Zhirk and I pulled up at Uncle Todd’s place
in Cole Harbor. It was a small bungalow nestled among near-identical bungalows that had been base housing at one time. Uncle Todd’s was a quiet tan in color, and the porch dipped slightly at the front due to settling. The place was tidy, and the small garden in the front of the house gave it a cheery look, one that I remembered well from living here up until about ten years ago, when I turned eighteen and left.
Fawn stayed another two years, and moved out after Aunt Ruthie had died. Uncle Todd had lived here alone since then. I walked up the familiar steps and he was at the door before I even had a chance to knock.
“Fernie! Com’ere and give your Uncle Toddie a hug,” he said as he swept me into his arms. Uncle Todd was a rail. He was near one-point-eight meters tall, but ridiculously only around sixty-five kilo-grams. His lean face reminded me of the anteaters at the zoo. He had a thick shock of black hair, and a thick, greying mustache. He had on old, comfortable khaki pants and a denim shirt of faded brown. Bright red suspenders clipped on the baggy khakis, a bright splash of color over the soft earth tones.
As always, Todd was happy to see me. He was one of those peo-ple with open arms for anyone who came by. A genuine ‘treat every-one as you want to be treated’ person, who actually lived the words. True to form, he stepped off the front porch and greeted Zhirk like a long-lost friend who just happened to show up. We entered the house and sat down, me on the old recliner and Zhirk on the floor as there was no furniture big or sturdy enough for him.
Todd looked at our faces and picked up on the mood. He went into the small kitchen, and a moment later, brought us some lemon-ade. As he settled on the sofa next me, he said “This isn’t just a social call, is it? Your friend there,” he nodded at Zhirk, “has got a shotgun. What’s got you spooked?”
“I need to know more about Mom and Dad, Uncle Todd. I have someone after me and there’s weird stuff that’s happening. I got a bottle that seem to drain a person. I got weird magickal stuff going on. I got a guy that’s a drooling vegetable, that’s like a puppet on someone’s string. And there’s a guy that’s seriously powerful, and can leap a three story building. That’s what’s going on.” I leaned against Uncle Todd, inhaling the soft pine scent of his aftershave.
“You’re the only one that knows what Mom and Dad were do-ing when they died, and I need to know, Uncle Todd. It’s weird, but I believe that it’s all tied together by Mom and Dad. Please, can you tell me more about them?”
I watched him sit back up and swallow. After a long sigh, he re-plied, “All right, you’re old enough. But do you mind me calling Fawn here to join us? I want to tell you, and I really don’t want to tell the story twice. Once is going to be hard enough,” he finished, with a wistful, desolate look. He got up from the sofa, then walked back to the kitchen, and the only phone in the house.
About fifteen minutes later, Fawn strode grimly into the house. Uncle Todd smiled sadly and gave her a big hug. She closed her eyes and returned the hug, her chin resting on top of his shoulder. Uncle Todd stepped back, and collapsed onto the sofa, uncomfortably rigid as he waited for Fawn to sit down. She flashed me a flat smile as she sat on the arm of the sofa next to me, then looked over at Uncle Todd. I looked at him with her. Uncle Todd really looked like he wanted to forget the whole thing. His body was piano-wire taut, and you could feel the reluctance vibrating in the air. He took a deep breath, then began.
“First off, you got to understand that this was still when the changing was new to everyone. You had all sorts of people trying to practice magick the way they thought it should be done. A lot of those people were lonely, desperate, or just plain nuts. Most of the world didn’t think about magick. Magick that worked was pretty hit and miss. The effects were uncontrolled and intense. Mike and Cathy were two of the few who enjoyed a stable belief in magick. They saw it as a natural part of the world, and enjoyed the quiet communing with nature that the Wiccan religion provided.”
Todd sighed and looked away as if he were seeing the story. “They’d been married eight years before the changing and wanted children. Whatever the reason, despite all their efforts and all those of modern science, Cathy never was able to get pregnant. When mag-ick came back into the world, they, like a lot of the others, were caught unawares. Fortunately, their first accidental spell didn’t kill them. They worked together carefully after that, and quickly learned methods and rules that helped them survive learning magick. They eventually garnered enough magickal control to attempt to have children. Fawn, you and Fern are the result of that. Twin girls. They were ecstatic to have the two of you and were very happy for five years. But that sixth year, we had a plague sweep through Halifax, and you two got very sick.”
Fawn and I shifted in our seat. Zhirk remained a quiet lump on the floor. He’d closed his eyes, his whole being absorbed with listen-ing. Uncle Todd closed his own eyes for a minute, then opened them, and continued. His voice started to get hoarse. Whatever he was go-ing to say, he really didn’t like.
“Your parents were desperate. The plague was one of those that had developed immunity to modern antibiotics. The two of you were going to die. Your dad called me and asked to stand in on a ritual to try and save the two of you. Our casting was a dismal failure. The spells were not strong enough to fight the disease. Your mom got the idea to cast a different kind of spell. This one was an invocation to the other side of the life force, death. Cathy came up with the thought to barter a life for the two of yours. She convinced your dad it was the only way to save you two. So they worked a calling and attracted an entity of pure malevolence.”
I looked at Fawn who was wide-eyed. I think I was as well. Mom had called to Death to save us. Uncle Todd had tears rolling down his face. His features stilled as he exerted his will.
“They called it Semjaza. I think it was some kind of demon or avatar. They bargained for its assistance, and it agreed. Semjaza gave them the method to create and cast the spell to save your lives. Your dad had reservations, but like any parent, was willing to go to the extreme to save his children. They researched the spell for three days, and then fasted for two more, making sure that they were in harmo-ny with the world around them before casting the spell.”
Uncle Todd stopped and looked at us. His eyes were haunted as he thought about how to say it. “The first part of the spell went with-out difficulty. It was the second part where things got tricky. Your parents were so deeply into the natural part of the world, and to call something so unnatural upset a lot of things in and about them. They were committing a rape of life energy, drawing it off from the plants and animals around them, feeding it to Semjaza in exchange for your two lives.”
His voice cracked as he returned to the story. “I messed the spell up. You girls started screaming and collapsed as the magick began to flow into you. I saw pieces of you flaking and floating away to that thing your parents called up. Your dad saw what was happening and tried to abort the spell. The power had control by then. He and your mother were locked into the casting. When Mike stopped chanting his part of the spell, it began to collapse.” Uncle Todd looked bleak. It was like the color had gone out of him, and his clothing. It all felt like, I don’t know. Words can’t describe the sense of loss, of desola-tion, that I got from looking at him.
“I wasn’t as direct a part of the spell as you four were, and when Mike and Cathy started screaming, I froze. Your dad started chanting again, and yelled at me to save you two by completing the spell. In-stead, I pulled you both from the circle and ran to the cars. You two were screaming like damned souls, that thing was howling in rage about something, I don’t remember what.”
We all paused to take breaths. Todd went on with the story. “I looked back and saw a swarm of black blobs emerge from the its mouth and float over to your parents. Wherever they touched, a gouge of flesh disappeared and blood spurted, and the blob returned to that demon. I didn’t watch any more, you two were screaming. The flaking had stopped, but something flowed back into the two of you when I pulled you off the pentagram. It was like a greasy smoke that emanated from your folks and the demon. It cut off when you were in the car.” His haunted look made him seem even thinner, gaunt like a starving man.
“I ran to the driver’s door and yanked it open. Your folks started screaming for me and I looked back. They had large pieces missing and Semjaza was screaming at them still.” Tears were streaming down Todd’s face as he forced himself to finish the narrative.
“Your mom looked right at me and I could see her pleading for me to come rescue her. Your dad was screaming in utter terror as those blobs took pieces of him. The ground was wet with blood.” Todd’s rate of speech quickened. “I panicked and drove like all hell was chasing me. When I got you two home, you were both uncon-scious. All I could think of was to put you in bed and talk with Ruth.”
“The next morning, when we checked on you, you were both like puppets. Eyes open and just lying in bed. No reaction to any-thing. Later that day, I noticed little wisps of something floating around the house. It seemed thickest near your door. I looked in and saw faint black smoke flowing into you. The black stuff was from the spell I guessed, so whatever happened was still going on.”
“Ruthie and I set up a quick circle. We weren’t as near as prac-ticed, nor as powerful as your folks. The spell took all day and most of the night, but we managed to cast a spell that cut the link to what-ever it was. You girls woke up the next morning like nothing ever happened, and we just carried on. You didn’t seem to remember what happened that night. You never really asked about your folks, and we just went along with that. Ruthie figured you’d ask eventual-ly.” Uncle Todd drew a shaking breath.
“The hard part was listening to you scream on the anniversary of the casting. It’d happen right at the time the spell started, and stop at the time we blocked the spell from you. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. It just happened.”
“Other than that, you were normal, healthy kids. In fact, you never did get sick again from anything again after that night. For that matter, now that I’ve thought about it, neither have I.” He took a deep breath, and looked at me and Fawn. “That’s the story. You now know as much as I remember. I hope it helps.” He stood up, looking at Fawn and I. “Now you know, and lord knows, I want to forget it all.” Uncle Todd shuffled tiredly into his bedroom and locked the door.