Last time on Jane Crow, against her better judgement, Jane decided to call in an old marker. Going off the grid from both the FBI and the Invisible Coven, she struck out to meet with the ronin known only as Tex Catlipoca, the Smoking Mirror.
In my teenage years, I spent a lot of time out of the house trying to rebel. A powerless witch didn’t warrant much of Aunt Cat’s attention, so I had a pretty long leash and I took advantage of it as often as I could.
My sophomore year of high school, I took up with a boy named Marshall Grayson. He was a witch with particular talents in the necromantic arts, and his idea of a fun time was to summon up or find ghosts, force them to reveal their secrets, then bind and banish them. It was kind of like the evil witch version of frying bugs with a magnifying glass… vaguely sadistic and low class but ultimately harmless. Ghosts weren’t really living beings anymore, just shells of their former being. Cicada shells left behind by souls.
Anyway, one day we ditched school after lunch and headed to a house in downtown Baltimore where there had been a drug gang shootout about a week ago. Marsh was excited at the idea of messing with some fresh ghosts, and I just wanted an excuse to get out of school and screw around.
It was bright midday and the tenement had lost its police tape. No one was around and we walked right in the back door of the place. Marshall set up his summoning circle in the middle of the living room and I turned on the television to one of those awful daytime talk shows.
“All right, deadies,” Marshall incanted, “it’s go time.”
Now, usually a lot of witchcraft focuses on proper incantations, speaking to powers beyond with familiar words forged with power by centuries of repetition. Marshall drew power from the opposite, a style of witchery that used the breaking of taboos and rites to draw on powers of sheer contrariness, sort of the punk rock of witchcraft. Most witches referred to it “disrespect sorcery,” but its practitioners usually called it “flip-off craft.” It could be incredibly potent, but it was also dangerous. That was part of why I liked it.
“Spirits of the too-stupid-to-live, get your unwiped asses down here, I bind you, losers!”
I giggled at the audaciousness that only impresses sullen teens while pretending to watch Ricki Lake through my too-long bangs.
Then something happened.
Little green lights were swirling around in the circle, that was normal… ghosts usually started as little amorphous things before gradually taking on the form of their pre-death being. This time, however, it was like a cloud came over the sun and the room was suddenly in shadow. The television screen darkened as well, but it was the blackness of noxious smoke, which started to bellow forth from the glass. The ghostlets started to spark and burst into flame.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, you little turd?” came a booming voice from the smoking TV. Marshall, not always the brightest tack in the mixed metaphor, tried his flip-off on this new presence.
“Bite me, spirit,” he started, but was cut off almost immediately as a giant arm formed from the smoke and pimp slapped him across the room. Even aflame, the ghosts were still bound in his circle. Obviously this smoke was something else. Something far more powerful and angry.
Following the arm, a huge figure of a man stepped forth from the smoke, darker and more solid. Ignoring me, it walked to where Marshall lay, blood running from his nose.
The figure picked him up by the neck and lifted him easily.
“So, you little punk ghostbuster wannabe, you think you can just screw around with any spirit you find?” it asked.
It kind of reminded me of Darth Vader, holding Marshall like that, except, you know, more profane.
“I… I…” Marshall stammered.
“You, you, you don’t know crap,” it said, and from the noises Marshall was making, it was clear it intended to choke him to death.
“Stop it!” I yelled.
The smoke man turned his head to look at me, or, at least I think it did. It’s kind of hard to tell with smoke which way it’s looking.
“Don’t get yourself into this, little bit,” it said.
“If you kill him, he can’t let the spirits go,” I said, hoping I had read the situation correctly.
The figure said nothing, which I took as a good sign.
“Obviously… uh… we’ve disturbed a spirit you, um, care about. We’re sorry. But if you kill Marsh his binding will stay and I can’t do anything about it.”
“How does a futile mortal bit know that?” it demanded.
“Am I wrong?” I demurred.
The smoke man said nothing but withdrew his arm from Marshall’s throat. Marshall fell to the floor, panting.
“Let her go, then,” it said. “Right the hell now.”
“Marsh…” I prompted. He looked small and uninteresting now, shaking and bleeding. His jeans had a spreading stain where he had pissed himself. Still, he had cast the spell, and he needed to break it.
“Marsh, break the damn circle!” I screamed at him, and it apparently broke through his fear enough for him to stagger to his feet and mutter a classical Latin unbinding. The flames within the circle swirled about and flickered outwards, fading into the air. There was a moment of awkward silence.
“Now get your ass out of my gramma’s house,” the smoke man finally said, the voice a whisper but no less menacing. Marshall ran.
“You have some huge cojones, little bit,” the smoke man said when it became apparent that neither of us was leaving first.
“Look,” I said, trying to sound as sincere as I could, “I’m sorry. We didn’t know.” This was a being of immense power, and I didn’t need it pissed off at me.
“You’re Jane Crow,” it said. “We meet again.”
I frowned, confused. “We… we’ve met before?” I didn’t remember anything of the sort.
“No,” the smoke man said, almost a chuckle in its voice. “I mean we meet again. Later. Several times, in fact.”
“You see the future?” I asked.
“I’m the Smoking Mirror, kid. I see all the futures. I’m surprised I didn’t recognize you sooner… but you’re a damn blank spot.”
“A what?” I asked.
“Not now. You don’t need to know. But I do owe you one for helping with gramma.”
“Why? It was just her ghost, not her spirit.”
“Everything isn’t always what it looks like, Crow. You know that eventually. For now, just be glad you landed on my good side.”
The smoke man floated closer, until he was only an inch or two away from my face. The smell was horrible, like garbage and dirty laundry and burning flesh all mixed together.
“You can call upon me when you need it most,” it said, and its smoky mouth opened wide. A tulpa of smoke belched forth and shot up my nose. The smell was so vile I almost blacked out, but the thing left behind knowledge in my brain. I suddenly knew how to find the Smoking Mirror in his home beyond the earthly realm.
And then Ricki Lake was asking a girl if her high school boyfriend intended to marry her now that she was pregnant, and the smoke was gone and the cloud had parted and I was just in an abandoned living room on a sunny Baltimore afternoon.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.