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.