The wet asphalt of the parking lot disappeared, to be replaced by dusty, rustic-looking, gray plank flooring. The chill rain was gone, to be replaced by warmth halfheartedly cast by a fireplace. There were distinct barnyard odors: Cows, horses, chickens, and a few other animals that I couldn’t quite identify by sense of poop smell. They still had outdoor plumbing in these parts. I found myself standing in the middle of a carefully-inscribed red pentagram, surrounded by a nine-foot circle. There were Mystical Symbols in each of the five open spaces. It was a fairly conventional Devil’s Trap, though the symbols were different from ones I’d ever seen before. I was staring at a very scared-looking naked blonde. She was a real beauty, definitely worth staring at, even if that wasn’t the reason I was staring. She was maybe twenty at the outside, somewhere on the line between slim and skinny, with a chest that could compete favorably with Sarah O’Donnell’s, and without the push up bra. There were a half dozen women seated cross-legged on the floor around the wall, none of them naked. They looked scared too. Maybe horrified is a better description.
The babe stood and raised her hands, crooking her fingers at me in the prescribed manner. “Asmodeus, King of Demons, Lord of Lust, Prince of Wrath, Wielder of the Bloody Mace, Ic binden thee tæ mine willen!” she said, or maybe sang, in a soprano voice that sounded like it wanted to squeak. The language was a heavily and peculiarly accented kind-of English, with German overtones. I could understand it, but just barely.
Like I say, I’d been Summoned, with a capital S. And I don’t believe in magic, never have. My mother inoculated me against it when she signed my birth certificate. Someone waving his hands and hollering might work in politics, but it’s not going to make it rain. If you shoot lightning from your fingers, they’ll scorch. Ask any electric welding torch.
My phone hadn’t come with me, but it didn’t look like I’d be needing it. I stood up and stomped out of the pentagram, where I was supposed to be confined. The cutie pie stepped back quickly, trying to jump out of her creamy skin in the process. “You’ve got the wrong Asmodeus,” I told her. “I’m not a demon. Sorry.”
It was like I’d let the air out of the room.
“Thou’rt not?” she asked in a teeny tiny voice. The question mark was audible. “Not” sounded like “naught.” The tiny voice sounded somehow both disbelieving and relieved and it got tinier from the start of her short statement to the end.
“Nope. Sorry. What’s going on, that you need the services of a demon? And how’d you grab me, in particular?”
She suddenly became aware that she was naked as an egg, probably because I was so obviously noticing parts of her here and there, all of them worth noticing. One of the other women handed her a thin dress that she shrugged into, tying a woven belt around her waist. The dress reached all the way from her pale, elegant neck to her bare, slightly dirty feet. I was definitely a large number of digits away from where I’d started.
“Ic… Ic callèd upon ye demon,” she explained, which told me nothing. “Ic bœn en witch.”
“I guessed that,” I said, sorting through the distorted vowels and accents. Past tense accents were on the last syllable: “Called” was pronounced “call-èd.” The “Ic” sounded like “æc,” with the “æ” pronounced “ay,” as in “eye” and the “c” barely there. The “y” in “ye” was more of a “th” than a “y,” not a theta but almost to the “th” in “thorn,” which is actually what that letter (Þ) is called. There was the hint of a breathy “h” before the “witch.” Language has always been kind of a hobby of mine because I like to travel. I speak parts of a dozen or so of them badly. I was trying to communicate in some sort of Saxon or Olde English.
I’d been to lots of reality lines, even to different times, in the past or the future (don’t go there, unless you need new teeth.) I’d never been to one where people really, seriously believed in witchcraft, at least not past about the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.
“How I got here is my question,” I told the sweetie bird. “I don’t want to go getting tugged all over the multiverse every time someone gets the urge to call my name.”
“Thy nahme ist Asmodeus?” she asked, coming out in goosebumps and visibly shivering.
“Asmodeus J. Jones, at your service. And you are…?”
“Nevianne of Sandy Isle.” That would be Fenwick Island in my own reality stream, I guessed, probably including Ocean City. I was still in the same place, sort of. You don’t move around in space when you flinch unless you walk. Her speech was Anglo-Saxon, but her name sounded more Celtic.
“Pleased to meet you, Nevianne,” I told her, ignoring our audience. “So tell me, how did I get here? Usually I go places under my own power.”
“Ye spell wæs… It’st very complicætèd.”
“And you’re thinking you screwed some part of it up?” I suggested.
She hadn’t heard the expression before, but she guessed its meaning quickly enough. “Aye. Ic musst hæbbe.”
I didn’t tell her what I thought she was full of, since we’d just met and she might not have a sense of humor. Lots of people are like that, especially the ones who try to summon demons and expect to control them. That still left the question of how I got there, which her magical opinions probably wouldn’t be able to clarify in terms that I’d be able to understand or believe.
I tried mentally to see where I was. Just “looking” around, I could see there was a dizzying number of digits leading into the mists from whence I’d been tugged. Nothing at all looked familiar. If you think of Reality as a sixteen dimensional (actually many more than that) sphere without surface, of infinity minus one directions you can see my problem. Boy, was I was lost! There weren’t any reference points I could recognize.
If I’d been the Asmodeus she had been looking for I’d have breathed some serious fire, turned all of the people in the room into small rodents, and called down a plague of owls upon them. Eat up, birdies!
Lucky for them, I wasn’t. Everyone survived.
Perhaps in response to my expression, the other women left, avoiding looking toward me. Their attitudes said they had to get their hair done, or maybe they remembered they left the stove on or something. They were dressed similarly to Nevianne, at least when she was dressed, just a little more ragged. They wore hats, short black things that came to a point at the top, but didn’t look much like Halloween witch’s hats. They had ear muffs, for one thing. The women ranged in age from maybe Nevianne’s age to the crone range, wherever that starts.
“They’re the rest of your coven?” I asked Nevianne, making a guess as they showed me their backs.
“Aye,” she sighed, looking forlorn. “We sint forleosen.”
“I think you’d be more lost with an actual demon on hand,” I suggested.
“Ic would bœ,” she stated, “but næ all of ye Sandy Isle.”
Well, that stopped me. “You would be? But not everyone else?”
“Ye spell ist æn trade,” she explained, looking nervous. “A bærgain. ye demon serveth me, and when he completeth the task I assign, I would… would serve him.”
“You were a sacrifice? To the Lord of Lust?”
“Aye,” she agreed sadly.
“For how long would you have to serve him?”
“That’s a hell of a trade,” I grumbled. “Good luck with that.”
Poor kid. But… Like I say, not my circus. “I guess I’ll be on my way then.” I didn’t believe in demons and such, so I knew it wouldn’t really happen to her, whether she was a willing participant or not.
“Whither gœst thou?” she asked me.
“Back where I came from, wherever it is.” Actually, I could be thrashing around for years before I could find something resembling my own reality line. I thought at least I’d settle for someplace where they didn’t believe so fervently in Magick and they spoke English without umlauts.
“Ic… Ic would fain send thee back,” she offered. “Ic braucht thee here. ‘Twould bœ but fair.”
“You can do that?” I asked. “I’d like to see how you do it.” If she could actually do it, the trick might come in handy some day.
“Aye. That Ic would. Unless thou wouldst stay and defeat Ye Dark Lord?”
“Voldemort?” I joked.
“Nay. Æn wizard of power,” she corrected, her pretty face serious. Of course she wouldn’t get the joke since she’d never heard of Harry Potter.
“I guess they’re all either The Dark Lord, or Sauron, or the Wicked Witch of the West, or whichever direction.”
“Ic ken not ye Wicked Witch, nor Sauron. Ye Dark Lord extendeth his sway each day a-passing. Already he layeth heavy tribute upon ye Lenappeh.”
“Ye Lenappeh. Those men who livèd hære ‘fore we of ye Empire arrivèd. Ye natives.”
The Lenape would be the Delaware Indians, I guessed. This particular strand of Reality was way different from the one I had grown up in, but it did have similarities I could recognize. The language was fairly close, given the separation. The Indians had the same name, and I assumed they had the same language, not that Algonquian was one of my achievements. Where we were standing had once been Injun country. In my Stream it would be a pretty upscale community on Assawoman Bay, closely neighbored by corn fields and chicken farms.
Too bad. I had sea shells to sell at the sea shore, and I’d never find this Reality stream again, even if it did look interesting. I stepped back into the Devil’s Trap. “Okay,” I said. “It was nice meeting you, Nevianne. Any time you’re ready, off I’ll go.”
She gave me a wan little smile and popped out of her dress again, making me seriously consider putting off my departure. She was doggone worth looking at, especially when she was clad in nothing but a sad smile and goosebumpy skin.
I watched as she anointed her forehead, each breast, and her sex with some kind of dark oil that lost its color quickly. It had a nasty, astringent smell I’d never encountered before. She recited some kind of mumbo jumbo that wasn’t Latin or any Romance language I’d ever heard, repeating the phrases however many times she needed to. She carefully laid a circle of powder that looked suspiciously like old-fashioned fine mealed gun powder around the outer edge of the circle, making sure it joined. She said more mumbo jumbo and repeated it to a rhythm, waving her hands here and there in mystical patterns as she did so. She lit some sweet-smelling incense, and then tossed some wine in my direction, staining my shirt. She lit the gun powder and it flared, stinking the room up fearfully. Finally she crooked her fingers and hollered: “Return thee from whence thou came!”
I had enjoyed the show, mainly the part where she bobbled and swayed as she did the witch routine. I didn’t return from whence I’d come. I’d have been really surprised if I had. She did wiggle really prettily while she was trying to send me though.
Nevianne stared at me, still standing there, looking sick, like I’d punched her in the belly. If she had looked surprised when I got there, she looked even more surprised when I didn’t disappear. Then she broke down in tears. They were half hysterical, at the very least. I was pretty sure they were a lot closer to seven eighths hysterical.
I stepped out of the Devil’s Trap again and patted her bare shoulder, feeling ineffectual. “There,” I told her gently. “It’ll be okay. I can find my own way back.”
“Ye Dark Lord’s pow’r groweth, œnd mine own pow’r ist spent, mayhap foræver! I felt it not!”
I found her dress and she took it from me absently, looking as though she couldn’t figure what to do with it. She took a deep breath and tossed it on the floor without further interest, squatting gracefully and looking bereaved.
“You expected it to work,” I observed, squatting beside her.
“Thær wæst næ pow’r in me,” she sobbed. “Ic wær… empty.”
I was still wondering how I had gotten there. I was wondering how I was going to get back. I had a major task in front of me, finding my way home. It looked daunting.
It occurred to me that I was squatting next to a babe who had been willing to sacrifice herself to the Prince of Wrath, not to mention the Lord of Lust, for all of eternity. She had undertaken a major task, summoning a demon, toppling an Evil Wizard, and enslaving herself for the remainder of time to the Bearer of the Bloody Mace, Count of the Corpse-strewn Field. The enormity of it struck me: She’d been willing to eradicate herself to save her dinky little village and a handful of Indians. There was quite a bit of heft to that concept.
Outside, the rain started, the first drops tentative, soon followed by the upended buckets that had distinguished the rain I had come from. I wondered idly if it was the same storm, and if so why it had been delayed. I hadn’t even heard any thunder. Maybe that was why her spell hadn’t worked. I’d think you needed thunder for a spell like that. “Come on,” I said, taking her by the hand and tugging her to her feet. “No time to sit around being miserable. Get dressed and let’s find me someplace to hole up. Maybe you can tell me more about this Dark Lord.”
Nevianne did the puppet routine while getting dressed: I helped her get into the dress and I tied her belt for her. The belt looked kind of like somebody’s macrame project, only better done than usual. I could get a good price for it at the shop. She had a thick wool cloak that was hanging from a peg, and a pair of shoes – wooden soles and heels with leather uppers. “Which way?” I asked, hanging around inside the door, not wanting to get drenched. The rain drops were bouncing as they hit the ground.
“Mine hause ist thær,” she pointed down a narrow lane that was a hundred percent mud, as though it was of minor import.
I took her hand and we bolted for her house, with me getting soaked to the skin and her getting her cloak wet, mud to the knees, and everything under it damp.
Her house was smaller than the barn (or whatever it was) that we came from. It was a shack, no more than twenty by twenty, four hundred square feet at the outside. There wasn’t any insulation. It was maybe five feet off the ground; back home on Fenwick Island we still build lots of houses up on pilings. The ocean’s an inconsiderate neighbor sometimes. On the bright side, the little shack’s wooden shingles were keeping most of the water out. Lots of it, anyway. Most of the other buildings in town were thatched. We both left our shoes by the door before going inside.
Nevianne’s house was neat and clean, if a bit damp at the moment. She squatted by a beehive shaped oven and fed it full of wood and charcoal on a bed of kindling. She threw in a few grains of gunpowder to help it all along. She intoned something and passed a pretty little hand with grimy nails over it. When nothing happened, she sighed disconsolately and chipped two rocks together until a few sparks hit the gunpowder and it hissed the fire into life.
Nevianne washed her feet and legs in a basin and I followed suit. She spread a blanket on the floor, added another one, then laid two more, one on either side of the original two. I watched as she undressed yet again, thinking it was a sight I could get used to. She set a covered ceramic chamber pot in a convenient corner and then lay on the blankets, tugging the one on her side over her. Her attitude said I was expected to join her, which I did, as naked as she was. She snuggled up next to me, causing predictable reactions, but she slapped my hand away when I went to explore. I was expected to sleep with her, but not to mess around.
She was asleep within a minute or two. I was a minute or two after her, sharing her body heat and dreaming pleasantly.