Warm surgical steel caressed Berry's neck and the supple underside of her chin as she snuggled gently against the blunt side of Caroline's Farberware fillet knife. Even in the dull illumination of sleeping electronics, the knife's finish shot dim, dazzling lines of reflected light towards the ceiling. Caroline lay on the bed next to her; wearing silk pajamas Berry didn't remember her having on the night before. The consciousness of texture, however, led towards half sleeping luxuriation, which quickly grew boring as Caroline seemed too dead asleep to notice her sleeping partner's early morning stirrings. Berry's ascension into the waking world struggled against her natural passivity like a juggernaught, bringing her slowly and unwillingly towards Saturday morning wakefulness.
Berry inched her way out of Caroline's bed, looking forward to the solitude and security of having a sleeping lover in the next room. After all, the soft tantalizing touch from behind caressing the back of the neck or the scented recess of the ear didn't happen on its own. Such seduction required a level of orchestration that could only be achieved by artful separation.
Intimacy is a direct result of comprehensive knowledge, and nothing gave Berry that thrill quite like examining the personal effects of her lovers. The color of a curtain, whether there were pictures or posters, the state of the furniture, all these criterion educated her to the passions and artistries of her intimate companions. Berry surveyed the efficiency's main room, picking up and examining trifles that sparked her curiosity, and then carefully placing them back in the positions she'd found them in.
The knife, however, slept gently in her sleeve.
What was this? Thug's invitation! Berry picked up the still remarkably pristine tract. The names "Mrs. Black" and "1st Holiness Pentecostal Church" reminded her of something she'd read in an occult sampler somewhere, or possibly a book of saints. Luckily, there lounging in its own dark crystalline opulence, was Caroline's sleeping computer. Berry slid into the wheeled, teacup-like chair and fell into the arcane sea of endless information.
Surprisingly, there was a Wikipedia article on Mrs. Black, and after a quick scan, Berry saw the same picture as the one on Caroline's invitation in the body. She'd heard the story before somewhere but she'd had no idea that it was in town. Considering the nature and history of the place it was no wonder it didn't attract the same kind of tourism most locations with that nature of story did.
Standing to stretch her burning tendons in the early morning hours, Berry realized the knife was still carefully tucked in her sleeve. Her proprietary senses tingled, and she ceremoniously rinsed it and respectfully placed it back in its wooden block. Sliding back into her pattern of peeping investigation she opened the refrigerator door, revealing cheap beer, a large pot of beans, assorted odd vegetables, including a half eaten head of cabbage. A candy or nothing girl herself, the most appetizing looking thing she found was a sweet potato, and even that was a stretch. Behind a bloody tub of chicken livers she found a carton of pineapple juice, easily moochable. Helping herself to a full day's supply of vitamin C, she settled back down behind the computer to finish reading.
Caroline awoke to the sound of a brief burst of running water, followed by a few clunks and random shufflings from Berry's explorations. Yawning and stretching her way to her feet, she wandered into the main room where she discovered Berry perusing the Internet. Disheveled bits of hair that had broken from Berry's nighttime pigtails formed a dark halo around her head in the strengthening morning light.
In an uninhibited moment, Caroline placed her right hand gently on Berry's lean, defined neck, then snuggled the bridge of her nose in the warm recess under Berry's jaw. Berry turned in appreciation, placing her left hand on Caroline's tousled head and casually continued her search for information on Mrs. Black.
"Say, that's the picture on the tract, isn't it?" Caroline inquired.
"Uh-huh. The name seemed familiar when I thought of it this morning, so I decided to have a look around. Mrs. Black is apparently quite remarkable" Berry explained.
"Did I tell you about my dream last night?" interjected Caroline.
"No...." Berry hesitated. She knew how bad Caroline's dreams could be. That was part of the danger that made Berry so enchanted with her. Berry knew Caroline was dangerous and unstable, but she didn't act dangerous and unstable. It was almost as if Caroline were the perfect liar. Taking a deep breath, Caroline explained:
"The dream was short, maybe the shortest one. The woman in that," she pointed to the screen, " picture was in my dream, telling me my dreams were dangerous, that I wasn't safe there, or something."
"So, she can really do that?" Berry asked, incredulous. After all, these sorts of witch stories were all over, but almost none of them were actually true, and those that were were still never current.
"Either I'm crazy, or she did. I saw her in another dream before, in the same country church, waving at me. If there's something you know about her, I need to know it too before maybe it's too late," Caroline concluded, looking worried.
Berry clicked on the largest, most believable article she'd found yet. Apparently there were a lot of people who hated Mrs. Black over the years; there were conflicting stories about things she had done. Some stories said she stole all the children from a church nursery, cooked them in some secret recipe, and made an elixir that kept her alive eternally. Others said she'd poisoned a communion with syphilis. Still others said she'd never done anything wrong, and she was just a poor old woman who'd outlived all her friends and lost her birth certificate. The most complete article, by a student of religious sociology in Berkeley named Allison Rice, said something even more outlandish than that.
According to Rice, Mrs. Black was born in 1809 to Phillip Bones and Goodie Franklin Bones in her parents home. Phillip Bones was flunked out of seminary correspondence school for holding "primitive fundamentalist beliefs." Goodie Bones was a woman; apparently no record other than her genealogy remained from that more sexist time. They named their only child Lillith Ivory Bones, after her maternal great-grandmother
Phillip Bones became a cobbler, but his passion for the faith led him to become deacon of 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church. According to Rice's research, Mrs. Black was saved and baptized at the tender age of 3 years old, remarkably young even at that time, on Easter Sunday in 1812. From that time forward, church records indicated she never missed a single service, not even during her seven later pregnancies.
At the age of 16, Lillith Ivory Bones married Conscientious Adam Black, normally referred to as "Mr. C. Adam Black" in records. Two years later, Mrs. Black gave birth to Stalwart Marcus Black, and had six other children over the next fourteen years, two of which, Patience Alice Black and Fortitude Richard Black died of dysentery in 1835, survived by their older brother Marcus, and two younger siblings Precision Adam Black and Chastity Angelina Black. Afterward, two younger children were born, Purity Gertrude Black and Temperance Mary Black.
Rice's in depth biography continued, mentioning the death of Mrs. Black's husband by being kicked to death by a mule in 1852, and the appointment of Mrs. Black that same year as church midwife.
At this point, Rice's biography became more interesting.
In 1854, Mrs. Black revived a child declared dead by a licensed doctor after a drowning incident. In 1855, Mrs. Black cured a case of polio using an unknown tea and a salve containing, reportedly, an extraction of poison ivy. In 1857, she was prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. During the trial, the head prosecutor was diagnosed with smallpox. After a visit from Mrs. Black, the prosecutor was cured and all charges were dropped. In 1858, Mrs. Black performed an amputation of a gangrenous toe, which reportedly grew back over three months with another mysterious ointment. In 1860, Mrs. Black "gave a stern talking to" to a young mentally challenged boy who was disturbing a sermon. Afterward, the child was reported as having "above average intelligence" in studies.
The juiciest part, however, was not initiated by Mrs. Black at all. In 1861, the bodies of three young black men were found under a compost heap on the property of one Reverend Victor Belforte, Pastor of 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church. The bodies had been beaten, sodomized, and eventually lynched.
There was never any investigation or charges filed. Rev. Belforte wasn't even excommunicated. According to Rice and some of the more believable accounts, several motions were filed in the church minutes by Mrs. Black herself demanding investigation by the church internally of Rev. Belforte, all of which were voted down unanimously. Rice provided a copy of a letter to the editor of The Tribune by a Mrs. C. Adam Black, demanding investigation of Belforte. In response, the editor defended Belforte by claiming the evidence was as setup by the "true sodomites" who supposedly chose Belforte because of his vehement stance against homosexuality.
What made this case noteworthy in that time period, according to Rice, was the obvious homosexuality, and not the act of racist lynching, which was common. Basically, there was no investigation because no one cared what happened to three blacks, even if it was the heinous act of violent anal rape and murder. To compound the issue, all three bodies were the same level of decomposition, insinuating that the crime was committed by an organized group. Common knowledge was that lynch mobs were organized by white churches, and in this case 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church.
Publicly, Mrs. Black did nothing mysterious. However, from the date of the discovery, not a single female member of 1st Holiness Pentecostal Church became pregnant, at a time when child mortality was a whopping 50%. None of Mrs. Black's five living children had been members of the church for two years previous to the incident, for unknown reasons. For two years, not a single pregnancy occurred among the thriving congregation of young, active members.
Then Rice threw the icing on the cake.
In 1863, Mary Folkshire, a pregnant woman visiting from Carolina and relative of a member of the congregation, attended Sunday service. Within thirty minutes, Mary had a violent miscarriage.
Berry stopped to read that line again, and tried to imagine what a "violent miscarriage" must look like. Caroline merely shuddered.
After that incident, a large portion of the congregation split and joined another nearby Pentecostal church. Due to the now infamous story of Mary Folkshire, church records revealed no new members. 1st Holiness Pentecostal slowly dwindled down over the years with no incidents of note until 1923, when the last surviving member other than Mrs. Black died of congestive heart failure. Mrs. Black had been living off a church pension since she was appointed midwife in 1852, and the church assets were rolled over into a care-taking fund. Upon Rice's investigation, it was discovered that Mrs. Black still held the deed on the church, and furthermore Mrs. Black was never issued a death certificate. No attempt has ever been made to have Mrs. Black declared legally dead due to the political cumbersomeness of the church's history.
Caroline did some quick mental math.
"Wait... that means Mrs. Black is almost 200 years old!" she exclaimed.
Berry sat there for an empty moment, still assimilating what all this meant.
"I think this is real..." Berry said quietly, " I mean this is really happening to us..." Berry had seen Caroline the night she stabbed herself, but she'd assumed that was simple insanity, a plague that ran rampant in even her best friends. Berry herself, certainly, was not famous for her mental stability. After all, Berry knew Thug. He and Raz used to hang out by the bar on weeknights while she tried to get free dances from the girls at the Velvet Glove, back before the cops shut that place down. Thug believed in Mrs. Black enough to make him nervous around Caroline for some strange reason, as if he knew something no one else did. Thug was no sucker, either. If he was involved, this was serious business.
However, today, Berry had Caroline all to her self, and that, as the British say, was a more pressing matter.
Animal blood, if you're indiscriminate, is remarkably cheap and easy to get. Sure, you can't just buy it by the bucket at your corner grocery store, but it comes free with all sorts of delectable organs. Hearts, giblets, livers, they all come floating in their own delicious juices by the tub.
Human blood is potent, to be sure, but a mage that uses his own too willingly ends up too faint and scarred to be of much use afterwards. While preferable, the blood of others is difficult to obtain in any substantial amount willingly. Thus, animal blood is the staple choice of the working class diviner who wishes to avoid criminal charges.
Caroline rubbed her right hand over the fresh scab on her stomach, and then looked at the scar on her left hand. She had always been clumsy and prone to accidents, but she'd never thought of herself as being scarred or hacked up looking before. Berry had taken the car and a little money to the wine store to get a magnum of something red; Caroline still had no idea what kind of wine she liked. Regardless, it would be nice if she'd get here already....
Todd strolled into the virgin apartment nonchalantly, with a bottle of dark pink, almost red sparkling wine in either arm, cradled like a set of breast-feeding twins.
"Hey there, Carl," he said, turning Caroline's head away from her old addiction.
"Todd, where's Berry?" Caroline responded, not knowing how to react emotionally to Todd's welcome but uninvited and unexpected presence.
"Oh, Raz finally tracked Berry down to the liquor store. I don't know if you've ever seen them fight, but it gets pretty nasty. We spent three hours trying to break into Raz's car; that crap's not as easy as they make it look on TV," explained Todd.
"Wait... where's my car then?" Caroline asked, trying to tie up the loose ends of her derailed evening.
Todd struggled with the bottle in his right hand, "Oh, I drove it..." POP! The cork flew out of the bottle, hard enough to snap the filament in the ceiling light as it struck, "Sorry about that," Todd rallied, "But I don't think we'll have any use for the light for a while."
"Wake up, Caroline. It's me."
A soft, steady nudge poked Caroline in her shoulder.
"Todd?" Caroline asked, snuggling deeper into her fleshy pillow.
"No, it's not Todd," said the voice, only slightly drier and deeper than Todd's voice. "You're asleep, in a real dream. I'm here to help you."
"Who are you?" Caroline asked in her sleep trance. A human face appeared as Caroline rose to greet the dream phantom, remarkably similar to Todd's. The eyes, however, were made of pure, clear glass, revealing the gray and crimson workings behind them.
"You may call me Glass," said the demon.
"I'll tell you everything you need to know, but you have to let me. Will you accept my story, and all of it? I would never want to intrude on your dreams, after all," said the Glass smoothly. At this moment, Caroline felt all the gravid power of the dream-trance leave her, regaining her full but limited logical processes. Knowledge, after all, was power, and all this Glass wanted to do was educate her. Maybe this was one of those things, like demolition chemistry, where a little knowledge was a lot more dangerous than none at all?
"Yes," she assented, and the power of the trance took hold once more.
"First of all, please let me explain just who, and what, I am. It could be said with some accuracy that I'm your guardian angel. Certainly, I was created by God to watch over and protect you. It's a little more complicated than that, but that would take a thousand years to explain. At any rate, as an angel my specialty is dreams. I'm sorry you couldn't stop the plane crash; I thought maybe there was some way you could stop it."
The Glass paused for a second, considering his options. The plink of some sort of flying insect hitting a windowpane rattled in the background.
"Do you like Todd? I sent you Todd, because I knew you needed someone in your life to make you happy. You seemed lonely in your quest for knowledge. I, of course, always support education. I want you to think of this as a learning experience. You're perfectly safe with me."
The Glass's voice dripped with honey and wisdom, like the maitre de of an expensive Asian restaurant.
"Now, the dreams that I give you, they all come true. They're complex metaphors, but they're all true. Just figure out the symbols, and the dreams tell you what's going to happen, or in some cases, what has happened or is happening. This is not one of those dreams, though sweetling, this is a real dream, just like normal. I'm not real in any physical sense; I only exist through and in dreams."
There was a faint cracking sound, and the tinkle of a tiny piece of broken glass. There was a brief buzz, and then the Glass's hand snapped out and crushed a tiny black bumblebee that floated near his face, flicking its mangled corpse into one of the corners of the dream space.
"I don't want you to be scared, Caroline. Maybe you'll never see me again; I just want you to know that the dreams aren't from some sort of scary dream world, someone who cares about you sent them, and that person is me. I'm not going to lie to you, or try to frighten you, or tell you what to do. There are people out there that just want to use you for the dreams. Don't let them fool you...."
Three more bees entered, this time with no tell tale sounds, each from a different direction. The Glass crushed two of them with Shiva-like quickness, but one of them got through and stung the Glass's temporary dream form on the face.
"Not everyone is like me, Caroline. Someone is trying to cheat the rules," the Glass said, his face beginning to swell. Veins in his forehead began to pop out, and his cheeks flushed bright red.
"It's not fair... there's been no convocation...this is a real dream... that witch should have no power here..." moaned the Glass, as his face continued to swell to inhuman proportions. The wound turned crimson red as it grew, then purple. It formed a white head of purulent material at its center the size of a pea, the swelling itself the size of a grapefruit protruding from the right side of the Glass's face. The Glass's voice became muffled as the swelling filled his mouth.
"That witch.... Mrs. Black... she doesn't want me to warn you... to protect you..." The Glass gasped. He leaned garishly close to Caroline's face, and the giant cyst on his mask burst into a malevolent mix of blood and pestilence...
Caroline started up from her dream, gasping. Who was this Mrs. Black? Worse, what was she?