raz spat bitterly. "It explains why after all these years you pick today to come onto me. Always a bitch. Always a bitch fucking everything up!" Raz jammed his feet into his shoes angrily, already walking towards the door with his shirt in hand.
"That's not even..." Caroline tried to say, but it was too late.
"Not what? What the plan was? You couldn't get Berry to bring you home, so you try to use Todd to fuck me? I see through all you filthy fucks!"

And with that, Raz slammed the door.

Caroline looked up at Todd, all of a sudden understanding Raz's point of view.
"I don't know what to tell you." Todd intoned monolithically, not willing to explain to Caroline what had been going on, and not feeling she even had a right to know.

Caroline had known all too well what had been going on, but now just wasn't the right time to explain.

There was a pause as Caroline tried to think of something to say. Nothing had gone as she had expected, but exactly how she could have foreseen it had she bothered to think about the consequences of her vision being true.
"I think I should just go..." Caroline said as her former enthusiasm was quashed by her inability to think before she acted.
"Maybe you should." Todd agreed solemnly, "Call me later."
"Ok." Caroline answered, getting one last breath of Todd's cologne before walking back out into the parking lot.

Posted by FUNKbrs - February 27th, 2008

Modern humanism is the basice belief in the human good, the idea that all humans are born as things of positive social and moral value, and only exposure to negative external elements causes corruption in the individual. This belief is predicated upon a logical scientific history in which humans are basically a type of animal evolved from other animals throughout a period of time that makes a single human lifetime inconsequential. Furthermore, it commonly assumes on faith that human cooperation can overcome any obstacle and presents itself as a message of hope.

Why then does humanity seem to be seeking isolation? Most major advances in popular consumer technology seem mindlessly devoted to separating people from one another physcially and emotionally. A deeper look at pre-history reveals the most prosperous time for individual humans to be the ice-age, when human populations were much lower, competition for resources was almost non-existent and social disputes were easily solved by creating separate camps. Technology such as cell phones, computers, and cars encapsulate individuals and filter their interactions into ice-age microcosms, tiny underpopulated worlds of limited social interraction where we can feel more comfortable. In a world of six billion people and infinite connectivity, people still only have the same handful of trusted friends and family members they had in the ice-age. The reason for this seems to be that humans are naturally limited in their mental capacity to deal with the stress of social interraction. In short, that humans are not naturally social or benevolent at all, and that altruism is at best a limited tribal phenomenon.

In comes a theology that admits to the existence of intrinsic human flaw. Human beings are insufficient to the task of living in civilization and need laws to maintain stability. We inherently seek not unity, but division. We seek not a mass orgy of human congregation, but single intimate interractions. our competitive nature which we inherit from our genetic origin of mammalian animals incompatible with large scale civilization, which requires individuals to work and act as one like ants or bees. In those insects, unquestioning faith in authority is a necessary trait for the survival of the hive. In a fallible human world, however, such faith in flawed humans only leads to death and war.

In the spirit of the preservation of human intellectualism, individuality, and nature, we have turned as a society that uses birth control to prevent this overcrowding, this being considered an improvement on the older techniques of war and slavery. Even our best and brightest advocate merely sitting back and waiting for our elders to die while we make no more children, increasing the world space for our own individual lives in opposition to natural selection by inheritance from dead generations.

In this, we see the line where the animal ends and the human begins. Animals have no care for any individual, although some mammals, being closer to humans genetically, share this trait. to be human, then, is to struggle agains the animal nature, to suppress instinct, to admit that the natural inclination is not a moral one, and those so-called people who fail to do so are not worthy of the name "human" but are rather animal infiltrators into the human race.

Her in this conflict we discover the reason for human mental disorder: people who put their own animal needs and feelings above logical reason. The animal nature is stronger in some people than others, and there is no shame in having an unchosen corrupt nature as long as every effort is made to fight it.

Here, then, is the quest for solitude. Why do humans form suburban communities? Why do those with the means always buy large, isolated country homes? If humanism is true, the rich would want to be surrounded by as many "good" people as possible, not all alone on a giant estate. The answer is that solitude allows the animal nature to be indulged. It removes the stress of social compliance. It is freedom, liberty, and power. It gives the creative mind room to function, to indulge in trial and experimentation.

How do we provide this solitude? There is a short list of answers: Outerspace exploration, extraspace creation, and innerspace development.

Outerspace exploration is an obvious answer. While the planet earth is finite, space is desolate and vast, with the power of stars uncounted to fulfill the dreams of men, provided such men have the technology to harness it. Space colonies, however, are prohibitively expensive in a world where animistic competition creates unnecessary shortages resulting in the starvation of millions.

Extraspace creation, which is a fancy way of saying "Internet" creates eheral or "videogame" space such as what is found in various MMORPGs and FPS online games, where human interaction is liimited to a party or team that is a single isolated unit. This solution is only an illusion and a way of escaping real-life.

Innerspace development is the oldest solution to this problem, generally associated with eastern philosophy and budhism, with hypnotic overtones. Through medtiation, the mind creates space within itself to deal with animistic self-conflict and escape external stress. These meditative techniques have been in use for thousands of years under various names.

Of the three solutions, only innerspace development is free and available to all people regardless of economic status. It needs only education by word of mouth to spread relief throughout the human tribe, thus making it unprofitable in the animistic competition equation. Those deeply invested in this selfdestruction therefore hate it, and have successfully sabotaged it in popular culture.

Posted by FUNKbrs - February 22nd, 2008

Chapter 13

Caroline stumbled into work Tuesday morning, nursing a black eye and bruised ribs from the day before. She'd left Mrs. Black in Thug's teary eyed care, emotionally wiped out by watching the prophecy that had broken him down just a few days before come to pass. She sipped her coffee gingerly through a bruised jaw; savoring the blank empty mind the morning had blessed her with.

"What the fuck happened to you?" Jaleesa said as she saw Caroline half asleep at her desk. Caroline was stuck for words. Jaleesa couldn't possibly believe she'd been in a rough exorcism the night before, and even if she did, she certainly couldn't sympathize. There was something distinctly inhuman feeling about having someone as earthy as Jaleesa so close to her, and still having no one to confide in.
"I fell down the stairs." She lied, sounding like a battered woman in denial.
"Well then why didn't you call in? The owner was PISSED when you didn't show, and it didn't look any better when there was no one there to clock in for me. I technically AM your manager, after all." Jaleesa said tersely, clearly having been through hell the day before.
"I...I didn't think about it." Caroline stammered, left defenseless by Jaleesa's lack of compassion.

"Bob wanted to do a 'no-call, no-show, no-job' on you, but I talked him down to a write-up." Jaleesa continued and reached into a file cabinet, removing a pink sheet of paper. "Here. The official reason is absenteeism, which you're not exactly contesting. You might as well sign it. It's not like there's some kind of union to appeal to."
Caroline reluctantly signed the write-up, even her fingers feeling sore after the previous day.

Jaleesa affected an arch expression. "Oh, quit being so pouty. I kept you from getting fired, didn't I? Goddamn girl, you act like nobody ever gets written up. This'll all cool down in a month or two, and Bob'll go on vacation and forget all about it."
"I guess you're right." Caroline mumbled glumly.
"Damn straight." Jaleesa affirmed. "Now, you look like shit. Why don't you just take it easy and do some heartbreak specials? It's not like we have a whole bunch of work this week anyway."

Caroline pulled out of the parking lot feeling somewhat refreshed after having indulged herself in a two-hour nap after lunch. Her bruised had just started to darken and turn purplish during the day and that had helped keep Jaleesa from giving her too much flak over having missed Monday, even with Bob's reaction. Still, her first goal was to check on Mrs. Black, who'd taken a bellyful of broken glass just to spare one of her friend's lives.

Caroline parked her car and walked through the magnificent garden that surrounded Mrs. Black's cottage. As she climbed the short stairs, Thug opened the door with a concerned expression on his face and a sizable bruise on his head.
"How did you know I was coming?" Caroline asked, trying to hide her worry.
"Wooden steps." Thug replied quietly.
Caroline couldn't contain the question anymore. "How is she?"
"She said she wanted to tell you herself." Thug answered, still using a pallbearer's hush in his voice.

Quietly Thug led Caroline past the table that stood where the pulpit in the tiny country church once was, back into a minister's study that had been converted into Mrs. Black's bedroom. The walls of the room were covered in shelves, each shelf packed end to end in leather bound antique books. The bedroom was lit with natural light of a large single open window, illuminating a plain antique wardrobe and Mrs. Black's bed.

Mrs. Black lay on her back, reading, her head propped up by numerous pillows. Caroline heard the faint click of a door latch closing, and Thug disappeared from behind her.

"Well sweetie, I'm not going to toy with you. I have a lacerated intestinal tract." Mrs. Black stated boldly.
"So you're going to be okay?" Caroline replied, glimmers of hope tugging at her down turned cheeks.
"Of course not." Mrs. Black chuffed comically. "I'm going to die. I've taken good care of myself, but my liver's just too old to withstand the antibiotics I'll need to keep me. from getting blood poisoning."

Just then, Caroline noticed an antique but well-oiled flintlock pistol lying on the shelf nearest the bed.

"No. We can take you to a hospital. You just need to see a doctor..." Caroline simpered, still fighting the denial that had plagued her all her life up to this point.
"A doctor better than me?" Mrs. Black snorted. "Oh, I imagine they could prop me up for days, maybe even a few weeks, but only by pumping me so full of drugs I'd be incoherent and worthless."
"But you can't just...give up...I mean, life is about fighting off the inevitable..."
Mrs. Black cut Caroline off abruptly. "I'm over a hundred years old, almost two, and I've watched hundreds of people, members of my own family, my own flesh and blood, die in my arms. Had I died at fifty, I would have quit. At seventy, my death would have been reasonable. I've been an old woman for over a century, but I can't cheat fate. 'It is appointed unto every man once to die' and my appointment is LONG overdue."

Caroline had no reply.

"I have to apologize in advance for what I'm about to ask, but if you know anything about witches, you'd know nothing with us comes without strings." Mrs. Black paused, honestly recovering as sweat beaded on her forehead. Already the infection from her ruptured guts was taking its toll. "I need you to go see Thug's sister tonight. She'll be giving birth to his niece, my great grand daughter. You'll be acting as midwife."
"MIDWIFE?! I don't know anything about birth!" Caroline stuttered, incredulous.
"I'd go myself, but as you can see I'm in no position to." Mrs. Black said, her voice straining. "It's her fourth child. She knows enough about it to do it without you, but birth by midwife has become a bit of a tradition in this family." She said wryly, her voice becoming faint and hoarse. "Thug will explain the details. There's a bag with everything in it you need. Inside is a book that explains the procedure. Thug will handle the paperwork after you leave."
"But..." Caroline sputtered.

Thug's hand settled on Caroline's shoulder. "She needs to rest now. We've got a few hours to eat dinner before it's time."

Dilation. Contractions. Breach birth. Caesarean birth.

Caroline read and re-read the hand written she'd found in Mrs. Black's midwife bag, but she was already familiar with the subject from human experience. She'd grown in the age of teenage pregnancy, after all. Her main duties were helping physically pull the child from it's mother's womb, making sure she passed the after birth, cutting the umbilical chord, and washing the blood off the new born with warm sterile water before it fed from its mother's breast for the first time.

For once since Caroline had met Thug, he didn't seem one bit nervous. He carried himself with a sense of optimistic resolve, like the vice principal of a high school at graduation day. This time it was Caroline's turn to sweat.

Something was going to happen, something Caroline wasn't prepared for. There was a smell to the air, a taste to it, like the electric tang of the edge, or the top of a nine-volt battery.

Why would Mrs. Black do this? What was she trying to prove? Women were supposed to go to a maternity ward to have children, not have some naïve florist with psychological problems take care of things, all consequences be damned.

Thug was going to be an uncle again; the reason for his serenity and optimism was obvious after a little thought. What kind of family was this, though, to rely on her instead of conventional medicine? Something didn't smell right in Denmark, and Caroline had no idea what it was.

"Mrs. Black said it was going to be a girl." Thug mused over his fajitas at the Mexican restaurant he'd chosen to bring Caroline to for dinner.
"What was that?" Caroline said, looking up from the book that had occupied her mind for the past hour as she shoveled her bean and rice combo into her face.
"I said Lucille's going to have a girl." Repeated Thug.

Finally, Caroline put down her book and came clean with her doubts.
"Why can't Lucille just go to a real doctor? Mrs. Black is dying; it's only a matter of time before she'll have to start seeing a real physician anyway."
Thug chuckled, like an evil Santa Claus.

"She said you'd say that."

Caroline grimaced. She'd looked inside Mrs. Black's bag, and it had a lot more in it than just blankets and a little knit cap for Lucille's baby girl. There was a scalpel, a needle, and surgical silk in little sterile paper packets, as well as a giant metal device for gripping the child inside its mother in case it came out backwards. Who hadn't heard of miscarriage? Women could die in childbirth of shock and blood loss, but Thug seemed happy to place his sister's life in her hands.

A gentle pulsating buzz emitted from Thug's waist, and he looked down from laughing in Caroline's face to see who was calling.
"Two contractions within fifteen minutes of each other?" he mumbled, reading the lazily sent text message. "SHIT! We've got less time that I though..." Thug bounced to his feet, peppering the table in a spray of dollar bills to cover the cost of the meal. Caroline barely had time to put down her fork before Thug threw her purse over her shoulder and pushed her out the door.

The strange house was eerily silent and devoid of other cars as Thug pulled up, with Caroline clutching her bag of unfamiliar tools in a white-knuckle grip.
"Shouldn't there be some cars here?"
"No...Lucille won't be in any position to drive, and Mrs. Black didn't want anyone around to make you feel nervous your first time." Thug let the implication slip out without a second thought. Luckily for Caroline's screaming pulse, the insinuation that she'd be doing this again flew high and wide over her head like a satellite.

Caroline followed Thug sheepishly into his sister's sacred family home where she sacrificed herself each day, dying a little at a time to feed and care for her three, soon to be four children. At temple to life, a mother's home, capable of the miracle of the creation of human souls. The keys toward the closest thing to immortality were going to be placed in her clumsy fumble-fingered grip, and the pressure was titanic. In her head, a baby slicked with blood slipped through her hands again and again as her familiar self-doubt savaged her mercilessly.

The sharp scream of Lucille's birthing pains brought Caroline back to focus. She jogged a few steps to catch back up with Thug's increasingly manic pace to the bedroom, the scream, and eventually, the fulfillment of a promise to a dying woman.

"What took you so long?" Lucille grunted between huffing breaths, her teeth locked together in pain.
"Sorry sis. I thought I had a good four hours since your first contraction, like last time." Thug uselessly apologized.
"Whatever. Where's Caroline?" Lucille snapped.
"I'm right here."

Caroline tried to sound reassuring as she stepped into the harsh yellow light of an incandescent bulb.
"Good." Lucille barked abruptly, with overtones starkly similar to those of her maternal ancestor.

Caroline placed a mask of certainty over her doubt. Half of her job here was moral support during the trial of pain that was natural childbirth, to be a solid emotional rock for this fellow woman in one of the most vulnerable situations of her life. Even though she had no idea what she was doing, it was her human moral duty to act like she did.

Instinctually she knew she needed belief to give her the power to fill the role thrust upon her, and the only belief she could be certain of was belief in herself.

"Thug, start boiling water" she said authoritatively, giving her an excuse to be alone with Lucille, and also giving her the hot sterile water she would need to wash the soon to be newborn. Thug left in obedient silence, eerily reminiscent of the way he responded to Mrs. Black's commands. Now alone with her patient, she was free to lift her dress and visually check the dilation of Lucille's cervix.

Already the sparsely haired crown of the child's head was visible.

Lucille's eyes bulged and a huge vein popped out on her bright red forehead as another contraction ripped through her abdomen, releasing the world's most human scream from her lips.

The baby's cone shaped head surged a mere fraction of an inch towards its goal, a tiny yet symbolically huge distance. The sound of hoarse, ragged breathing replaced the scream as Caroline rushed to check on her patient.

So much suffering, just for continuing the cycle of life. Lucille tolerated the pain stoically, accustomed to life and its trials as only a mother could be. Caroline pulled a large, soft natural sponge from her bag and gently wiped Lucille's brow. Where was Thug with that hot water?

"I can already see the head." Caroline comforted, knowing that in this frantic state only the child being safely born was what mattered.
"Good." Lucille grunted between panting breaths. "It's not so bad...you know, her... not being here. She said... it would feel right... and it does. I just hope... you know... you can't leave us."

Lucille had another contraction, cutting her short. Caroline reacted more calmly this time, knowing her patient had many contractions to go before the widest part of the head passed.
"What do you..." Caroline said, but was interrupted by Thug thrusting a cell phone in her face as he laid the steaming water in an old tub of ice cream next to her.
"It's Mrs. Black." He whispered incongruously to Lucille's panting. Over the phone Mrs. Black's voice was an insistent croak.
"Yes?" Caroline affirmed.
"This is very important. You have to say yes. It's the only way to link the blood."

Before she could reply, Lucille screamed again, pushing with every muscle of her viscera to free the life within her. The child's head surged a slightly shorter distance than before as an even greater circumference of the head crested.
"Mrs. Black? Mrs. Black?" Caroline begged frantically in the dead silence on the other end of the phone.
"You heard me." Was the cryptic reply, followed by the phone hanging up. Thug looked around pensively like a child at Disney who thinks his round-eared hat may be in jeopardy.

Lucille's condition quickly snapped Caroline back to focus. There was a feeling of fulfillment her Caroline had only ever felt with Todd or Berry, a possession, but a human kind of possession, like her own spirit was in full control of her body instead of just watching from the side lines. To see another woman in such distress, helpless, and to be the only comfort for her was the most purely sexual pleasure she'd ever felt. Not sexual in the traditional orgasm-based sense, but in the sense of procreation, of succeeding for the human cause. It was the endorphin rush rich movie stars get when donate to charity, only cleaner and more personal. There were lesbian overtones, bondage overtones, and even enough blood for the most avid fetishist, but all available in a beneficial and socially acceptable context.

The beautiful agony of the contraction came again, and it was clear that Lucille was no longer holding anything back. The time for pacing herself while the baby dropped into position was over. Once the head was out, it was three easy squeezes between her and her newborn. The head crested to the baby girl's wrinkly brow, poised to emerge and take its first breath.

Caroline forgot everything except the woman in her care, in a way a mother and lover to her. She crept into position near the head, a warm towel and mouth/nose syringe at the ready. Lucille's panting was louder than words, louder than thought. Here at the edge, life was singular, simple and vibrant. The rainbow static crept into the outside edges of Caroline's vision, giving her tunnel-like focus.

The next contraction came fast and hard, like a breaching whale. Lucille's face was a brilliant mix of victory and pain, every vein in her face and neck standing at full attention. To Caroline's surprise, the girl's head came completely out and mocked the effort that had come before it. The tiny face was bright red; a good sign that it's heart was beating fiercely.

Lucille panted again, resting up for the final two squeezes. The baby's head was too fragile for Caroline to help pull it to life and freedom from the womb. Lucille gave a knowing smile and winked through the sweat and tears.
"Are you ready?" She said, with atypical poise, like a tigress purring over a fresh kill still lathered and bloody.

Now it was Caroline's turn to catch her breath.
"Ready or not, I'll give it all I've got." She said, eyeing the child's emergent head. Wasn't it supposed to be crying or something?

Lucille's teeth locked together like a white plastic zipper.

Caroline carefully supported the head as the shoulders started to clear, then grabbed hold of the tiny body and physically pulled it free with minimum force, acting almost like a spotter to a weight lifter, pulling just enough to get free.

Clear an air passage way.

Now was a critical time. The child had to begin breathing on it's own before the umbilical cord was severed, cutting off the supply of life-sustaining mother's blood.

Caroline cradled the bloody body in her arms, carefully sucking birthing mucous from its nose and mouth with a teardrop shaped rubber ball syringe.

Still nothing.

Instinct kicked in, and her strong right hand took over, striking the child gently but firmly with a palm on its fragile back.

There was a tiny cough, followed by a full-throated wail as a new soul recognized itself in a frigid helpless condition, unable even to life it's own head. Despite her pain Lucille leaned up and reached insistently for her child with one breast already exposed, all thoughts of gore, mucous, and blood forgotten.

The tunnel vision of rainbow static increased, reaching a crescendo into a rapturous holy white light that overcame Caroline for a moment. The child's aura shined, freshly minted and untarnished by the darkness of the world. Lucille's aura was dim and weak, but it's mother's milk was as bright white as child itself, it's beautiful liquid light burning itself into Caroline's consciousness like a magnesium flare.

There was still work to do, however.

"One more push." Caroline said reverentially, unknowingly expectant. Lucille looked up and pushed, releasing the placenta in a short burst of blood and amorphous tissues into a dish Caroline held under her. The placenta had a smell to it, an allure, but Caroline pushed that aside as she began gently wiping down the new child still in its mother's sticky arms with a warm, damp cloth. A tiny cap and blanket completed the job.

Lucille broke herself from her resting reverie with her new daughter.
"You can't let her go. Take my gift, and become one of us. I saw your face. It's ok. This is how things have to be."

Thug tugged gently at Caroline's wrist, the placenta raw and warm in his left hand.
"Please, Caroline. She said time was important."

Things solidified for Caroline. The placenta was the flesh and blood of this family, possessed of that ancient original magic of the soul. She no longer needed subtle hints to the gruesome task at hand. Her animal need was too great, her understanding too concrete. The ultimate delight, raw human flesh, was available to her in the only pure manner, the only acceptable manner possible.

Thug couldn't contain his grin as his sister's birthing blood dripped down Caroline's chin, her mouth, stomach, throat, and hands now one with the still living flesh of his bloodline.

Posted by FUNKbrs - February 8th, 2008

Chapter 12

When something seems unbelievable, it normally is. The devil, as they say, is always in the details. The voracious questioning mind seeks out the details, and many times finds the devil instead. This was in fact how Mrs. Black changed from a respectable widow and officer of the church into a practitioner of the dark arts. What began as an in depth study of fasting, meditation, and prayer led her to meet her first demon. This demon, posing as various angels and even God himself, led her down the left-hand path that ended in the violent miscarriage of an innocent young girl.

One of the hardest things about being a true teacher and mentor is pointing out your own shortcomings in hopes that your student may one day overcome them, and possibly avoid them altogether, like a parent explaining to a child about a raging drug habit from prost-pubescent years, or a machinist explaining away missing fingers to a protégé.

Caroline stared angrily at Mrs. Black as the left side of her face turned bright red from the full-handed blow.
"Maybe you don't understand why I'm doing this, so I'm going to have to admit to you something that may change the way you look at me, whether that be for good or ill." Mrs. Black took a pained breath and prepared to admit to her something she had never even told her own children. "I never intended to become what I am now. However, after my husband died I had nothing left to live for but my craft. I was too old to remarry, and all my children were grown and living on their own."
"So you became a witch." Caroline said flatly, the last word dripping with spite.
"No. I decided to be the best midwife I could be. Women were dying of shock and blood loss in childbirth, and babies were dying of the fever all around me. I dedicated every moment to prayer and service. I could no longer be wife or mother in my own family, but I could still function as caretaker to the village as a whole."

Mrs. Black turned her face away from Caroline and continued with her hands clasped behind her back as she stared at the wall. "It all went bad when I met my first demon. I had been fasting for six days, drinking nothing but water, and a beautiful face appeared in my basin mirror. The face claimed to be an angel named Justice, and that God had sent it to teach me the hidden secrets of medicine as a reward for all my hard work."

"How did you know it was a demon?" Caroline asked, her demeanor changing in response to Mrs. Black's guardedness despite still being bound to the chair.

"I didn't. That's my point. It lied to me, and I believed it, and there was no one to warn me about the danger I was in, not even after I saved Charlie Knocker."
"Charlie knocker? Is that the name of the boy who drowned?" Caroline latched onto the discrepancy, hoping somehow that this example was positive.

"Hah, yes, I see you've done your home work. It was the demon that taught me how to do that. I was lucky enough to be watching the boy from the shore of the lake. The demon had taught me to be able to see souls, and worse, how to manipulate them. I watched him die; I know he was dead long before they took turns jumping on his stomach trying to get the water out." Mrs. Black said with bittersweet misty-ness.

"So how did you save him? How can you return a soul to a dead body?" Caroline asked, her wrists beginning to chafe within their unnecessary bonds.

"I created an avatar of pure spiritual force, and bound the boy's soul before Death could take it into the afterworld. That innocent soul was bound for heaven, and I stopped it cold. After they got the water out of him, I slammed it back inside of him and held it in place with pure force of will. That's when he started breathing again."

"So the demon taught you this? I still can't see what's wrong with what you did. You saved that boy's life!" Caroline interjected.
"NO!" Mrs. Black shouted angrily, her eyes blazing. "That boy was dead! It was against God's will!"
"He lived, how is that wrong?!" Caroline retorted.
"I'll tell you. The second I let go of that boy's soul, it LEFT. God had called it, but the boy was still alive. The boy was alive, BUT WITH NO SOUL. His children had no souls. Their children had no souls. The grandchildren have no souls. For all of eternity, a race of soulless, all my fault Caroline! I wasn't the first, Adam was the first with his son Cain, but now I was guilty too!"

"Adam and Cain... you mean like Genesis?" Caroline grasped.

"Yes! Cain had no soul, because Adam used the knowledge from the forbidden fruit to save his son. With his soul already gone, Cain had nothing to lose when he killed his brother Abel. That was why God marked him, because killing a man with no soul is no worse than killing a dog, and all of Adam's descendents knew it."
"And your sin was creating another Cain?" Caroline finally understood.
"Worse Caroline. I created an entire race of Cains. I'm not the only one, but I'm partially responsible."

Mrs. Black nonchalantly began unbuckling the leather straps holding Caroline's wrists, still not quite looking her in the eye. "It gets worse, Caroline." She said, leaving her feet still bound to the legs of the chair. "But you know about Charlie, so then you know about Mary Folkshire?"

The question hung in the air like foul smoke form a cheap cigar in a dingy barroom. The name sounded familiar to Caroline, but on a subject she had tried to write off as impossible, the one story she had heard that day with Berry she blatantly didn't believe.

"You mean why this church is empty, don't you?" Caroline said gently, beginning to realize just how vast the repercussions of the forces she was involved with could be.

"That's one way to put it, yes. A very polite way. But I killed that baby, Caroline. I killed it, just like I killed all those other children, even though they had never really been conceived." Mrs. Black stared at the wall in a distant way Caroline herself had become all too familiar with in the past few weeks.
"But how? All I've learned about so far is scrying, and none of that can do anything real."

Once more, Mrs. Black looked Caroline square in the eye, the steely matron's reserve back in the line of her jaw. "There's a very important reason why I can't tell you that yet, and yes, before you ask, it's because I don't feel I can trust you with it, at least not now. You're not here for that lesson. There's something you'll have to see first to understand why, and me trying to explain it will only confuse you."

Thug stood in front of the window, exactly where Mrs. Black had told him to wait. To wait for what, he had no idea, but he was used to that. That's why when the bottle full of burning gasoline crashed through the window, his head was in the perfect place to intercept it without having it's flaming contents burst deadly hell all over the only escape route from the basement.

This of course happened at the expense of knocking him unconscious, but then again that was also part of Mrs. Black's plan.

Berry recoiled from hurling her Molotov cocktail through the window of 646 Cottage Church Lane and waited for the delicious explosion of flames that never came. She threw another that landed with a meaty thump, this time the sound not covered by the reverberations of smashing antique glass.

What had she struck? She walked slowly onto the porch and peered in the window to find Thug lying prostrate on the floor, both beer bottles full of volatile liquid snuffed by the impact. Thug! Truly something supernatural was on her side! How else could she have avoided killing her friend? Poor Thug; he was born in thrall to that evil witch. Apparently Caroline wasn't the only one of her friends needing rescue.

The power that helped focus her mind kept her on track. Now that the window was broken, she could see the door was unlocked. Why had she assumed Mrs. Black would have prepared for this rescue mission? Berry walked boldly through the open door and check on Thug. He was breathing, but completely unconscious. She returned her improvised bombs to her tiny purse. Her thoughts clicked as she realized Thug would try to stop her if he woke up.

Again, the new presence in her mind fed her the answer as if she'd thought of it herself. She unlatched her vinyl purse strap and used it to tie Thug's hands behind his back after a struggled to get his heavy arms into position. She used his own shoelaces to tie his ankles together for good measure in case he woke up and was able to walk towards someone or something that could free his hands.

With Thug now thoroughly packaged, Berry continued checking doors until she heard two female voices arguing. She held her ear against the antique wood and recognized a brief snatch of conversation...
"...a darker side of power, and the weakness of that power..."

Berry opened the basement door quietly and slipped like a kitten down the stairs unnoticed. As she descended the stairwell the voices fell silent. Berry turned to look and saw Caroline wide-eyed in shock as Mrs. Black pinned her wrists together over her head and delivered a full-mouthed sensuous kiss to her helpless prisoner.

Mrs. Black was still nose-to-nose with Caroline as her black latex cat suit created highlights over her surprisingly supple body. Lillith looked Berry straight in the eye. "Hello Berry. You're just in time to teach my student a very valuable lesson."

"Who are you?" Berry said, frozen in place by the blatant display of lesbian eroticism.
"Why, I'm Mrs. Lillith B. Black, pleased to make your acquaintance. You may call me Mistress Black, however." Mrs. Black casually placed the gag over Caroline's mouth before she had a chance to speak.

The new sensation in Berry's gut screamed there was something wrong, but the sense of danger only excited her all the more. When she'd thought of Mrs. Black, she'd always assumed she was some dykey old crone, but now she saw Mrs. Black as an embodiment of her own twisted fantasies.

"I've come to set Caroline free." Berry said robotically as she ogled Mistress Black and her part-time sex partner's exhibitionist display of bondage.
"Oh, but we shall. We shall set her free of all her sexual inhibitions, won't we Berry? Now be a dear and hurry down so you can help me discipline this disobedient girl."
"Yes Mistress." Berry replied, unable and unwilling to fight Mrs. Black's sudden unexpected sensuous onslaught. Mrs. Black was too much like her fantasies, too much for Berry to refuse. How could anyone who knew this much about pleasure be an enemy?

This was the lesson Mrs. Black couldn't teach Caroline with mere words: seduction as a tool of control. Just as The Glass had used sexual pleasure to distract and control Caroline, Mrs. Black applied these same occult principles to Berry. Berry's physical body was now only a pawn in a battle of wills between Mrs. Black and The Glass for control of Caroline's allegiance. Caroline, still bound and gagged, was unaware of this object lesson however.

"Bind her wrists, Berry." Mrs. Black demanded imperiously. Berry came to Mrs. Black's side like a spoiled lapdog, only to balk at such a sudden reversal in her own intentions. Mrs. Black glided silently behind Berry like a ghost, and gently licked the nape of her neck. "Now, are you going to be a good slave..." Mrs. Black whispered breathily into Berry's ear as her fingers penetrated Berry's coiffure, "...or a bad one?!" She continued, yanking Berry's head down viciously by that silky, elegant mane.

"Yes Mistress!" Berry shouted in orgasmic pain.
"Yes mistress what?!" Mrs. Black barked, still tugging painfully on Berry's scalp.
"Yes Mistress! I will be a good slave Mistress!" Berry blurted.
Mrs. Black's fingers relaxed without letting go and pulled Berry's head to rest her lips on her own supple neck, allowing her to speak directly into Berry's ear.
"Then do what you're told, like a good girl." Mrs. Black said huskily, gently pulling Berry away and pushing her towards Caroline's bound frumpy body.

Caroline fought dumbly against Berry's restraining touch, unable to exclaim through her gag her frustration at berry's sudden betrayal. One by one, Berry forced Caroline's wrists down and strapped them to the arms of Mrs. Black's chair. Caroline struggled and screamed into her gag, availing nothing.

Mrs. Black produced a razor sharp stiletto knife from the top of one of her skin tight latex boots.
"Now cut off her clothes." Mrs. Black demanded.
"Yes Mistress." Berry obeyed, unable to hide her perverse delight at taking advantage of the girl she had just recently tried to save. Who would want freedom in the face of such delicious bondage?

Berry started slowly, first slicing though the laces of Caroline's homely running shoes before pulling them off. Then she slipped her thin blade down the side of Caroline's white cotton socks, using her other hand to hold the fabric taught as she neatly bisected the material revealing Caroline's bony naked toes.

She worked around Caroline's ankle restraints and inserted the bright silver cutting edge into Caroline's black khaki pants leg, cutting the cloth all the way up her soft, warm, meaty thigh. She started again with the left leg, leaving only the knotted seam holding the underside of the crotch together.

Berry paused and tucked the knife into he neck of her own short skirted dress between her tiny breasts, freeing her hands to explore Caroline's newly exposed skin. Mrs. Black's empty glove struck with uncanny sting against the side of Berry's face.
"No touching until I say!" Mrs. Black barked again in that imperious tone.
"Yes mistress." Berry replied shamefully, pulling the knife out once more to cut the last scrap of cloth from Caroline's pants as her victim writhed furiously.

The knife severed the seam of the crotch, then sliced effortlessly parallel to the zipper, finishing just short of Caroline's navel. Berry continued the fluid motion, pulling the knife slowly through the lower hem of Caroline's work shirt all the way to the collar, then slit each shirt sleeve up to the shoulder and once again to the collar. Mrs. Black removed Caroline's unrecognizable pants with a single savage jerk as Berry slowly pulled her mangled stretchy cotton shirt from under her back.

Trickles of blood began to flow from various careless nicks caused by Caroline's struggles, staining her otherwise pristine bra and panties. Signaled with a nod from Mrs. Black, these too were removed, the panties with a slice just above each hip, and the bra with a single slash from between the breasts.

Mrs. Black took a step back, mentally detaching herself from Caroline's nakedness and vulnerability.
"Do as thou wilt." Mrs. Black quoted archaically, knowing full well she had left Caroline in the hands of a possessed woman.

The shard of The Glass within Berry struggled to maintain control against the same animal desires it had used to enter her. Sex is a more powerful force than prayer, and the presence of the demons of sexuality more powerful than The Glass by an order of magnitude was not lacking. The Glass was overcome, unable to control the knife in order to turn it against Mrs. Black. Rendered impotent for the moment, it waited in the dark place inside of Berry's mind for its opportunity.

Berry attacked her friend and lover with abandon, tracing her tongue down the zig-zag row of minor nicks that ran up her helpless partner's inner thigh. Caroline felt these sensations, felt the burning of saliva on her fresh cuts, but felt them absent of any eroticism in some strange mechanical way. The suckling of her clit felt robotic, the probing inside her of Berry's fingers missing the primal fire they'd once possessed.

Caroline focused through her hood, through the sensations, focused in the way that allowed her to see the dream world that had gotten her into this position. Immediately she saw Mrs. Black's presence, a dark pillar of concentrated force. Berry, however, was a prismatic green, the same color as The Glass, but somehow weaker and distorted.

"Do you see now?" Mrs. Black's voice cut in gently. "Do you see the true cause of these activities? Berry is possessed by The Glass, and that prismatic sheen is a tell-tale sign. Humans normally are some form of blue or red pastel, although some are white in rare cases. My own aura, black, tells the tale of the effects of my activities taint on my soul."
"But Berry's all over me. Normally this would be so hot! Me and her got off really hard on each other before. Why do I feel something's broken between us?" Caroline conveyed through the astral state, disconcerted.
"If you'd quit thinking with your pussy, I'd explain it to you." Mrs. Black project coarsely, "YOU were never attracted to Berry. You weren't gay before you met her, and you aren't now. If you'd read your history, you'd know demonic activity and homosexual blood orgies go hand-in-hand. While you were under the influence of The Glass, the demon used you to gain access to Berry's body. Berry herself is one of those soulless I'd warned you about; that's why you only see the faint aura of The Glass and not both auras, with hers reduced to a single kernel within the mass."
"Is that why this feels so...so...BLANK?" Caroline expressed as Berry sucked with animal need on her body.
"Basically...yes." Mrs. Black verified succinctly.

Caroline thought for an empty second.
"But if all that's true, why did YOU kiss ME? You've never presented yourself as anything other than some old church lady, but you're every bit as big of a dyke as Berry in that latex catusit. Who are you to preach to me now? Who are you fooling with this act? You could let me go at any time. You STOPPED berry from saving me with this deceit. If you cared at all about my well-being like you claim you do, you'd know I'm supposed be at work right now with Jaleesa, not tried to this goddamn chair!" Empathic feelings of resignation flowed through the empty void Caroline had created.

"Go ahead and fake an orgasm then. It's time to cut to the chase."

"Untie Caroline, Berry." Mrs. Black commanded.
Reluctantly, Berry obeyed and unbuckled Caroline's wrist and ankle restraints. Caroline immediately rose, reaching for her hood and gag as she stood naked and bloody in Mrs. Black's dimly lit basement. Before she could remove them, Mrs. Black gently pulled Berry towards her from behind and touched her lips to Berry's ear, whispering: "Now it's your turn."

Berry sat obediently in the chair, not struggling at all as Mrs. Black bound her with remarkable efficiency. By the time Caroline had removed her gag, Mrs. Black pulled it from her hand and placed it securely over Berry's mouth, then blindfolded the tiny girl with similar quickness.

"What did you mean 'cut to the chase'? Looks like you're really just going in for round two." Caroline spat acidly.
"Well, to be honest, getting Berry tied down for the exorcism was the only reason I had you tied up in the first place." Mrs. Black explained.
"Exorcism!?" Caroline exclaimed.
"Well, of course. You didn't think I was going to let The Glass get away with sending Berry down here to kill me, did you?"
"But she came her to save me!" Caroline retorted.
"Then why was she so quick to take advantage of you? People possessed by demons aren't under their own control. They're like animals, reacting in predictable and prescribed ways to environmental stimuli. By seducing Berry, more powerful demons than The Glass were able to exert external control of her. I assure you those Molotov cocktails in her purse are no joke, and if you go upstairs, the lump on Thug's head has absolutely nothing funny about it."

Mrs. Black found a plain brown dress for Caroline to wear as she explained the exorcism procedure to her form an ancient leather bound manuscript after taking time to tend her grandson's head.
"So let me get this straight: in order to exorcise The Glass from Berry, one of us has to create an avatar to take over Berry's mind and kick out the demon from the inside, while the other has to physically restrain her and keep her from killing the exorcist with her bare hands?" Caroline summarized.
"Exactly. However, demons get pretty nasty and they prefer to use a weapon if they can get it. Also, Berry's adrenaline is going to be really high, and she'll be considerably stronger than she looks." Mrs. Black filled in.
"So, when do we start?" Caroline said, watching her friend wait patiently for sex that was never going to come.
"Now." Mrs. Black said flatly.

Caroline relaxed her breathing and watched Mrs. Black form the avatar, this time an amorphous cloud of several tiny bees, climbing one by one into the astral aspect of Berry's mouth and nose. The kernel of green aura that signified The Glass's presence flared. Berry's physical hands tightened into tiny fists under her restraints as The Glass's aura waxed and waned inside of her. The bees used their stings to corral the green aura as the leather strap holding her left leg strained and ripped free with a resounding slap.

Caroline dived to hold the unrestrained foot, only for the right foot to break free as well, popping loose like a slingshot to knock her back across the room. Mrs. Black's bees drove The Glass's aura up into Berry's head, away from her heart and toward the mouth they had entered. Berry stomped her feet, bucking wildly to dislodge the chair still attached to her wrists. Caroline ran to tackle her as Mrs. Black muscled the first of The Glass from her face, only to be knocked back again as her left hand came free.

Caroline stared up from the ground as Berry stood, viciously ripping the hood and gag from her head with her free hand. Finally, the last of the green aura dissappated from her face.

"You fucking bitch!" Berry screamed, her voice cracking with rage. "I'm nothing again!" Berry, free of The Glass, raised the remains of her chair high above her head, bringing it down with a scream of primal rage across Mrs. Black's thin frame and smashed her down with an uncharacteristic crunch, breaking the chair to fragments.

Berry escaped up the stairs, still screaming incoherently. Caroline ran to Mrs. Black, rolling her over to reveal a mosaic of broken brown beer bottle glass and the reek of gasoline.

Posted by FUNKbrs - January 10th, 2008

Chapter 11

Mrs. Black stared at the figure in the chair just as she had stared at others in that same chair countless times before. This chair, always this chair. Decades passed, generations passed, but always this one chair. Even as a child, she remembered the simple unpadded ladder-back chair from its days of service as the dunce seat in the local one room schoolhouse. What it represented to her had changed over the years, but the shame of being seated in that chair transcended everything.

The stillness in Mrs. Black's gaze was easy to mistake for ageless serenity, but it wasn't. Neither was it poise, or for that matter even the mild opiate intoxication inherent in many arthritic seniors. The stillness in Mrs. Black's gaze was always her secret focus on that same rainbow static that Caroline could see, that rare substrate that even The Glass could not. Demons share their omniscience with angels, but certain abilities required a mortal human soul. There were dark rites under which a demon might acquire such a soul, rites that Caroline was ignorant of that every demon by definition was well versed in.

An uncharacteristic shiver crawled up Mrs. Black's spine as she sipped increasingly tepid tea and searched methodically for the telltale green shimmers in the static that revealed a demon at work. One of the things she'd learned in her studies was that demons have a certain kitten-like viciousness; they attack any target presented given enough time.

With that knowledge, Mrs. Black's unease only increased when instead of that faint green over saturation she saw Caroline's face shine through her hood in bright, unmistakable pink. She was actively scrying, a technique Mrs. Black had not even suspected she had mastered yet. Yogic masters had spent lifetimes in meditation without mastering the technique, and yet there Caroline was after a brief stolen lesson flawlessly opening her third eye.

Finally The Glass proved true to his nature, green bits of static coalescing to form an avatar in front of Caroline's naked pink one. In this element any demon is on home ground and even Mrs. Black had to be careful to defend against the demon's allure. If she used a human avatar, she was just as subject to the demon's powers of suggestion as Caroline was. Hiding your true identity was the first rule of scrying, a rule The Glass had of course omitted in his instruction.

The Glass was fully capable of hiding whatever it was telling Caroline from Mrs. Black. Caroline's words, were clumsily obvious. Mrs. Black was disgusted. How dare this girl trust a demon more than her! And to immediately suspect her, despite all she'd done to be circumspect and gentle with her. This girl was too smart for her own good, and the bitter kernel of shame Mrs. Black felt for abducting her only added to the force of her angry indignation. Bees were too good for this demon. Dogs were too good.

A kraken, now, that sounded about right.

In the realm of dreams, in the space below the mind and above the soul, in that rainbow static of the seers, there is a different type of physics. The mind is finite, bound by focus and physicality, but the soul is by nature infinite. It could be said that the soul is a splinter of God, undilutable and split from the soul of Adam himself.

Therefore, for the human soul in the realm of dreams, the only limits exist in the power of focus the mind can bring to bear. A seer's avatar only defaults to the mind's image of self. The Glass has no real physical form, so his avatar is only a hollow contrivance. The only mind he has is one that he emulates in the dream world.

Mrs. Black, however, has a splinter of God, a soul. Her avatar or avatars can be any from she can sufficiently imagine and control. This is all by way of an explanation of how she was capable of keeping an eye on the world of dreams without forming any avatar at all, and furthermore the giant black-tentacled monstrosity desecrating the corpse of The Glass's now headless avatar.

Gruesome. Bloody. Excessive. These are the hallmarks of Mrs. Black trying to make an impression. Caroline was such a novice; she didn't even notice when The Glass's will dissipated and Mrs. Black's will recreated the avatar so she could continue to destroy it. Caroline still didn't understand at any time in this world she could merely get out of that chair and leave, although she would still be bound in the real world.

Mrs. Black took ruthless advantage of Caroline's ignorance, pulling coil after coil of black tentacles out of thin air until the head of the vile kraken appeared. She allowed the avatar of The Glass to dissipate and focused dinner plate sized eyes on Caroline, who was paralyzed by fear and naïveté.

The giant squid's two long grasping tentacles wrapped around the defenseless girl, this time binding her in a way that wasn't just a trick of the mind. The chair Caroline had imagined herself bound to disappeared as the sheer brutality of the even striped it from her consciousness.

The kraken's eight holding tentacles withdrew into its conical fin-tipped head. The entire mass shrank saving for the two grasping tentacles that still held Caroline in thrall. The finned cone thinned and stood upright, the fins themselves fragmenting and lengthening to form Mrs. Black's waist-length hair only to coil itself back into a bun as a white face emerged from the kraken's inky skin. The dinner plate eyes shrank as they slid up the body, reaching human size only when they crept over Mrs. Black's blank eye-sockets.

The tentacles continued to hold Caroline in their grasp; exiting Mrs. Black's avatar just below her should blades and bracing themselves against the ground as they held her feet mere inches from any solid surface. Mrs. Black herself no longer wore he school marmish attire, but now wore a skin tight glossy black dress that put Morticia Adams to shame.

In contrast to Caroline's frumpy frame, Mrs. Black was a stunningly beautiful woman despite her abnormal lifespan.

"Mrs. Caroline Parker!" Mrs. Black announced, her anger only betrayed by the icy cold sharpness of her voice. Caroline's mouth was still covered by sucker studded gripping pads that denied her the ability to answer. She struggled imperceptibly against Mrs. Black's will, only to be rendered motionless by her iron grip.

"You have been caught in the act, soliciting the favors of demons, practicing forbidden techniques, and worse, acting under direct orders from a know demon against a fellow human." Mrs. Black paused, allowing Caroline time to think about the accusations before uncovering her mouth to hear whatever frail defense she could offer.

Caroline even surprised herself when she sent the patterns away, amazed at how easy it all was. She was back in the chair, still wearing the hood, still feeling the restraints on her wrists and ankles, but no longer held at arms length by Mrs. Black's tentacles. It was then that her hood was violently ripped from her head.

She barely had time to register Mrs. Black's flesh and blood face before her delicately boned hand left a resounding slap across the right side of her face, shaking her head like a rag doll.

"You can't run from me, Ms. Parker. If tying you down in a dream was sufficient, I never would have risked having Thug bring you here." Mrs. Black continued with frank severity.
"And why did you bring me here? Caroline countered, "You knew I'd come if you called. Why should I trust you, if you won't even trust me?"

For the second time, Mrs. Black wavered uncertainly. Had she overstepped? Was she so used to dealing with strippers and prostitutes Thug dragged into that chair that she'd forgotten how to respect other people's boundaries? There was more at stake than Caroline's life here, but if Caroline realized how strong her position was, there was no telling if she'd cooperate.

"This isn't about me trusting you, or even you trusting me. What part of The Glass being a demon don't you understand?" Mrs. Black said, her haughty mask dropping as much as she dared.
"The part where he teaches me things. All you ever do is break into my dreams, break into my life, and break apart my sanity. The Glass makes things make sense. All you ever do is make me feel weak, make me feel ignorant and confused." Caroline stuttered flatly.

"What about that scar on your hand? Has it even healed all the way yet? How about the other one on you stomach?" Mrs. Black reminded her, "It was The Glass that first intruded on your life with the dream about the plane crash, not me. Those scars are from The Glass's influence. He wants to have you so wrapped up in pleasing yourself you forget that he's controlling you."

"And what do YOU want from me? The Glass is a demon, so you say, and that explains why he came around, but what about you? Aren't you a witch?" Caroline reversed spitefully.
Mrs. Black sighed and answered, "Yes. I am, technically, a witch. And I do want something from you. I want to train you to be a witch. The Glass is the one that wants to steal your soul."

The Glass, however, had other priorities.

Berry sat alone in Raz's apartment, drinking a lukewarm bottle of Schlitz Malt Liquor on the third day of a bender. Raz's ability to stay up for days had at first attracted her to him, but now that same ability meant coming home was a marathon of isolation. It was disturbing how much vehement, spiteful will they could muster against each other just to avoid sharing a bed.

Berry's lack of a job, her lack of motivation, her lack of everything saving a pretty face and whip-like conversational ability drove her to depths of depression lonely ugly people could only dram of. She KNEW what it felt like to be wanted, to be handed everything on a silver platter, just for being herself. Entitlement, luxury, she'd been raised to be a princess her entire life. What had it gotten her, though? A dinky ass little apartment and a boyfriend who'd rather type hastily written messages to complete strangers in an imaginary world than talk to her.

All those ugly single girls she'd made fun of in high school would be rolling in the floor laughing if they could see her now. Hell, even Caroline's life was more exciting than hers. Weird dreams, meetings with witches, Todd, even her job gave her life flavor despite her saggy ass and tiny tits. "Why not me?" She thought angrily through her drunken and sleep deprived tears.

Little did she know how interesting her life was about to become.

Sleep deprivation is it's own special kind of trance state, and just like the dram quests of ancient tribal shamans, it opens the mind to the influence of other-worldly powers. Thanks to Caroline's carelessness, in this case those otherworldly powers knew exactly where to find her.

Despite what evangelist would have us believe, not every human being has a soul. Berry was such a sad case, although her condition is quite common. The Glass's options are different with such an individual, especially one that would willingly choose demonic possession. Berry would never be able to scry, or to be contacted through spiritual means. However, as a hollow, vapid, willing empty shell, she was almost as good as being able to create a real living avatar.

Like a mushroom popping up out of mycelium-cultured earth, The Glass formed a different kind of avatar to creep into the empty place inside Berry where a soul should be. In a way, The Glass became her soul, making her more than she was on her own, making her BETTER. Once in control of her mind, The Glass was able to focus it in a way Berry had never experienced before.

Illusions are the stock and trade of demons, and it could be said with some accuracy that all a demon really is is a series of illusions based around a single malevolent law of human nature, created alongside of the speed of light or nuclear physics. The Glass started slowly, unfocusing Berry's eyes on the suds of her cheap imitation beer until it had enough room to form an image.

Once Berry's eyes were suitably disabled, The Glass created a single point of focus in her vision. Like an artist carving a figure from marble or wood, The Glass sculpted from the raw substrate of unfocused light the rough shape of a figure in a chair first, taking its time to give Berry's grain alcohol addled brain time to recognize the illusion. Then The Glass added shade to contrast the blank image, defining straps holding increasingly discernable hands and feet bound to the arms and legs of the chair. Finally, it defined Caroline's face to Berry's zombie-like consciousness.

The Glass pulled from a stock book older than literacy itself a single phrase: Burn the witch. To give it strength, he put it in a pattern of threes repeating in her head, with a silent pause between them.

Burn the witch.
Burn the witch.
Burn the witch.

The phrase contained three one syllable words, the three repetitions adding up to nine, the number of division and separation, and the opposite of indivisible one.

The Glass added the detail of a single, fraudulent tear running down Caroline's face and repeated the phrase in triplicate again:

Burn the witch.
Burn the witch.
Burn the witch.

In sharp contrast to the way The Glass conjured Caroline's image, he imposed Mrs. Black's figure slapping Caroline's face with whip-like severity and repeated the mantra again.

Burn the witch.
Burn the witch.
Burn the witch.

Three sets of nine, adding up to twenty seven, purity and couples, adding up again to form nine, making division once more and reinforcing the message by an order of magnitude.

The Glass's possessing avatar relaxed inside Berry's intoxicated brain and waited for pseudo-sobriety to do its sordid work.

Berry's eyes slowly swam back into focus. Was what she had seen a hallucination? Or was it a prophetic dream, like what Caroline had been having? None of that mattered, though. It was if she'd had a religious experience, lying on that couch. Her problems with Raz didn't matter anymore; all that mattered was her own internal influence. What an epiphany! She'd lived her entire life trying to sum up to others expectations of her; now, she no longer cared.

Raz's bottle strewn apartment was no place for a focused mind such as hers. She hit it full on, cleaning with a frenzied energy only known to habitual meth-heads. Normally she'd spend more time putting off such menial chores than actually doing them, but right now she felt just like she did that night with Caroline when she'd tapped Raz and Todd's veins for blood. Who'd have though her spurious collection of medical paraphernalia could have done such a thing? Normally she would just fantasize about that kind of stuff, but that night something had come over her, just as it had now.

Maybe she and Caroline shared a special bond since that night? The vision she'd seen HAD to be real. There just wasn't any room for doubt. Caroline was in trouble, and this dream was her only chance to get help. Still, she had no idea where she could be.

Berry placed two fingers on her temple, like a child imitating a television psychic. From inside, The Glass answered: 646 Cottage Church Lane.

How exhilarating! She couldn't remember her own phone number half the time, but now she could remember the address from the flyer from so many days ago! Whatever was going on had to be her subconsciously developed skills coming out when they were needed most.

Berry took Raz's keys and closed the door quietly, carrying the trash with her uncharacteristically. She thanked whatever spirits there were that Raz was fully immersed in that stupid game he was playing.

"Don't worry," she tried to project toward Caroline. "I'm coming."

Every aspect of The Glass capable of emulating human empathy winced at Berry's ego-driven hubris. Such a weak mind would be little defense against Mrs. Black, and such a weak body could never be a match for Thug physically. Did this girl even know that her naïve fantasies only made it easier to use her as a tool? Other minor demons of vice had already all but destroyed her fragile life.

Still, if The Glass could get Mrs. Black to kill this girl in front of Caroline, there would be no chance of Caroline ever trusting her again, and that was all the success it needed.

Posted by FUNKbrs - January 10th, 2008

Chapter 10
Friday is the last day of the workweek for more reasons than just the Christian Good Friday. After a week's preparation, Friday is the traditional day of war and dedicated to the goddess Fria, queen of the Valkyries and patron of warriors. Caroline had spent the last week humbly following Mrs. Black's orders and thankfully not once being visited by The Glass. However, one of the harder lessons of the spiritual arts is that even the smallest seed can sprout after it's been thought long buried.

The dead lump of plastic Caroline called a cell phone vibrated into life sometime after lunch on a lazy Friday afternoon. As usual, Caroline had finished early and was methodically attempting to solve the newspaper's crossword puzzle despite the radio and computer within arm's reach.

The phone didn't recognize the number calling as it normally did when Jaleesa or even Berry dropped a line.
"Hello?" Caroline answered, praying it wasn't some sort of telemarketer. The voice that answered back sounded frighteningly like The Glass, but as it continued she was relieved to realize it was Todd.
"Hey Carl, what's up?"
"Oh, nothing much, just bored at work. Why?" Caroline said in a singsong voice.
"Well, I just finally got Raz back into his old place so I've got the apartment to myself again. I was wondering if you'd drop by." Todd said directly.
"You don't want to go to The Fool's Card?" Caroline replied hopefully. There was just too much drama up there, and a night alone with Todd would be nice after dealing with Berry's craziness.
"Nah, I'm broke, and I was mainly figuring it would be easier to get you to spring for booze at the liquor store than at the bar."
"You bastard! You're almost as bad as Berry!" Caroline snapped playfully.
"Oh, and I guess my darling company is worth nothing to then?" Todd demanded in mock haughtiness.
"Well..." Caroline equivocated cutely.
Todd cut her off. "Cut the bullshit. I bought the last round, Damnit. It's your turn to pony up for wine."
"Well just suck the fun right out of it, why don't you?" Caroline whined.
"Whatever. You know I'm awesome. Now get your ass down here with my Shiraz!" Todd demanded with sarcastic severity.
"I'll see about that when you pass out and wake up with a Tabasco bottle in your butt." Caroline threatened.
"Promises, promises..." Todd intoned.

Caroline spent and inordinate amount of time in the wine store, until finally a seasoned wine concierge took pity on her and pointed her in the direction of a decent quality Chilean Shiraz.

With that complicated choice out of the way, she went to the grocery store for a brick of tofu and a pack of jasmine incense. Caroline had never even tasted tofu before, but because of Mrs. Black's advice and the incidents at work she wasn't willing to take any chances. She toyed briefly with the idea of using Mrs. Black's rose oil and the Shiraz to make a vinaigrette, but after a second thought decided it would probably end up just a waste.

Caroline drove past The Fool's Card on the way to Todd's apartment. On the street out front she noticed Raz's beater parked with Raz and Berry engaged in full histrionics over the top of the car. Only a sharp honk from behind reminded Caroline that the stoplight she'd been waiting for had turned green as she watched the couple nosily.

Caroline drove the final two blocks to Todd's, relieved to for once not have anything to be apprehensive about. She was following Mrs. Black's advice and the worst was finally over. She was free to spend another simple, miraculous night with Todd.

Caroline raised her right hand to knock on Todd's door as she demurely held the bag with the food and wine behind her back. Todd opened the door widely with a smooth motion, as if in some conceited way he was using the archway as an excuse for Caroline to look at his shirtless body without feeling obligated to speak. And impish grin took over Todd's face as he crooned.
"What, no hug?"

Caroline stepped into Todd's arms, luxuriating in his embrace like a personal sauna. Todd nuzzled Caroline's neck as his left hand slipped behind her and lifted the bottle of wine from the shopping bag in her fingers. Sensing the bag becoming lighter, Caroline drew back only to have Todd immediately break and run away with the bottle. Todd covered the distance to the couch in the cramped efficiency in four long strides before Caroline had a chance to snag his wrist. He jumped over the low-backed couch easily held the bottle's label at eye level for inspection. "Chilean? I thought Chileans only ever made crap wine..."
"Well, the guy at the store said it was a good bargain. You could have warned me, you know." Caroline countered.
"Blah. The proof is always in the taste. I'm not afraid to have my prejudices challenged." Todd placated noncommittally.

Caroline reached in the bag for the remainder of its contents. "I also scored some tofu. Mrs. Black says I shouldn't eat meat, so I guess I have to try this stuff sometime."
Todd made an ugly face, "Argh, the only decent way to cook that stuff is to bread it and deep-fry it. You're lucky I'm domesticated enough to carry bread crumbs and a deep fryer; otherwise it's just as bad as eating cottage cheese straight out of the tub." Todd said as he walked the handful of steps back into the kitchen to get a better look.
"Really? Maybe I should get eggplant next time." Caroline said, trying to explore her vegetarian options.
Todd gave her a look of exasperated disbelief, "Ew...no. You're best bet is stuff like fried mushroom omelets and lots of cheese. I mean... you're not trying to go vegan, are you?"
Caroline had no idea what the word 'vegan' meant, but she knew Mrs. Black's restriction was on meat, and that was only because of it's relationship to blood, "I'm just gonna stop eating meat. Just as long as it's not meat, I'm good."

Todd inspected the container of tofu that Caroline was offering like some sort of alien life form. " Ah. Extra Firm. At least we have that going for us." Todd took the tofu and imposed a strict grid on it with his knife, creating a multitude of short strips.

Caroline opened conversationally, "I had a weird experience with Thug the other day."
"He's a weird guy. What happened?" Todd replied, listening to Caroline with his back turned as he emptied breadcrumbs into a bowl and turned on the deep fryer ambidextrously.
"Well, he showed up to my apartment drunk as a catholic priest crying about Mrs. Black."
"Mrs. Black again?" Todd questioned.
"Yeah. Ends up she's his grandmother."

Todd shook the tofu strips into the breadcrumbs and began taking them out one by one to ensure each was thoroughly coated.

Caroline continued, "He was absolutely convinced she was going to die, and that it was all his fault. The weird thing was that he though I had something to do with it."
"That's pretty damn weird." Todd responded, "How was she going to die?"
"He didn't know. He thinks she knows, but she won't tell him." Caroline explained.

The liquid from the tofu soaked through the breadcrumbs and Todd gave them all a liberal second coat. "Frankly, I get tired of all this mysticism crap. Hell, you can try to use the serial number on a dollar bill to predict the future, but if you don't know what it means, what good is it?"
"The idea is that nothing is ever really random, just too complicated to understand." Caroline's brow furrowed as she explained the concept as she understood it, "The hard part is focusing enough to be able to have it make sense."

Todd dumped the double-breaded tofu sticks into his stovetop deep fryer, sending a shower of hot grease onto his hastily placed glass lid.
"I've done the dollar bill trick a billion times, and it's always been totally random." He said, shaking the crumbs off of his hands into the garbage can next to the sink.

Caroline handed Todd the bottle of wine and the opener and spoke with her back turned as she retrieved the wine glasses. "How do you do this trick, anyways? It's just a dollar bill."
"Well, give me a dollar and I'll show you." Todd offered as he opened the wine bottle with deceptive ease. "It's just some middle-school hoodoo." He added deprecatingly.

Caroline laid the glasses on the counter so Todd could pour, and then pulled a dollar from a weather-beaten plastic pocket purse. "I better get this back, you broke bastard."

Todd took her money and handed her a wineglass. "Well, it's all based off of numerology. Like, one is the number of beginnings, two is the number of couples, three a number of strength, four is the number of the earth, five the number of work, six is the number of corruption, seven is the number of purity..." Todd continued the list with a bored expression on his face. "Eight is the number of the unknown, and nine is the number of division."
"I can't believe you can remember all that mumbo-jumbo." Caroline giggled.
"Well, I've always had a lot of wiccan friends." Todd explained wryly, "Anyways, the combination of numbers on the serial on a dollar is supposed to tell something about the person who owns the dollar. It's a filthy pun, really."
"What? That your money shows your fortune?" Caroline interjected.
"God damn it, this sounds lame no matter how I put it..." Todd faltered
"No, no, go ahead. It's cute." Caroline invited in her most snuggly voice.

Todd looked at the dollar's serial number. "Ok, here goes: D4777134C."
Caroline was stunned. She immediately recognized the significance of the numbers in a way that seemed to fit into her head like a puzzle piece.
"Mind if I give it a try? I wanna see if I can get it right."
"Go ahead." Said Todd lackadaisically.
"Ok. The fours on either side mean 'inside the earth'. The three sevens mean strong purity. Does thirteen mean what I think it does?"
"We always said it meant death, because it's one that was part of four, the earth, that was separated from three, strength, that is no longer part of the earth." Todd supplied, his brow gaining an ominous furrow.
"Ok, 'strong purity on the earth is going to die' is what I think this means." Caroline decided.
Todd looked off in the distance. "Whatever. This is a bunch of crap. Wanna watch a movie?"
"Aren't you gonna tell me if I was right?" Caroline queried.
"I ...I just don't want to talk about this anymore." Todd stammered, for the first time in Caroline's presence.

Caroline pulled into her own parking lot, her mind consumed with the sudden change in Todd's demeanor. She couldn't help but think that the weirdness she'd been dealing with lately was somehow putting Todd off. She liked Todd, she definitely wanted a relationship with Todd, but just when she felt they were getting close he would disappear for a few days, or withdraw emotionally.

Was her relationship with Berry acting as a dividing factor? Was he trying to distance himself from her as a way of solidifying his friendship with Raz? Maybe Raz had told him about the thread she made on polibicker. The very fact that something would bother him that he wasn't willing to talk to her about was proof enough their relationship wasn't going in the right direction.

Caroline got out of her car and locked it with the remote as she walked towards the stairs. Todd had warmed back up on the couch for the movie, but after that he was uncharacteristically quick to go to bed without her after the wine was all gone...

Blackness fell in front of Caroline's eyes as her right hand came up sharply behind her into the small of her back. Her feet jerked off of the ground with painful sharpness. Smothering black stifled her cries of surprise. She flailed her feet in violent desperation, but couldn't seem to hit anything as she floated in mid air by her twisted arm.

Finally the upward pressure on her arm released as she came to rest on some cushioned, yet slick surface. The arm, however, remained pinned in place, as it's sister came to join it behind her back. A sharp zipping sound cut through the soft blackness around her, binding both of her wrists together suddenly. Her ankles were then bound with equal vicious efficiency.

As quickly as it came, the force controlling her ceased, leaving her free to try to determine her surroundings once more. The soft surface under her vibrated slightly and she recognized the sound of a heavy door slamming. A few seconds later, another door shut in a different direction, and the vibrations increased.

Time stopped. She was in a car. She was bound. She was gagged. The car was moving. Her abductor was fast, strong, and efficient. The muffled sounds of classic rock permeated the hood.

Time began again. Caroline struggled futilely until for some reason her ankles met her wrists awkwardly behind her back. The car continued to move as this happened with centrifugal force causing her to slide uncontrollably now that her limbs were too entangled to stop it. She screamed again for help, but through the hood her cries were unintelligible even to herself. The volume of The Eagles track "Hotel California" increased callously and the car picked up speed.

Jarringly the car stopped and the engine and music died in unison. Rough fingers grasped behind her knees mechanically and her body rose, coming to rest on a round, warm, moving surface. She screamed and struggled again, and the surface supporting her disappeared, knocking the wind out of her as she struck the cold, clammy ground gut first.

The rough fingers grabbed for her again and again she was hoisted onto the soft surface. Again she struggled, and again was knocked flat as she fell onto an even harder part of the ground, possibly gravel, or maybe even asphalt.

The rough fingers reached a third time, and a third time she was lifted and carried. She struggled again, but this time she wasn't immediately released. She continued in hopes of gaining some sort of moral victory only to be slammed a third and final time onto a hard, long curb, smashing her right breast painfully.

She rose into the air, this time in too much pain to register what kind of force was holding her. She finally ceased struggling and was carried bodily into the hands of whatever or whoever had taken her.

After an awkward moment where her feet snagged on an open doorway, she was deposited into a rigid wooden chair and her bonds were released, only to be retied to the respective arms and legs of the chair in a comparatively more comfortable position. Her hood was not removed.

Hours? Days? Minutes? Seconds? Caroline had no idea how long she was left there in the stifling silence of her hood, only that the initial shock of her abduction was over. She tried to think of who was capable or motivated to abduct her, and there was only one name that came to mind: Thug. Hadn't Thug taken Star a few weeks a go to rehab? Caroline didn't think Thug was a sexual predator; there certainly wasn't anything sexual about how she'd been kidnapped.

Still, her abduction had been good, too good. Whoever had done it had had practice, and if anyone was capable of murdering her and getting away with it, this was it. After all, if a murderer gets away scot-free, who's left to tell who did what, or where the bodies were?

The longer she sat, the fewer options she seemed to have. Eventually she'd have to pee, have to eat, have to something, and she had no way of getting help, even from whoever it was that held her captive. Inside the black bag Caroline's eyes opened wide and she began to take deep, slow breaths, just as The Glass had taught her. It seemed like an eternity before she calmed down enough to see that strange rainbow static that underlies the normal range of vision.

Patterns flitted across Caroline's field of vision, each missing just enough clarity to render it unrecognizable. Finally a green outline of a man in some kind of robe or gown defined itself in off-putting shades of green. The lines filled in, making a green-and-black two-tone image of The Glass until the whole form solidified and came alive.

"Good for you. Had you not remembered my training, you'd be helplessly in the grasp of that Witch right now." The Glass said greasily.
"This was Mrs. Black?" Caroline replied, astounded.
"Of course it was. Only Thug is capable of doing such a thing. Why else would he make so sure to cover your eyes and not speak? He didn't want you to recognize him." The Glass disseminated.
"But why? Mrs. Black knows I'd come if she asked." Caroline wondered.
"Who knows why the forces of evil do anything? Why isn't important right now. Right now you need to know where you are, and how you can get out. You're in the basement of Holiness Pentecostal Church. I'm under the impression you know where that is?" The Glass prompted.
"I've been there several times in dreams, and once in person. How do I get out of here?"
The Glass's eyeless face dripped with sympathy, "I'm sorry. The only way out of here is to fight your way out. Mrs. Black's house is too cursed for me to do anything overt, but I can teach you how to fight back using your mind, just as you are doing now."

Caroline's mind raced like a greyhound after an electric rabbit. Is this why Mrs. Black was trying to keep her from dreaming? To keep her from preparing for Thug's attack?

It made an eerie kind of sense. After all, how did Mrs. Black get so old? Didn't witches in stories eat babies to keep them young, like Hansel and Gretel? If Glass really was her guardian angel, and Mrs. Black really was evil, it would explain why Mrs. Black always attacked Glass in her dreams. Everything Glass had taught her about scrying was true, and Mrs. Black didn't seem to have any interest in teaching her anything functional like that. Glass had taught her more in two dreams than Mrs. Black ever had. Which one was really on her side? What if neither of them was?

"Ok, how do I fight back? I'm not exactly in a position to do anything but sit here." Caroline said as she resolved to do something proactive, instead of being a passive victim in the struggle between Mrs. Black and The Glass.
"The only technique I know that can help you now requires a powerful strength of will to make it work. It makes the concentration you're using for scrying look like child's play. The principal, however, is simple." The Glass cracked his avatar's fingers, and began the lecture in earnest.

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Prayer, as it is taught in churches, is actually a fully functional way of dealing with problems, provided you pray with sufficient faith. Jesus himself said that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, and this is as true as any other part of the Gospel."

Caroline listened intently, this time not wasting effort on questioning The Glass's information.

The Glass continued, "Life, as it was created, is a purely subjective experience. What you believe is true IS TRUE, even if only for you. However, since your life is the only one that matters, reality is determined by what you believe. The hard part is having the strength of will to put down your doubts and exercise true faith that the change you pray for will come about."

The Glass gave his dissertation in high oratorical style, like a professor of philosophy and with just as much confidence. His green robes seemed strangely timeless and appropriate like the convoluted robes of a judge in a court of law, or the orange robes of a Buddhist monk. Despite his alien nature, for once Caroline felt The Glass's presence as completely in place and normal, and the outside world as being strange and unimportant. Caroline used The Glass's now familiar voice like an anchor as she sat, in every other way adrift in her situation.

"Imagine if you will, an insane man. For him, reality is much different than for the rest of us. Inside his head he could be a king, or a famous artist. What the rest of us believe is inconsequential."

Caroline could no longer help herself. "Wait...you just want me to PRAY my way out of this?"
The Glass laughed. "Well, what other options do you have, tied to a chair like you are?"
The direness of her situation struck home as Caroline realized The Glass was right. She stared into the bloody gray meat visible through The Glass's transparent eyes, and could find no trace of deception, or, for that matter, any emotion at all.

It was at that point that a long black tentacle snaked out of nowhere and crushed The Glass's head like a wine glass at a Jewish wedding. School was officially over.