Sunday, the day that commemorates the giant burning cloud of gas that sustains the Earth and every living thing on it. It is the first day of the week, the cold reality that remains after the hellish fires of Saturday have been quenched by the cold, liquid light of the midnight moon. Sunday is the day of purity, with all the complexities of the past week left behind, leaving only what is fresh and new. A day for new beginnings, for taking stock of fresh opportunities, and ultimately, Sunday is the day on which the time for corrections has passed, and only judgment remains.
Caroline dragged a disconsolate spoon though her soggy cornflakes after, apparently, passing out early and waking up at the ungodly weekend hour of 7:51 AM. Unable to go back to sleep or wake Todd, here she sat, attempting to outstare a half empty bowl of eyeless breakfast cereal.
Needless to say, the cereal was winning.
A warm, gentle creak, however, broke her melancholia as Todd ghosted his sleepy way into the room, wearing a frayed cotton quilt.
"Hey Carl," he mumbled, as he grabbed a spoon from the dish drainer and helped himself to the milk-logged remains of her unwanted meal. Caroline thought about keeping her dream to herself, and then second-guessed.
"I had a nightmare again last night. There was this weird creature that kept telling me ... things, and then it turned into a giant zit and exploded. It kept warning me about the woman from this," she shook some spilled milk off of the tract, "church. I'm invited to go today, but now I don't know if it's such a good idea."
"Why not? It's just an old church," Todd reasoned, "Besides, it sounds relaxing. You always have weird dreams. Don't worry about it," he continued dismissively.
"I guess you're right..." Caroline equivocated.
"Of course I'm right." Todd asserted, "Me and my grandma used to make grave rubbings on the tombstones in old churchyards all the time. The worst an old lady did was give me a really nasty burnt coconut macaroon."
Caroline considered this. She'd had pleasant dream about Mrs. Black up to this point. Glass claimed to be an angel, but Caroline was never more than customarily religious. Old ladies with tea and cookies, though, she believed in ferverently. A childhood of visiting her grandmother couldn't be broken by a strange dream and a couple of hardly reputable web pages that were probably made up by Blair Witch fanatics. She was surprised none of the stories called her "the black witch" for crying out loud.
Caroline's spine stiffened, her mind stimulated by early morning conversation.
"You know, I met you by going somewhere by impulse. My life does need more gardens and old ladies now, not more dirty techno clubs. I've decided to go." Caroline concluded.
"Good for you," asserted Todd, "I've gotta teach my three hour Sunday class today, though. Mind if I use your shower?"
Todd's mind had more in common with Berry's than perhaps Caroline was willing to believe in.
Caroline dropped Todd off at the university and pulled away, fumbling for her hastily printed directions to 646 Cottage Church Lane. Ten minutes into her drive, she realized her deceptively simple directions failed to mention that although Cottage Church Lane did in fact completely bisect the town, it did so by dead ending into every major thoroughfare and continued a block to the right of where it ended. Consequently, she spent the next thirty minutes a course that should have only taken fifteen.
Cottage Church Lane, with all its twisting narrow ways, eventually straightened out as it entered the historic district. The wrought iron fence of a gated community became recognizable from her dream, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in an oxymoronic way.
Caroline counted down the house numbers as she drove, waiting for the iron fence to break into hedges and roses, or, better yet, not. 632...634...636... only ten large historic homes between her and her destination. The tiny car buzzed slowly down the lane as Caroline rubber necked the house numbers.
Caroline swore, and continued down the lane looking for a safe place to turn around. 664...646...668... and there, standing under the arch of roses between the gap in the hedge, was Thug, sweating into the collar of his suit.
"Good morning Ms. Parker," Thug said nervously, wiping his forehead with an over starched ornamental handkerchief. "Mrs. Black asked me to wait here, in case you got confused by the street numbers."
"So I guess she's in the front room waiting for me with some hot tea then?" Caroline replied jokingly.
"She said you'd know that..." Thug replied, staring at the stepping stone path that led to the small church. Thug took off his shades, and looked at Caroline with stunningly blue eyes that contrasted his dark features.
"I just want you to know...I never hurt anybody that didn't deserve it..." he said in a voice barely above a whisper, and then turned to walk back into his aging Cadillac.
Caroline was left alone, standing in the rose arch absorbing Mrs. Black's magnificent garden. The flowers here were cartoonishly large, with rose bushes bigger than inner city trees. Roses of every color sprouted from stalks that had been carefully braided as saplings, now as thick as Caroline's ankle. Caroline followed a smaller stepping stone path that branched off the walkway to the small church, inspecting the impressive blooms there with a professional eye. When she reached out to touch them, however, fat black bees raised a buzzing chorus that matched the volume of the chirping birds in the background. Taking this as an omen, Caroline reluctantly continued into the open door of the church.
"That's okay, dearie, take your time. I have all evening if need be," chimed Mrs. Black, speaking to Caroline for the first time with human lips. She looked exactly as she had in the dream, thin, but not emaciated, and dressed in an almost school-marmish fashion, as if the small church were some kind of one room schoolhouse from earlier in America's history.
"So...you're Mrs. Black?" said Caroline, her voice rising slightly at the end in doubt.
"Of course I am, sweetie, I've been Mrs. Black for longer than that street outside has been paved. When you get the time, I'll show you my vegetable garden and beehives out back." Mrs. Black responded soothingly.
"You raised those bees?" asked Caroline, still only reacting to her current surreality.
"Hah, girl, this is going to take forever if you keep questioning things. Here, have a seat and a cup of tea, and I'll explain everything." Mrs. Black said with finality.
Caroline sat and sipped her tea with honey and cream, better than any Starbucks she'd ever tasted. Mrs. Black began to explain: "Your dreams-everything that's been happening to you-are all caused by you accidentally becoming an initiate. As time progresses, the world gets more and more wicked, just as John the Revelator predicted. He had the dreams too, you know." Mrs. Black said with a wink. "Anyways, getting to the point, you happened to have brought together the seven sacraments of scrying, and of course, the inevitable happened."
"Seven sacraments? I've never even studied magic! I'm agnostic!" Caroline announced, suddenly wishing this old woman would show some sign of senility, give her some reason to discount these words.
"Oh, I imagine the first scryer found it all on accident too. However, the fact remains that you ARE having prophetic dreams. How do you think I found you? How do you think I know your name, Ms. Caroline Parker, employee of Pugh's Flowers and friend of Jaleesa Jones? How about the scar on your left hand, or the scab on your stomach? You didn't think those came from somnambulism, did you?"
Caroline was dumbstruck. If Mrs. Black wasn't the real deal, then she was at least having someone spy on her. Considering the main suspect for that would be Thug, she was at least powerful enough to hold a strip club bouncer in thrall.
"So, if this is all true, then why do you use Thug?" Caroline inquired pointedly.
"I don't 'use' Thug, dearie. He's a good boy, and he does what his Grannie Black says. I'm every bit as old as you think I am, and I try to keep an eye on the children. There may be ten generations between us, but he's still my grandson." Mrs. Black paused a moment, letting this new revelation sink in. "Why do you think he's so nervous about you? He knows that to some extent you are what I am, and he's seen what I do to the girls he brings here. Sometimes they're in awful shape, but I straighten them out like a wrinkled shirt in a steam press."
"Enough about my family, though. Let's get down to brass tacks." Mrs. Black's face took a serious expression as she steepled her fingers over her steaming teacup. "Somehow, you combined a knife, a dish of some sort, blood, a scrying glass, and a human subject with both eyes, hands, and feet intact, namely you. When that happened, you opened a window into the spirit world, or dream world, and a demon found you through it. From then on, that demon has been using you to keep that window open." Mrs. Black paused in her lecture, waiting to see if Caroline understood.
"So let me get this straight," Caroline interjected into the space left for her by Mrs. Black's Socratic speech, "You mean Glass, don't you?"
"Is that what he told you to call him? I guess it's pretty accurate. He has other names, of course, being a demon." Mrs. Black provided.
"How am I possessed by a demon, though?" asked Caroline, visions of The Exorcist floating through her head.
"Well, demon possession isn't as dramatic as they make it out to be on television. For example, there are the common demons that are summoned by potions. So common, in fact, you know them by other names already. Alcohol is a perfect example. Alcoholism is merely the demon Alcohol trying to maintain the same kind of window the Glass demon has found in you. Ever notice certain neighborhoods are always infested with drugs? Those are places where a certain demon is extremely powerful, and can attract hosts at will. After all, what is a bar if not a type of altar, and it's tender a type of priest?" Mrs. Black spoke quickly and clearly, trying to pack as much into Caroline's malleable mind as she could.
"Is this demon in me now? Is that why I'm here?" Caroline asked, her situation sinking in.
"Hah, no, this particular demon cannot possess the body without explicit permission. He's physically very weak. Even in the dream world, I'm more powerful than him." To emphasize her point, Mrs. Black placed a small drop of honey on her fingernail and allowed one of her tame black bees to drink from it contentedly in a casual kind of way, like throwing a meat scrap to a dog.
"As to how the convocation of sacraments happened, you probably didn't know a television screen is a type of scrying glass." As she spoke, Mrs. Black stroked the oversized bee affectionately with her free right hand, "All you would have had to do was fall asleep watching television and eating undercooked bloody meat to make it happen, really. People forget television is a form of witchcraft these days. You just got unlucky that the Glass found you."
"So...the changes in me... That's the Glass?" Caroline wondered.
"If you mean the lesbian blood sex with Berry, then yes." Mrs. Black supplied in the kind of cut and dried way only a midwife can discuss sex with.
Mrs. Black sipped her tea graciously off of the table that Caroline now realized was emblazoned with a cross. Tea as a communion for a temperance minded woman from the 1800's, and there, in front of her, was a cup from which she had partaken in it.
"Go ahead and have your cookie, dear." Mrs. Black said, "It's only a sugar cookie, although, yes, this is technically a communion. 'As oft as ye do it' said the good Lord, not just whenever they serve at the church, after all." Caroline ate her cookie, which was deliciously buttery, and was definitely not a nasty burnt coconut macaroon.
"Now, however, is the day of your first lesson," lectured Mrs. Black.
"First lesson? I thought this was a church," interjected Caroline.
"Oh, it WAS a church, and IS, for that matter. However, like it or not, you're known to world of demons now, and it's not safe to let you leave without you knowing how to protect yourself. Come to my garden, and I'll explain the basics." Mrs. Black said as she placed her empty cup with it's smattering of tealeaves unnoticed on the bottom.
Mrs. Black strolled through her backyard vegetable garden with the poise of God the Father strolling with Adam in the Garden of Eden.
"Let's start with the nature of life and death; why you, and the Glass, and the rest of the world exist." In true pedagogical fashion, Mrs. Black walked slowly as she talked, her hands clasped loosely behind her back. "We, human beings, exist much like these roses; sustained by our creator for His aesthetic sense, to be cut at His choosing, the world being his cutting garden." Caroline followed slight behind Mrs. Black, keeping the elderly woman's left shoulder in clear view. "Angels are like the bees, who freely traverse to and from God's garden which is the world of the living, and back out the other side fertilizing the flowers of this garden and other gardens. Demons like the Glass are like wasps, or ants, free like the angels, but existing off only those things they can plunder from the various gardens and dung heaps. This is of course an oversimplification, but we've covered a lot for your first day." Mrs. Black said with a tone of finality.
Mrs. Black stopped, and turned to look Caroline directly in the eye.
"Now for your practical advice. Throw out all your knives, especially new ones. Cover any shiny object with a cloth, especially televisions. No more meat, cooked or otherwise." Mrs. Black said sternly, shaking a finger, "You can't live without dishes, we all have to eat, but keep them all put away if possible. You have to fight this thing on its own ground, so I've made you an anointing of salt and rose oil to put around the windows and doorframes of your apartment to de-consecrate your home as an altar to the demon."
"Anything else?" Caroline asked, her mind boggled by this new wave of actionable information.
"Oh, there's always something else..." Mrs. Black said, leading Caroline around the path to the rose arch at the gap in the hedge. She reached into her oversized beaten leather purse, and pulled out a brown paper bag, "In this bag is the anointing oil and instructions on how to use it. Just remember you only know the bare minimum right now. You won't be safe until you're an adept due to your exposure. If I was able to find your true name and the names of your friends, just imagine what a malicious demon might do now that you've stopped cooperating."
With that, Mrs. Black hugged Caroline, kissed her on the neck chastely, and sent her on her way.
Caroline felt as if every stitch of logic had just been beaten from her brains with a lacy tea cozy. Mrs. Black wasn't just an old lady, or even some closeted wiccan, but a true mystic gifted with shamanistic wisdom that allowed her to command even the most basic aspects of nature such as horticulture and human longevity. Even worse, she had called Caroline an initiate. She wasn't human anymore; she was something like what Mrs. Black was in the first stages of its infancy.
The oil stained brown paper bag might as well of contained a dead body for the weight it carried in Caroline's mind as she made the series of difficult left turns to return to her apartment. It was barely noon when she finally pulled into the lot below her building. She managed to carry it all the way into the main room of her efficiency before daring to open the bag's arcane contents. To her surprise, all it contained was a zip lock baggie with an envelope addressed to "Mrs. Parker" and an ornamental looking Bath and Body Works style bottle of oil. The oil had floating inside of it three of Mrs. Black's curiously braided-stem roses, somehow in full and vibrant bloom despite the bottle's comparatively small spout. Below this, a sediment of large crystal sea salt rested on the bottom of the bottle.
A knock on the door broke Caroline's inspection of Mrs. Black's gift. Cracking the door to see who it was, Berry smiled brilliantly at her from the other side. Caroline released the chain on the door and allowed Berry to enter carrying a small but tightly packed bag. Before saying hello, Berry pulled out a magnum of chilled wine. Face still beaming, she pulled out take-out steak for two from a western-style steak house nearby.
"Hey Carl," Berry said demurely, "I brought you something," holding her treasures high for Caroline to inspect. Caroline had been so preoccupied with her meeting she had forgotten all about lunch, let alone Berry's overweening curiosity for the arcane.
"Effin' excellent!" Caroline exclaimed hungrily, tearing into the bloody rare steak Berry presented. Berry wasted no time opening the bottle of sweet red wine and decanting it into a matching set of wine glasses, also cunningly packed into the small black bag.
"So, how was your visit?" Berry asked, already prying into Caroline's escapade with Mrs. Black.
"It was crazy, is what it was. Thug was there. Did you know Mrs. Black is Thug's grandmother?" Caroline informed Berry.
"Really?" Berry responded dramatically, ready for more juicy gossip, "You know he and Mike are cousins. That means she's Mike's grandmother too!" Berry deduced. Caroline took another bite from her bloody meal, and sipped from Berry's shining glass, settling into another night of girlish bonding.
In Caroline's dream, she sat in a giant banquet hall, the table stretching as far as her bleary eyes could see. Lying before her was a plate covered in a bright red sauce. To its left, a knife. To its right, a shining goblet of crystal clear water, its delicate stem seeming to dribble from its truncated sphere of reflective fluid.
It was only then Caroline was made aware of what sat before her: the sacraments Mrs. Black had warned her about. Involuntarily, her left hand reached out towards the knife. Incredulously, her traitorous eye forced her to watch as her hand picked up the knife gingerly and dragged its sterling blade through the plate of blood, rising to drip the crimson fluid into the goblet, the blade's point held down ominously.
The solitary droplet of blood maintained most of its viscous integrity as only its outer extremities dissolved, making a pattern akin to the design of a cat's eye marble in the once unpolluted water. The blot lost color and darkened as it spread within the glass, turning the water a dark but partially translucent mist gray.
Caroline tried to move, to somehow get away from what was happening to her, but her left foot turned against her and wrapped her soft bare foot hard against the sharp edges of square chair leg. Her left hand grabbed her chin, forcing her to watch as the gray mist inside the once pristine water coalesced again into the animated shape of a flying bee. As the bee became more concrete, the mist in the background cleared to reveal a tightly knit spider's web, some victims already entrapped.
The bee held in place in the center of the goblet as the web approached unseen from behind. Then the bee shrank in perspective as the vision scope of the glass increased, revealing the web wasn't anchored to any stationary object, but was held in place by six huge wasps flying in unison formation. Suddenly, all six wasps converged turning the web into an inescapable net. The whole mass, wasps, bee-victim, and web fell to the bottom of the glass in a frenzy of stinging rage. The bee swelled in perspective again, the glass violently depicting its death throes. As the bee died, so did the image, snapping back to its necrotic gray state.
Caroline awoke to find Berry still lying against her breast, but despite their close contact, she still felt desperately, desperately alone.