Day 1, Sussex, England
Oh, how dreary the English countryside is. I had almost forgotten. It has been nearly a year since I last came to England, be it for pleasure or Bounty hunting. It appears as if all of the hostile Others have moved across the water to the United States, and I would rather remain there. The country holds too many memories, too many dark days. Although we are nowhere near where these moments took place, just standing on English soil makes me anxious, and now that someone is waiting for me, it makes me want for England even less.
As I write this, I glance out the window of our small hotel in Worthing, which has a view of the sea. We have been hired by a private client to destroy a small knucker who has lived on his property since time immemorial. Lately, the creature has grown violent. The client, whose family has kept the knucker hole a well-guarded family secret, has bade us to only find the cause of the beast’s trouble and then calm it. It is a boring job, an idiots’ job, but it must be done. Oh, how I yearn to be in Bedford again. The odious company of My business partner Benjamin does not suit the way my temperamental Adelle’s does. His shouts and curses just don’t strike me as being nearly as cute as hers. Below, I have included a short conversation that happened between the two of us when he came in from surveying the knucker hole from a distance.
“Bloody ‘ell! God takin’ another piss, eh? Think e’s got Prostute Cancer?” Nathan stood at a sturdy 5’ 5” he was a mangy thing who lacked any real muscle tone. His face was long and unimpressive, and his eyes were always jaundiced and bloodshot due to too many nights spent awake, drowning in alcohol. His clothes, for the 5 years I had the misfortune of knowing him, have always been shabby and patched. His boots were scuffed, his pants threadbare, and his white shirt grimy. The only new article of clothing he wore was a dark trencher. He was unimpressive, but it wasn’t until you got into a fight with him that you realized just what he was mixed with: Troll. His only gift in the arts of Casting was a truly astounding talent in close combat.
“That would be Prostate, Benjamin.”
“Yeah, yeah,” He stuck his pinky up his nose and began to dig as if in search of the mother lode itself. A charming man, our Benjamin. “Where’ve ya been, twinkle toes? Been a tough run without that brain of yers around.“
“On leave, taking a break,” I saw Adelle in my mind’s eye and couldn’t hide the love-struck smile I had been wearing nowadays. “So, what did you find out about that hole?”
He sniffed in distaste, which was surprising. Nearly nothing disgusted Benjamin. “Nothin’ good, mate. Smells like old human there.”
“Meaning?” No, he couldn’t possibly…
“Ate a human, a kid by the stink of it.” Obviously, calming the beast was no longer an option. It was either kill, or let it kill again.
Today’s song was Babydoll by The Fratellis, which wasn’t too bad. As I lay there, too lazy to check the time or start getting ready for school, a small gasp escaped my lips. This had to be the first time I had actually listened to this song, the first couple of lines made my heart clench
Babydoll do you believe I'll catch you when you fall
And when morning comes the sun is gonna shine
Don't forget your minor keys your half lit cigarette
Cause when morning comes god knows that you'll be mine
So let me in I'm ready to beg and to sing for my sins
Not leave it to chance and sweet coincidence
Cause that's just crazy and you know it's true
I hid under my pillow; it felt like Ezell was singing those lines to me, which made me imagine him there in the room, which made me squeak in terror at the thought of that actually happening. I struck out from under my nest of pillows and blankets to silence my psychic iPod, and eventually stumbled into my closet to get ready for school, my heart pounding hard and hoping for a distraction. Deciding that jeans, my Pedro the Lion shirt, and my converse would work best for today, I walked over to the corner Ezell had mentioned and looked down at the carpet. What could be under there?
Alexander Caraway’s body?
I had just leaned down to try and tug up the carpet when I heard my bedroom door swing open and then shut. I looked over my shoulder at Nick, and straightened slowly so that I wouldn’t look guilty. What I could be guilty of beyond lying to my brother, which wasn’t too out of the ordinary, I had no idea.
“Oh hey, Nick.” It was a little creepy how normal he looked in comparison to yesterday. Plain jeans, black shoes, a black jacket devoid of any sort of patches, no snake bites, no eyebrow piercings, only two piercings in each ear, and a simple red scarf thrown carelessly around his neck. To top it off, he was wearing a pair of the thickest, nerdiest, horn-rimmed glasses that money could buy. His lack of weird might just get him more stares, since he had already been labeled as ‘the crazy tall punk guy’ but hey, that’s just how my brother did things.
“Hey, you actually got up this morning.” Nick looked down at the carpet; an eyebrow raised, but shrugged it off. Wonder if he was more clued in to what was happening around here than Nanig gave him credit for.
I shrugged into a purple cable-knit sweater, Ezell’s jacket, and followed Nick downstairs. After thinking about it for a second, I ran back upstairs to grab one of the books. This time, the one on Casting, and stowed it in my backpack. I remembered the 200 dollars mom had left in the freezer; so I dug around for it, and eventually found it in the ice box, slightly soggy, but at least she hadn’t frozen it in a giant ice cube this time. I pocketed a 20 and gave nick the same.
“No blizzard warnings today?” I pulled open the car door and slid in. It was still freezing, but there was no wind chill factor, thank god. The entire neighborhood was covered in a blanket of snow. The only thing that marred the perfect whiteness was the beginnings of dirty slush in the roads from the passing cars. There weren’t any around now, which made it feel a little like we were the only two left in town.
“Nah, we’re good for a whole week.” Nick shrugged off his messenger bag, which I had painted a violent red for him last year, and jingled his keys thoughtfully. “I might not be coming straight home, Ad. Think you can catch a ride?”
“Why? Got a girl already?”
“Ha, no, thought I’d drop by the library, see what else I could find out about the house.”
“Sure, but I don’t think you’ll find much, remember those fires mom told us about?”
“Yeah, but still,” he turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of the driveway. “Fires can never really destroy everything..”
Oh how right he was, my books and the odd little ruins in and around Bedford were proof of it.
School had only been in a couple of weeks and the teachers had called it quits. They passed out packets, assigned readings, put on ancient educational videos from the 80s. One of my teachers, Mr. Walters, didn’t even go that far, he gave us full rein for the entire period. Of course, when you give kids an inch, they’ll take a mile. A couple of my oh so intelligent peers decided it would be totally awesome to sneak out the window and go grab a pizza. They made it out the window when Walters back was turned, and since none of us cared enough, we stayed quiet. I took the free period as an opportunity to look through the book I had found about casting.
It didn’t really explain much about Casters who couldn’t Cast, whatever that meant, so I skimmed through a bunch of pages. It appeared to be a lot of recipes, formulas and instructions. There were a couple of diagrams and illustrations of plants that couldn’t possibly exist and directions on where to find them. I sighed in exasperation and flipped back to the front. Might as well start at the beginning.
Your Casting abilities and YOU
Congratulations! Since you are holding this book, it can be assumed that you are one of the rare few who have shown an aptitude for casting. Casting is simply a term for the ability a Caster has to feel, absorb, and utilize the ether in the air around them. The ether can then be used for a variety of purposes. Some Casters can produce elements such as air, fire, water, earth, or darkness to bend to their will, while others can control the mind and body.
But, let us not get too far ahead. In this chapter, we will be discussing the initial signs and precautions one must take as your abilities become evident. The average Caster begins to show signs of casting abilities between the ages of 16-20. For most, it is a gradual process, but for others it can happen anywhere, anytime, and in a sudden rush. It can be a very scary time in life, but with help and proper protection, it can be smooth.
As your powers begin to blossom, you may notice a sudden flux of interest from Others. As you take a stroll through the park, a small flock of pixies may gather in your wake, or perhaps you have seen an Other of a far greater stature. Never fear! This particular phenomenon is the after-effect of your life-energy’s maturing and gaining a ‘scent’ as it were. This ‘scent’ which all Others and Casters with the gift have, acts almost like a beacon, drawing people to it and alerting others to your location. If your parent has not already done so, they must place several fairly strong masking spells upon your house. This will become extremely necessary as your powers reach maturity. Another necessity for when you begin to train with your powers will be a small protective circle bearing three concentric rings of Scrit to further mask your casting endeavors. Not only will this help to cut down on attention from Others until you learn to mask your ‘scent’, but will aid you in spell casting.
Another sign of your powers beginning to take root will be sudden mood swings, and bursts of energy. These are unpredictable and mostly uncontrollable. To help, it is suggested that the young Caster, you, begin to learn meditation, and do so regularly within the confines of your protective circle. Since for most, this is the first time meditating, a quartz and amazonite crystal would be best. As you meditate, try to find your center. A solid foundation in meditation is good for Casting. It is also a good idea to catalogue what elements these bursts of energy produce. It is not uncommon for a Caster to be fairly proficient in two or more elements, although it is a given that one will be stronger than the other. When you have an idea of what your elements or talent may be, try to use it by gathering ether.
Finally, one of the most important signs would be lucid dreaming. Not all Casters dream lucidly, but it can be a sudden shock. Several things to check for to ascertain whether you are dreaming or not, is to first look at your surroundings. If you are in your bedroom, is there anything subtly off, such as a misplaced water glass, or the changed shape of something? It may not seem very important, but it most definitely is. Some young Casters have died while dreaming lucidly. This is because your spirit and mind are wholly within the dream and are separated from the body. It is a dangerous state both for the psyche and the flesh because there is a thin chain that connects them to each other that can be broken all too easily; Death while dreaming does not happen often, but it is something to be quite wary of.
I read that last paragraph three times over. I could DIE while I dreamed? That was just perfect, on top of the fact that weird little things would be following me around me like chum draws a shark. Was that why Ezell had followed me that one day? As I thought back on that too weird first encounter, it really did begin to make a lot of sense. But if I was drawing something as um, big as Ezell was. Even though he wasn’t an Other, he could still probably…Smell, me, so that had to mean Others quite a sight bigger than a pixie would be showing up too.
That was a scary thought, but it was quickly shoved to the back of my mind as the bell rang. I put away my book and went to the doors that led to the student parking lot where Nina had told me to meet her for lunch that day.. She looked a lot like an Eskimo today, if Eskimos liked to wear yellow parkas and black knee high boots. She bounced like an excited puppy as we walked to her car, an old Volkswagen beetle, which was also yellow, but had a black sporty stripe down the middle.
“…You’re favorite color is yellow, isn’t it?” I tried the passenger door, but it didn’t budge. The doorhandle squeaked at me indignantly, so I gave it up.
“Hold on, it only opens from the inside.” She hopped into the car and leaned over to opened my door for me. I hopped in and was assaulted by an array of cute plush toys on the dashboard. Did she get daily injections of girlishness or something? “But, yeah! It makes me think of the sun, which makes me think of summer. Summer in Bedford is nothing like summer in California, I bet.”
“Nah, summer in Cali is about the same as winter in Cali, just a bit warmer.” Nina gasped loudly at that and then started telling me all of the school’s gossip. It wasn’t all that interesting, so I looked out the window at the snowy landscape and nodded and grunted at the appropriate times. I tuned her back in when she mentioned Nick, though.
“Oh yeah, this new guy named Nickolas Hunt is in my math class, and he is HOT. He looked a bit scary yesterday, with all the piercings and stuff, which wasn’t too bad. He had the ‘bad boy’ thing going, but today, he had that cute nerd look. Have you seen him?”
“Yeah, we live together.” I smiled as she realized what I meant, her cheeks slowly turned red and her mouth formed a perfect pink O of shock. I didn’t blame her for not knowing though; Mrs. Dull didn’t bother saying my last name now that I thought about it. Besides, hearing my brother described as hot was always good for a laugh.
“Oh! I had no idea! I mean, you guys got here at the same time, you think I would have figured that out!” She blushed an even brighter shade of red. “You’re not going to tell him, are you?”
She was so cute. She looked like me telling my brother a girl liked him was the end of the universe. “Do you want me to?”
Vigorous head shake and squeals of ‘I would die!’ and ‘oh my god, no!’
We pulled into a space in front of a small restaurant on Main Street. Its moniker, ‘Bedford Bros. Burgers’ was elegantly painted on the large front window in white, and outlined with black. An old couple left just as we were walking in and Nina cheerfully greeted them. She asked about the old lady’s hip surgery. I stood there, shifting from foot to foot, and waved stupidly at them as they walked away.
The inside of the place was kind of quaint. Every wall was covered with pictures of people from Bedford and local sports teams. Some of them even ranged back to the early 1900s, which made me wonder if there could be a Caster in one of those pictures. Old wooden tables were set up everywhere, and the place was pretty packed, both with kids from the school, and regular people. In fact, the only place left to sit was the bar, so Nina and I squeezed in between and old man who was busily munching on onion rings, and a large women in a hideous floral dress. She eyed me suspiciously over her hot pink glasses and then went back to eating.
“Isn’t this place great? The burgers are unbelievable!” Nina shouted, waving an arm at the waitress.
“Yeah? I haven’t had a good burger in-“ I felt a shock go down my spine and the hairs on my neck rose. Someone was watching me, and it didn’t feel like the sort of attention I would want, either.