Our story continues. Catch up on previous installments here.
Caroline is hesitant heading back into the stairwell. She chokes the life from the door handle, her knuckles gone white. I wait for her to push the door open, but she doesn’t.
I bend and say into her ear: “It’s OK. It’s day time. They are gone. The freaks only come out at night.”
“Then why are you whispering?” she asks and backs away from the door. “Here. You go first if you’re so brave.”
We switch spots, and I pause a moment before swinging the door open. Evidence from last night’s fight is everywhere. The bodies of the wailers we killed are still on the steps below us, the skin gone grey and the muscles already starting to decay. The number of them, though, is depressingly small.
We step around what’s left of the lanterns that Caroline threw, and I think for a moment about the plans I had for lighting camp up at night. These lanterns were tall. The glass clear. They were going to create a nice pocket of light. A bit of false security after the sun disappeared behind a ragged skyline.
The wingback chair is still on the landing, and, it is, surprisingly, undamaged. Caroline drops into its padded seat.
“Your throne, your majesty.”
I gesture for her to get up, and she stands. I grab the chair and swing it awkwardly above my head. “Let’s get out of here. There’s nothing left that we need.”
Caroline heads down the steps, and we finish the climb down in silence. Back on the street I set the chair in front of me. I drop my pack in the seat, and the casters squeak as I set it moving again. Both Caroline and I pause. We are waiting to hear the wails even though we know they aren’t coming.
We begin the walk back to Fair Park and our little camp. People are waiting.
I can’t hold back the question that I’ve been wanting to ask since last night.
“That thing that we tossed over the railing, your little homemade hand grenade. What was that?”
“Something Mama cooked up.” Caroline readjusts her pack to center it better on her back. She repacked it in rush last night. Items went back in haphazard, and the pack bulges at its sides.
“Cooked up? That doesn’t clarify anything.” The streets of downtown are empty, and it’s more than a little creepy. This is a Tuesday, I’m fairly certain. We are walking toward what was City Hall, entering the heart of what should be a busy business district. There should be cars forcing us to the sidewalk. I shouldn’t be pushing an executive desk chair along the center line of Akard Street.
“It’s a little potion in case we got in trouble.”
“Are you talking about magic?”
“Yes, Sherlock. I’m talking about magic.” Caroline is swinging her machete in broad strokes in front of her.
“Since when did …” I can’t finish the sentence. My voice trails to nothing.
“Since forever.” Caroline says. “We don’t ever do anything with it. Just something we keep in our back pocket for days like this.”
“Seems like a pretty big thing to keep in your pocket, being witches and all.”
“We aren’t witches. Well, she is. I’m not. And she’s not even a witch really. She can scramble together a few spells. Something that came down from her mom and from her mom and from her mom before her.”
I pick up the chair and swing it above my head again. The facade of one of the few older buildings left in downtown has peeled off, and bricks and stone spread across the street in a deep and wide pile.
“What I saw,” I say as we carefully climb this rubble, “the ball and the bang, that was magic.”
“Call it what you want.” Caroline steps off a large stone and back to the street. I don’t say anything for a moment. The combination of the pack on my back and the chair over my head has messed with my center of gravity. Combine that with unsteady footing, and it’s taking everything I have to not go end over end off this heap.
I get to steady ground after a couple of long moments and set the chair back down and drop my pack in the seat. I grab Caroline’s off her back and drop it on top of mine then pick up our conversation: “You can’t do it, you said?”
“No,”she says. “It’s not something that ever interested me. And until now I didn’t know how much it would matter. But anyone can do it. Just have to know what to mix with what and what to say while you’re doing it. It’s just tapping into ancient energies. Stuff like that. I never paid any attention to it when my mom discussed it.” She pauses for a moment. “My sister, though. If you’re looking for someone who can cook you up something powerful, she’s your girl.”