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Authors: Pat Esden

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BOOK: Beyond Your Touch
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Headlights fanned through the windows and across the living room walls.
“Shit,” he said. Letting me go, he snuffed out the candles. We grabbed blankets from the couch and peered out the window like guilty kids. Grandfather's Land Rover followed by Uncle David's Jaguar passed by the cottage, continuing on toward the main house.
Once we had been certain they weren't coming back, Chase led me upstairs and we made love. And, oh God, did we make love. Exhausted, we'd slept, spooned against each other—that's when I'd discovered the nightmares.
“Annie?” Selena's voice brought me from my thoughts and back to the garage. “Tibbs says Kate's down in the research room.”
“Ah, yeah. That's great,” I said, ignoring the puzzled look she was giving me. I could tell by how hot I felt and the tingle on my skin that I was totally flushed. Oh, man. If only Chase hadn't agreed to swap shifts with Tibbs.
Chase, Selena, and I went back into the house and took the kitchen elevator down to the basement level, then went through a security door and into one of the family's labyrinth of secret tunnels. Ceiling-to-floor mirrors and gaudy-colored frescoes studded its walls. We hurried past a suit of armor and an Egyptian sarcophagus to a mural that depicted people being burned at the stake and dancing demons. I breathed into my palm and pressed it against the tiles.
The wall slid open, revealing nothing except blackness. I shuddered as I remembered the first time I'd stepped into that nothingness, terrified that Grandfather was luring me into an eternal pit of darkness. It was hard to believe how much my life had changed in less than a month, my fear of the dark subsiding and my trust of Grandfather budding into genuine fondness. Totally amazing.
I smiled to myself and led the way, stepping into the darkness, immediately coming out into the stark light of the research room's vestibule. It was a small, white-tiled space overlooking an enormous laboratory that resembled the engineering deck on a starship crossed with an alchemist's dungeon.
Kate and my aunt Olya, Selena's mother, were working down in the laboratory, dressed in full-length rubber aprons and gloves. With a serious scowl on her face, Kate drizzled oil from the Lamp of Methuselah through the mesh of a small cage and down onto an adolescent cat, soaking him until his brown tiger-stripes glistened black.
The cat hunched into the farthest corner of the cage, hissing and thrashing his tail like a cornered rattlesnake.
Olya's fingers fluttered to her chest. “Oh, my. He does not like that,” she said. Her throaty Eastern European accent sounded even raspier than usual.
Kate tsked. “It's the cage time not the oil he's fussing about. Serves him right, too. The beast shat in my bedroom.”
Judging by the glare in Kate's eyes, I suspected the cat was guilty of more than that single offense. She generally loved cats. Personally, his insolence toward her had just scored him top position on my cat-ranking card, not that I was much of a cat person.
“Isn't that Zachary's kitten?” Selena asked when the three of us reached them.
Olya gave the cat a second look. “My goodness, you're right.”
“Don't worry about the beast,” Kate said. “Nothing's going to happen to him.” She set down the lamp and the excess oil snaked across the floor of the cage, out through the cage's mesh, and back into the lamp. The way the oil returned to its container was one of the cool things about it, not to mention that the oil was self-renewing.
Chase crouched and peered into the cage. “You're assuming the oil will react the same on a cat as it would on a human?”
Kate nodded. “In fact, we ran extensive tests to make sure it would.”
Normally, human bodies transformed from solid to ethereal when they went through the veil and entered the djinn realm. But coating a person in the Methuselah oil made their body ethereal in the mortal world and solid in the djinn realm. It had the exact opposite effect on genies. However, the oil had two problems. First, it only lasted from sunset to sunrise; and second, its strong cabbage-and-wet-sheep scent.
“So,” Kate said to Chase, “do you smell anything or do you think we've successfully de-scented it?”
He leaned closer to the cage and took a whiff. “Nothing. Not even normal cat smell.”
Selena and I also sniffed. Chase was right. There wasn't a trace of anything.
“Great.” Kate wriggled off her rubber gloves. “That's one step done.” Her gaze landed on me. “Did you find out anything?”
“We—” I started.
But Selena cut me off. “You should wash the cat off before the oil turns him invisible. After all, he's a pet not a lab rat.”
“Unfortunately”—Kate strummed the cage's mesh with her fingers—“once it's applied, nothing can wash the oil off. From sunset until sunrise, this beast will be invisible—and incarcerated for the duration as well. If he's a good kitty, I may give him a can of tuna in the morning.”
The cat sprung from his corner, claws zinging against the mesh beneath her fingers.
Clutching her hand, Kate jumped back. “Looks like somebody may get his manhood snipped instead of tuna.”
“You were asking about Bar Harbor,” I said, loud enough to steer the conversation back where it belonged. “We found someone who can do the magic or at least we think she can.”
Olya gawked at us. “Flute-magic? Are you sure?”
Kate stopped clutching her hand and rested it on her hip. “I'm assuming that there is a downside to this story. What did you say this man or woman's name was?”
“Lotli,” Chase said. “She's around Annie's age.”
I glanced at him. He certainly had that information on the tip of his tongue. I turned to Kate. “There was a Native—”
“They,” Selena interrupted, “I mean,
saw smoke following her music. But we lost her. Then we found out who she was.”
I shot a look in her direction. Why hadn't she let me just tell the story? She wasn't there. She'd screw it all up.
Kate frowned. “What exactly do you mean by ‘lost'?”
“She took off before we could talk to her,” Chase said.
Tossing her gloves on top of the cage, Kate huffed. “I figured something like this would happen.”
“I'm sure we can find her,” I said. I pulled the booklet from my bag, opened it to the page with the fire and the flutist, and shoved it into her hands. “This journal's on display at the museum right now. It looks interesting.”
Kate studied the page for a second, then passed the journal to Olya. “Well, that is something. Once the men get back, perhaps they can get a look at the original and round up this Lotli girl.”
“Why wait?” I said. “Maybe the three of us can't deal with getting access to the journal, but we could try to find Lotli.”
Kate flicked her fingers, indicating her bandage-wrapped neck and arm. “That might be an acceptable idea, if I could go with you. As it is, I can't risk getting involved in something that could rapidly turn sour. You have no idea if she's harmless or not. There are some very ugly and dark things out there.”
Out there and standing right in front of her,
the voice of guilt and shame whispered inside me. And a dull ache knotted in my chest as the sensation of Grandmother's hands cupping my face came back to me.
Liar. Liar,
the voice inside me chanted.
It's all your fault, everything that happened.
Shoving that voice aside, I planted my feet and raised my chin to match Kate's. “We can do this,” I said. Knowing Kate, she'd object and object hard. But I had to be a part of this. I had to help set right what I'd put in motion. “Besides, how powerful can Lotli be? She lives in a camper with her sickly grandfather.”
Kate shook her head. “No. This is something that requires an experienced touch, and at least a modicum of tact.”
The urge to fire back something nasty hovered on my tongue, but I swallowed it and firmly said, “Like she's going to be less defensive around a bunch of old men than girls her own age?”
Selena stepped forward. “She could be gone before the men get back. Not sending us is ridiculous. I saw her. She didn't look wicked or evil. She looked like a lost soul.”
Olya set the booklet down next to the cage. “Selena, sweetheart, Kate has a point. Better safe than sorry.” She glanced at Chase. “Don't you agree?”
“I could go by myself,” he suggested.
I swiveled toward him. “We're sticking together.”
“I'm assuming you didn't get her phone number?” Kate steepled her fingers and smiled, like a chess player who's made the winning move.
“No,” Chase admitted, “just her first name. No location or anything else.”
“Then how do you propose to find her, other than by questioning half the people in the state of Maine?”
“We could scry,” Selena said. She bit her bottom lip as if regretting the suggestion. “At least we could, if we had something personal of hers. But we don't.”
Olya's eyes brightened. “That would be true if I did the scrying. But, Selena, you could scry by using your memory of her music. That would work.”
“Except”—Selena peeked up sheepishly—“I . . . ah—I was kind of in the bathroom while she was performing. I saw her and heard like a couple of notes, but not enough for that.”
Kate raised her hands in surrender, then let them drop to her sides. “That rules out scrying. So I guess we'll be waiting for now.”
“Um”—Chase pulled out his wallet—“I have something of hers.” He opened it and took out a small green feather. “It came off her flute. She—gave it to me.”
I stepped back, unable to believe I'd heard right. What the hell? Why hadn't he mentioned this on the way home?
Olya snatched the feather. “Are you certain it is not ensorcelled?”
My face went hot, anger flooding through me. “That was a brilliant move,” I snapped at him.
Chase's voice hardened. “It isn't anything special. She gave them to a bunch of people, even to the kid sitting next to me.”
A headache thumped behind my eyes. I pressed my fingers against the bridge of my nose, trying to ward it off. “Yeah, fine. But you really should have said something. Considering how important she could be”—I looked him full in the face—“to
—as in
of us.”
His eyes went flinty. He folded his arms across his chest.
“It is probably an innocent gift,” Olya said. She pressed the feather between her fingertips and closed her eyes, breathing in and out slowly, her lips moving in a silent prayer. “The girl's presence is on it and also the presence of a hummingbird. No magic, light or dark. I see blue water. Red flowers.” She opened her eyes. “There's no danger here.”
Chase's gaze slid toward me.
I shrugged, and mouthed,
. I was, too. In fact, now that I'd gotten the anger out of my system, my guilt was stronger than ever. I really shouldn't have bitched at him in front of everyone. But I couldn't have stopped myself. He really shouldn't have taken it from her.
Hugging myself, I watched silently as Olya passed the feather to Kate. She did the same focusing thing and came to the same conclusion. She in turn gave it to Selena to test. And an odd-man-out feeling settled over me. All this witchcraft and otherworldly stuff came as second nature to them, even to Chase. But everything about it was painfully unfamiliar and disconcerting to me. Just like the emotions Lotli had sparked.
* * *
After supper, I went out to the terrace with Selena and Olya to watch them scry with the feather. Chase had wanted to come. But Olya told him it could take hours and he'd promised to help Zachary with his kickboxing moves before he took over Tibbs's patrol shift.
Olya set three candles in the middle of the glass-topped table where Selena and I sometimes ate breakfast. She motioned for Selena to come closer, then the two of them chanted and stared at the flames, meditating to get into the zone. I watched, and thought about the Santeria priest in New Orleans that Dad and I had sold a Victorian funeral portrait to and about the tour guide witch we'd met in Salem. I'd never dreamed that I'd be directly involved with this kind of thing. Still, despite how little I knew and how in the research room I'd felt like the odd man out, sitting here now felt right, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Maybe it was the night air. Or how open and relaxed Selena and Olya were about everything. Maybe the universe had shifted or, perhaps, my emotions had simply settled back to normal.
Finally, Olya took out a black crystal egg and gazed into it while holding the feather, hoping to see Lotli's whereabouts. When that failed to work, she poured water into a silver bowl with a black interior, sliced her finger with a bone-handled knife, and let a drop of blood fall into the water. The blood flared outward, iridescent in the candlelight. With great care, she floated the feather on top of the water in the very center of the bowl.
All around us, the evening shadows deepened as twilight faded. Solid darkness closed in. No owls hooted. No crickets chimed. Only the muted rush of the ocean waves sounded in the distance.
Olya cradled her hands around the bowl, her eyes rolling back in their sockets as she and Selena murmured an incantation. The sound raised the hair on my arms and a light-headed sensation came over me. I smelled something cold and shivered, wondering if the chill came from a ghost or spirit guide.
The blood on the water shimmered bright red and the feather moved, the quill's tip remaining motionless as if it were pinned to the center of the bowl, while the rest of the feather spun, slowing clockwise until it pointed northward—toward Bar Harbor.
BOOK: Beyond Your Touch
5.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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