The Called: Chapter 1

I

Raleigh to Cherokee, North Carolina

March–April 2012

Malachi Lucius Tyson

Friday morning, March 16

     Malachi opened his eyes at the quick tapping on the car window.  Hazel, he thought first, come looking for him to finish the fight they had started before he had stormed out of the house. No, Hazel was too mad.  Had to be Ginny Newman, the Raleigh News & Observer reporter he was supposed to meet here in the parking lot of the Six Forks Road Bennigan’s.  He had persuaded her to go with him, to be a witness, to the Capital District Office of the SBI, right up the street, a right turn on Rowan.  He looked to his left. Ginny wasn’t standing there, trying to get his attention, wake him out of his mid-morning drowse.  The red 2009 Toyota Dancer Ginny said she would be driving wasn’t parked next to Malachi’s little black hard-plastic-sealed 2010 Chevy Whisper.

     A dark-haired man, wearing a black ski mask and carrying a laser rifle, stood there; behind him, a black van. 

“You know, maybe coming back to Earth was not such a good idea after all,” Malachi muttered, as he frantically started fumbling at the door lock.  Eleven years too late to regret that.  When the man jerked the door open, grabbed his arm and yanked, Malachi knew it was way too late.  Malachi jerked back, pulling his arm free, trying to anchor himself on the steering wheel, dig his heels into the carpet, the floor, the brake pedals, anything.  He started yelling for help, please, anybody, this man is going to kill me, kidnap me—

“Get the fuck out of the car, you fairy faggot cocksucker,” the man snarled, and grabbed Malachi’s arm again, jerking so hard it felt like his arm was coming out of his shoulder.  The man jerked with one hand, and with the other, jabbed Malachi in the stomach with the rifle butt so hard he couldn’t breathe and he let go. The man pulled him out of the car into the dirty March snow and the cold pavement.  He heard, the noise masked by pain, the man yelling to someone, to Jay, to get the fuck over with the tranquilizer, couldn’t he see the damn changeling cocksucker was starting to glow?  Malachi inhaled, even though it hurt, knowing the air, no matter how cold, would help, that if he could glow, maybe he could make fire, maybe, just maybe.

“Turn off the lights, cocksucker,” the man snarled, and kicked him again.  Malachi felt something prick his neck, and he wanted to tell the man, tell Jay that he wasn’t the cocksucker, Russell and Jeff were the cocksuckers, okay, we all fooled around with each other when we were teenagers, but—  This did not seem like a good time to explain about tetradic adolescent behavior, tetradic blurred sexuality.  He felt the drug pulling him down.

“Hey, what are you doing?  Stop, I’ll call the police.”  A far away voice, Ginny, it had to be her, a few minutes late for their appointment.

A quick humming sound, a pause, more humming, the smell of heat.  Ginny groaned.  Malachi tried to get up, but the drug was too heavy, he hurt too much, he just hurt too much.  He wanted Hazel, to call her, to go to Ginny; he wanted Russell and Jeff; he wanted to go home, to tell Susanna the bedtime story he promised her, but he just hurt too much.  The man kicked him again, and the pain, then the drug, took him.

#

Later, somewhere in eastern North Carolina

Malachi woke up in darkness, sore, aching, and groggy.  He moved slowly, his feet first: chains.  He sat up, and felt his body.  His clothes were gone, except for his underwear.  He was on some sort of cot, a thin mattress, a thin pillow, an even thinner sheet.  What felt like an Ace bandage was wrapped around his chest. His head hurt; his chest hurt; his face was sore to the touch.  He moved his feet again, rattling the chains.

“Buddy, stop; don’t pull at them chains.”

“Who are you?  Where are we?” Malachi said, turning toward the man’s voice.  He couldn’t see the man’s face in the dark, but now that his eyes had adjusted, he could just see the faint shape of his body, thick, heavy, solid.  He could barely hear the man’s slow, country voice, resonant, African American, Down East North Carolina, as the man was whispering.  Later, Malachi figured out why: exhaustion from being around too much iron for too long without any of the antidotes or analgesics or counter spells, if you were lucky enough to know an out and practicing witch.

     “Do you know where we are?  What’s going on?” Malachi said woozily.  His lips were swollen, too.  It hurt to talk, and the trank they had given him was making him feel a little drunk.

     “Those chains are steel, like the door, the bed frame; that hurts people like us,” the slow-voiced man said.  “Ya should know that, buddy.”

     “Like us?”

     “Magicals.  Changelings.  Pointy ears, points, glow-ers.  Unless you’re a witch—but then they would have probably just staked a witch.  You all right?  When they brought you in, you were poorly.  Bleeding, bruised, beat up. Pissed off the Lab Coats—the ski masks aren’t supposed to hurt us.”

     “No, I’m not a witch.  I’m—a fairy changeling, and I do know that cold iron—steel—hurts us,” he said.  “I’m all right, just really sore, bruised.  I’m Malachi Tyson.  Do you know what they are going to do us?”

     “Johnny,” the man said, and they tried to shake hands, but their cots were just far enough apart they couldn’t.  “I don’t know what they going to do.  Take our blood is all I know.  I was at work—maintenance, Chatham Mills, down in Pittsboro.  They got me in the break room.  Big guys, those black ski masks.  None of those damn pure humans lifted a finger.  Malachi—hey, are you the Malachi?  Ben Tyson’s son?  You’re half-fairy, aren’tcha?  You came back here and stayed?  Nobody can leave now.  Why in the hell did you come back?”

     Malachi sighed.  “Yeah, I am the Malachi.  Good question.  I came back because the woman I fell in love with wanted to come home.  I wanted to be with her.  My dad and his wife wanted to be near their grandchildren.  And it’s more that Faerie stopped letting changelings in—too many already.  Just our blood?  Why didn’t you leave back in 1991?”

      “They want our blood—to see how fey we are, I guess.  I don’t know.  How far gone we are into the Change, I guess.  And I didn’t leave because I’m a late changeling—happened way after all the color circles spread out from the gates.  I tried; the gates won’t open anymore, not even on the right dates.  Lots of us around.  You know that; I saw you on TV talking about it.  Heard you on the radio, too.  And now some of the gates are guarded by soldiers, or worse, them damn Ordinary Union boys—crazy sons of bitches, all of ’em.”

     “How do you know they want our blood?” Malachi said, nodding even though Johnny couldn’t see him nod in the dark.  Late changelings.  Father Jamey—the title had stuck, no matter what the Church said or did—thought there were a few thousand more late changelings every year.  Whether it was the lingering magic from the original call from Faerie back on Beltaine ’91, or a residual effect of the release of magic on Earth when the first ones to be called had crossed over, no one knew.  (That call on Beltaine had started the change in Russell, Hazel, and Jeff.  They were true changelings, not like Malachi, who was half-fairy; descendants of fairy fosterlings, they had really changed.  Explaining that now to this man didn’t seem worthwhile, either.)  Regardless, the latent fey genes, the legacy of the initial changelings centuries ago, kept waking up; they kept changing people.  No one knew just how many, as the late changelings learned to hide very quickly once the stunned years had passed, as did the growing second generation, the children of those who had not crossed over, or who changed late, and the other magical creatures.  Hiding the children was slightly easier, as the change inevitably came with adolescence; they were raised knowing they had to hide.  There was no one time or trigger for adults like Malachi’s cellmate.

     “The ones who feed us never say anything.  But sometimes the ones who draw blood do.  They talk like we can’t hear,” Johnny said in his slow voice.  “After they patched you up, they took your blood.  The last fella they took—before they brought you.  I heard  . . .  them talking . . . they took him . . .” By then, the man’s voice was fading and the spaces between his words were getting longer and longer.  “I heard . . . what . . . said . . .”

     The man started snoring.  Malachi wondered if outside night had fallen and was Susanna asleep, or was it even the same day?  He imagined Hazel sitting down on Susanna’s rumpled teddy bear-strewn bed, clearing her throat, and starting the family story: Once upon a time there was a man who fell in love with a fairy and took her for his wife . . .  He felt the weight of the story inside him, poised on his tongue, a heaviness of words, sounds, images, demanding to be told.  The man, Ben, did not know Valeria was a fairy, a Daoine Sidhe from the Irish stories, the first time he saw her.  He only knew her name by accident.  The mail carrier had delivered 1411 Beichler Road’s mail to his house, 1413.  He had called to her . . .

     Johnny turned, grunted, started snoring again.

Clearly Malachi wasn’t in the Six Forks Road Bennigan’s parking lot anymore.  Was he still in Raleigh?   I doubt I’m in Kansas.  He felt his body again, this time more carefully: naked, except for his underwear, his lips split and jaw swollen and bruised, his cheek bruised, cuts on his face, his ribs, so very sore, a tender place on his neck from the hypodermic.  At least now he felt he was more or less awake, the stuffed cotton headiness of the tranquilizer finally gone.  There was another bandage inside his elbow—so they had drawn blood while he had been unconscious, like his cellmate had said.  The room—the cell—was almost completely dark; except for a thin strip of light marking what he guessed was the door.  What looked like a sink, a toilet.  Bare walls and floor and no overhead lights.  The man’s snoring and his own breathing and a faint electronic hum from the direction of the thin light strip, was all he could hear.  Except for when he knocked: a dull sound on the cinder blocks.  It hurt to knock, but Malachi did it anyway, remembering all the old movies his father had made him and Hazel watch when they had returned, insisting they needed a crash course in American culture.  Knocks on cell walls were often answered in the movies: fellow prisoners, potential allies in escape attempts.  No one answered his knocks now; he doubted they had all escaped.

Malachi wanted Hazel.  He wanted his children, Benjy and Jack, and Susanna.  His dad, his dad’s wife, Larissa, Father Jamey.  Russell and Jeff.  Guess we are still a bonded tetrad if I can want them this bad.  He wanted to pray, but he didn’t know to whom.  He wanted to go home.

Today was not supposed to have ended this way.  He hadn’t expected any miracles by speaking to the State Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge of the Capital District Office, but with an N & O reporter in tow, he had thought he would at least get past the man’s secretary.  Maybe he should have made an appointment and not just rushed off from the Raleigh police to the SBI, calling Ginny to meet him in the Bennigan’s parking lot on his cell phone.  The Raleigh police had not been too concerned about the latest round of magicals’ disappearances.  The SBI would answer all his questions, yessir, Mr. Tyson, just go on down there and tell ’em we sent ya.  Those disappearances are the SBI’s job.  The governor just assigned the problem to them—hadn’t Mr. Tyson heard that on the news, him being on the news all the time and all?

It wasn’t the first time since he had joined the magical civil rights movement six years ago, after Susanna was born, that Malachi had let his feelings take over.  His News & Observer columns and National Public Radio essays had mostly been written and read with a great deal of thought and attention to detail, reminding people they were still Americans and what that meant, what the Declaration of Independence said.  Okay, occasionally, he might fly a bit off the handle—the Ordinary Union’s calls for a crusade tended to get him going on a rant about American justice being not only color-blind, but genetically blind as well, and at least the Democratic-Republican Coalition remembered that.  Telling people on the air they were total idiots not to support President Gore, Hazel had pointed out, didn’t really help the cause.  He wondered if quoting The Merchant of Venice had: “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”  Or if telling stories about his children had—before Hazel, terrified, had insisted he stop, and never mention their names again.  Had it helped to take listeners on an audio tour of his backyard, telling them what he had learned about flowers and about the herbs he grew, magical and mundane?  Malachi wondered now in this strange darkness if anything the movement had done had helped: his father and Larissa’s academic and popular articles and television and radio interviews exploring the many connections between humans and fairies over the centuries, the demonstrations, lawsuits, the protests.  The magical creatures had been, perhaps, the wisest: those that could talk, had simply refused—on instinct, a pegasus had said before flying off to hide in the mountains.

Hazel.  It hurt in a different and more profound way that they had a fight just before he had run off to the Raleigh Police Department.  She hadn’t wanted him to go.  It was pointless, and dangerous: the riots, the national state of emergency, the primaries postponed, the military arguing with the president, the shrill screams for holy war.  Did he really expect to do any good? Hadn’t he tried enough?  Maybe if she had not stopped trying, they might have gotten somewhere.  It had been a hell of a lot harder without her.  I guess she was right. Looks like I am NOT the Chosen One to lead the world—or even North Carolina—into a bright new tomorrow with magical and mundane working together hand in hand.

Boy, had he ever been wrong.  He didn’t know which was worse: his over-inflated ego or the insipid clichés.  He finally fell asleep after replaying what had happened, what he wished he had done, said, not said to Hazel, the sound of Ginny’s body hitting the pavement, over and over and over.

#

Malachi woke up again, after what felt like a long, long nap, when a lab coat brought him a tray of food, a ham sandwich on white bread, a spoonful of tuna salad, boiled potatoes, an apple.  Malachi called out to the slow-voiced man, to complain that they had brought meat: “They know we don’t eat it.  Why give us ham and tuna except for meanness?”

The slow-voiced man didn’t answer; he was gone.

After that, Malachi started exploring his cell, over and over again.  He walked the floor slowly, his ankles shackled and aching, his chest still hurting—bruised ribs, not broken, he figured—five steps, about two feet a step, ten feet, one side.  First, a smooth cinderblock wall, then sink, faucet, the toilet, the rolls of toilet paper on the floor.  Turn, his bed, steel frame—at least he could cover it with the sheets and not touch it, smooth blocks, turn, the door wall.  Cinderblocks, the door, steel, don’t touch, being near the bed was enough, and he felt so tired all the time.  At the bottom of the door, sometimes a thin, thin pale line of light.  Turn, the last wall, the bed where the slow-voiced black man had slept, now empty.  He took the sheets to add another layer between him and his bed’s iron frame.  His bed at home was made entirely of wood.  Then, Malachi repeated his steps.  After about the third or fourth trip around the cell, he found himself wishing he could take off his underwear, wash them, but getting them off with shackles on his ankles proved impossible.  He thought that would help his underwear from getting too soiled from sweat, from tiredness, from everything.  No such luck.  Malachi kept clean enough, with the sink, and the toilet paper, and the rough towel and washcloth the slow-voiced man had told him was on the sink.  But, God, he wanted a hot shower.

Malachi wished there was a mirror somewhere in the cell.  A foolish wish, he knew, because the room was too dark.  But, if he could find enough energy to make his aura visible, turn on his auric shield, he would have enough light to see his face.  Another foolish wish.  If he had that much energy, he could teleport out of this cell.  No.  Too much iron.  He was too tired, and Malachi knew he was growing more and more exhausted.

A day later, two, maybe three, the ski masks came for Malachi. He had just started a trip around his cell, and was standing by the sink.  He heard voices outside, then the door lock turned.  Malachi stepped back against the wall, hiding his eyes from the sudden wash of light.  Three male ski masks

“Finally tested your blood, buddy, and I heard ’em say they sure liked it.  Super-charged.  You’re going with us.  The Big Boss thinks you’re the one they’ve been trying to get,” the biggest ski mask said.

“Going where?”

“Where we take you.  You,” Big Ski Mask said to the skinny one beside him.  “Take off his leg chains.  Him walking is easier than us dragging him.  Get movin’.  Okay, now tie his hands, and gag him.  Let’s go.”

“Where are you taking me?  Who are you?” Malachi said as Skinny Ski Mask tied his hands.  The man smelled.  Not body odor from not bathing, but of something else.  Malachi knew the smell, but he couldn’t remember from where or from what. 

“You say one more goddamn word and I’ll give you somethin’ to talk about, you hear me, you pointy-eared cocksucker?  I thought I told you to gag him,” Big Ski Mask snapped at Skinny.  “Now do it, dammit.”

The light in the corridor was even brighter, and Malachi turned his head, wishing he could cover his eyes.  There wasn’t much to see in the corridor: white walls, the bright fluorescent lights, more steel doors every few feet, a green-and-brown tile floor, double doors at the both ends.  What looked like lab carts sat beside doors, with trays of test tubes, and machinery he couldn’t see long enough to tell what it was, with who he guessed were technicians in lab coats, moving the carts, adjusting, sorting.  More cells, he guessed, as each of the doors had a number, even on one side, odd on the other:  24, 22, 20 . . . 25, 23, 21.   Malachi walked as slowly as they would let him, gathering up what little strength he had.  Just being out of the cell and away from the steel and the iron was a little boost.  He wondered why the Lab Coats didn’t seem to be seeing him.  He knew they could—how could they not see him, a head or more shorter than the ski masks, white-blond hair, golden eyes, pointed ears, practically naked.  He knew the glamour that had shielded him and the others as children, hid their pointed ears, no longer worked consistently for him, not after the Change.  Only sometimes had he been able to turn it back on, like a cloak of invisibility, but too often it flickered out.

Through the double doors, turn right, turn left, down a flight of stairs, into an empty hallway with empty rooms, and then, to Malachi’s amazement, outside, onto a loading dock, into a snowstorm.  The world outside was white.  Whirling big flakes, swirling, falling, floating, feathery flakes—just like in the old movies when the kids had pillow fights.  And cold, so cold that Malachi felt as if the cold had slapped him in the face and in his chest.  The ski masks hurried him off the loading dock, and then down into a parking lot, with three or four white vans, a few jeeps, a dented 2010 silver-grey Saturn Intensity station wagon, the pavement split by scraggly grass, and a row of spindly trees marked the parking lot’s edges.  Beyond the trees, stood another tall grey building, with rows of black windows.   The snow was sticking to everything. Malachi’s teeth chattered.  The freezing pavement hurt his bare feet.

Malachi remembered the smell.

Fomorii.

He mindscreamed: Hazel, get Dad, Larissa,  the kids, out of here, get them out of here, the Fomorii—He tripped over a rough place in the pavement, and fell flat on his stomach.  For a minute he couldn’t breathe from the cold.  Big and Skinny, one on each side, yanked him up, and the Fomorii smell of heat and darkness and fear was all over them.  He felt what had to be blood on his face.  Malachi mindscreamed one more time, using up every last bit of any energy he had:  Help, help, GET JeffRussWeNeedAllFourofUs, get help, the Fomorii are and he saw the three of them, their images superimposed on each other, Hazel, Jeff, Russell, and, then, with nothing left at all, he fell again, and this time the ski masks caught him before he hit the pavement, jerking him up again, hurting his arms, holding him as he sagged between them, slipping, dropping into the deepest and blackest exhaustion he had ever felt, as around him the snow kept coming down.

#

Saturday noon, March 17

#

Executive Action Committee Meeting

North Carolina Ordinary Union

Tate Street Coffeehouse, Greensboro

#

After feeding and watering the cat, and scooping out the litter box, and before going back downstairs to fix his own breakfast of coffee, orange juice, yogurt, and wheat toast, Ed Gentry did what he had done just about every morning for the past eighteen years.  He stood naked in front of the full-length mirror on the back of his closet door and examined his body: lean, with dark, dark, almost black hair, eyes the color of a still pond on a day without wind.  Ed ran his fingers lightly over his chest, his stomach, his groin, his thighs. He pressed his olive-complexioned skin at random places: each time his skin glowed at the touch, faint and golden.  He lifted his penis and scrotum; he bent down to examine each toe, his feet.  He spread out his hands, flexed his fingers; he turned to examine his back, his buttocks, his hams and calves.  He lowered his head to examine his scalp.

     Nothing.

     Not this time, no sign of aging, or the pull of gravity.  Ed looked as he had eighteen years ago—no, twenty-one years ago.  But he always looked younger the morning after.  He knew the glow wouldn’t last, which he knew was a good thing, but still, he liked how it made him look.  Never mind.  If he had a full double feeding—but he hadn’t, and even if he had, the glow would still fade long before his noon meeting in Greensboro with the Executive Action Committee of the North Carolina Ordinary Union.  Regardless, they would see his strength as a tangible presence.  He closed the door, shutting the mirror inside the closet and started dressing.  Ed pulled on his underwear and fished around for his socks.  Forget the glow; why had he let the couple go?  Was it because they seemed to genuinely like Ed?  Seemed.  Ed pulled on his Ordinary Union polo shirt and tucked it in his pants, and stood still.  He couldn’t be having any doubts, could he?  Now, with victory ever closer, his long exile in the wilderness coming to an end?  Ed shook himself, ran his fingers through his hair, and went downstairs.  He wanted to leave a little early, to be sure he got there before the rest of the EAC.  Ed liked to be first and he felt the chair should be first to set an example and to remind the rest of them just how serious this all was.  Not that he thought they believed otherwise, but reminding never hurt.

     It was only when he was on 54 West, with Chapel Hill behind him, as Ed was reviewing the EAC agenda one more time, that he realized the boy from last night—the young man—had reminded him of Jeff.  Or rather how he imagined Jeff must look now that he was grown.  Jeff would be—what, thirty, thirty-one years old?  Had that been why he let the couple go?  No. Think about the meeting.  What comes after the meeting.

     Forty-odd minutes later Ed walked into the Tate Street Coffeehouse, a full hour ahead of the others, as he had planned.  He got in line behind three UNC Greensboro students, who all seemed to be on good terms with the changeling woman behind the counter.  Graduate students he guessed by their conversation: dissertations and seminars and was it worth it to go on the academic job market, with the country going crazy, and so many schools not hiring and state budgets going onto chopping blocks.  Ed could see faint snakes of light moving in the woman’s hair, as if she were some modern Gorgon.  He shuddered.  Her days of broad daylight are numbered, Ed thought as he looked about the coffeehouse.  As for the academic job market: would it even exist after?  Not his problem.  Dark green tables were scattered about the room, one in the front window below hanging ferns.  Giant wooden cup signs of steam rising out of black coffee, hung on either side of the front door.  Dark green booths hugged the walls.  Paintings that were bright flashes of colors and shapes hung on the wall behind the front counter; black and white photographs of nudes hung on the wall behind Ed.  A shotgun restaurant, long and narrow.  Two men sat in one corner, hunched over the chessboard that had been painted onto the tabletop.  A woman sat in a back booth, books and papers and notebooks spread about her. 

Ed had picked the coffeehouse from a memory of a trip to Greensboro years ago.  College kids, professors.  But at least one of those men playing chess—changeling-friendly at the very least.  For now.

     “Take your order?”

     Were her eyes glowing as well?  She looked too young to have left in 1991.  A late changeling and there were more every year—

     “Sir?”

     Ed jerked his head back to the changeling girl, and forced a smile. “Coffee, lots of cream, that cranberry orange scone.”

     “Cream and sugars over there.   Heat up your scone?”

     He nodded yes, thinking how wrong all of this was, that the world had changed so to have such creatures as this in it.  The god tests us; he continues to test us.  We must not fail to meet the test.

     A few minutes later Ed took a booth below a black-and-white photograph of a nude man, at night, standing with his back to the camera, at a window, the moonlight painting his body silver.  Ed carefully added two sugars and three creams to his coffee and spread butter on his hot scone.  Today, he thought, he would indulge himself.  He wondered what they would do if they knew who he really worked for—who was behind the Ordinary Union—Aah—here they are—I hope they drove separately like I told them.  They came early, too. 

“I suppose you are wondering why the hell we had to come all the way to Greensboro to have our meeting?” Ed asked, as the others at last sat down with their coffees and muffins and bagels and scones.  He was trying to suppress his excitement:  all the years of waiting, of denial, and of loss were about to end.  Promises made were about to be kept.  His long time in the shadows was over. Ed wanted to tell the others everything but not yet.  Soon.  Let them be excited about what was immediately coming—and as he looked from one to the other, Ed could tell: they were excited.  Would they be if they knew everything?  If they knew this was a game to him, a huge game, with huge stakes, but still, that their part was only just that, a part?

Never mind that.

     Carol Kensington nodded her head as she nibbled on one half of her low-fat raisin bran muffin.  “The thought did cross my mind.  Everything does seem to be happening in Raleigh, Ed, not here.  Plus this is a changeling hangout,” she added, scowling in distaste.

     “Yeah, Ed, Carol is right.  The governor is making a big speech in two days.  I bet you money he’s going to proclaim martial law and set up a mail-in ballot.  Not that the National Guard will ever support him, the commandant assured me of that.  Anyway, I’ve got some work to do, especially now that the president pro tempore of the Senate has dropped dead,” Ethan Vance, the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, a middle-aged grey-haired man, said as he sipped his black coffee.

     “You think I could tell you if the Ordinary Union had anything to do with the state senate president pro tempore dying?  And not so loud, Ethan, even if we are miles from Raleigh—which is why I wanted to meet here—complete privacy.  I haven’t been here in years—but the changelings make it a perfect cover.  No reporter would ever look for the EAC of the North Carolina Ordinary Union in a changeling-friendly coffeehouse in Greensboro.  Never mind that. Ethan, Speaker Vance, you need to be ready for more than a counter-speech,” Ed said, wondering if maybe Ethan and Carol weren’t as excited as he was.  Maybe they weren’t the ones to hold power, once seized.  But Ethan would do for now.  So would Carol Kensington as the man’s chief of staff and his gubernatorial campaign manager.  But that campaign wasn’t going to be necessary.

     “What’s going down, Mr. Gentry?” Charlie Caldwell, the youngest of the four, and Ethan Vance’s personal assistant, said, sounding even younger than what he was, late-twenties or thirty-something. Still a kid.  Younger than my son would be, Ed thought. They had promised Jeff would be back and soon.  We have Malachi.  The other three need him.  Watch the North Carolina gates. They will open again.   Watch the others.  The next gate opening was supposed to be in about five weeks.  The watchers were in place.  He looked hard at Charlie: he really is excited, chomping to go, he really believes.

     “Okay, this is it, the big moment,” Ed said and after looking around the coffeehouse again, turned to the other three, leaned forward, and spoke softly.  The president pro tempore was dead; now the speaker of the house was in line just after the lieutenant governor.  “She’s in a hospital in Asheville, laid up for who knows how long.  Louise Hanes-Faircloth is no shape to run the state—”

     “But Earley is—” Carol said, after draining her cup of coffee, then she stopped.  Ed watched her narrow, tight face as the wheels and cogs turned.  She got it just about the time Ethan and the kid did.

     “Exactly.  On May 1—I know, five weeks away, but we need the time to get things in place.  On May 1, you will take power, Ethan, and call out the National Guard, call Fort Bragg, get them to hook into what will be going on elsewhere.  I know this is more drastic than any of you might have guessed, but it is necessary if we are going to save North Carolina and the rest of America.  A few eggs will have to be broken,” Ed said, looking at each of them in turn. Ethan believed.  He believed in the strident calls for a holy crusade that continually shattered Sunday mornings across the country, on the air and in pulpits, and he believed in his rightness to take command, that he had been called to serve, to set things straight, that things had gone so far and so bad, that the time for talk was past.  So did Carol, but she was a little more pragmatic and she liked power.  It was an aphrodisiac.  She had certainly proved that the other night.  God, Ed had enjoyed taking her like that.  As for Charlie, his belief was probably the purest: if God called for a sacrifice of blood to save countless others, so be it.  This was pure; this was true. 

Ed nodded at the agreement in their faces and went on to explain the logistics of the coming coup and what each of them had to do to be ready, to have everything in place.  Charlie nodded his head furiously as he took notes, saying more than once to make an omelet, you had to break eggs—if some blood was shed now, it would save lives later, wasn’t that right, Mr. Gentry?  He believed Ethan Vance would save North Carolina; that magicals needed to be registered for their own protection, that this was the right thing to do.  God was really on their side.  That meant, Ed knew, Ethan and Carol, and maybe even this Charlie, would hate him if they knew what he was and whom he served.  He took another sip of coffee, mentally waving away the thought.  Let them hate him.  All the years of preparation, the gathering of others like him, the once-subtle and slow, now blatant and continual propaganda against the magicals, the continued injection of fear and hatred, the feeding of the fears and hatreds that were already there, waiting, and now, with every time “Onward Christian Soldiers” was sung, with every new sermon—now, this was to be his time.  At last.

     “Bring me the supply requisitions next week, Charlie,” Ed added.  “To my office in Raleigh.  Ethan: start mobilizing the God’s Warrior platoons who answer to you . . .”

#

Ed waited until the others had left, one at a time—they had driven separate cars, despite his doubts—before he got up himself.  He ignored the changeling woman’s cheery good-bye, and then made his way down Tate Street about a block or so until Carr Street, where he had parked his black 2009 Ford Lion.  He wished, and not for the first time, hybrid cars were as fast as the old gasoline-fueled models had been before the speed controls had been made mandatory. That had been President Gore the Fool’s idea, building on President Quayle the Idiot’s 2001 Energy Independence Act.  Not only was the national speed limit 55 mph, but all vehicles had to be fitted with governors and cruise controls by January 1, 2012.  Gore had gotten the bill through before the 2010 midterm elections and the resulting gridlock: the Greens on the far left, the idiot Socialists refusing to make common cause with anybody, the Democratic-Republican Coalition, trying desperately to hold the center, the Crazies knotting everything up, the even crazier New Agers preaching doom coming on the Winter Solstice, and the Ordinary Union, the true humans, God’s chosen, on the right.  Ed sometimes longed for a real car, but they didn’t make them anymore in the United States, not since 2003.  All that power, the speed:  damn, I get hard thinking about it.  But it worked, the wheels moved.  It would get him to his next appointment, in Chapel Hill, in Gimghoul Castle.

     With Magon.

#

Ed Gentry remembered Gimghoul Castle from when he had been called Arthur Edward Gates and was an undergraduate history pre-law major at Carolina, back in the 1970s.  Almost forty years ago.  A Scottish castle in a Southern university town, he had thought his roommate was making it up.  A secret society, the Order of Gimghoul, whose reason for being he never learned, had built the little rugged ivy-covered castle back in the 1920s, hidden away at the end of winding Gimghoul Road, lined by pine trees and kudzu.  The surrounding Glandon Forest supposedly harbored ghosts of one kind or another, and there was the bloody rock, under which Peter Dromgoole’s body, shot in a duel, was hidden by his so-called friends.  Peter was one of the ghosts, as was Fanny, the young woman who was the object of Peter’s affections, who, not knowing of the duel, had prayed for his return, until she died of grief and loneliness.  Or she had known, gotten there too late to stop the duel, only for Peter to die in her arms?  Or so at least two of the stories went.  Ed and his friends had tried to get inside the castle once.  The watchdog, a huge mastiff, had chased them to the end of Gimghoul Road.

     No dog would chase Ed this time.

     Magon, the Five, was expecting him.  Ed checked everything before he locked his car: briefcase, reports from Vance, Kensington, the North Carolina National Guard commandant.  Faxes from the Pentagon to EAC chairs across the country.  And the embroidered linen napkin he always took to the castle for the midnight ceremony.  He knew everything was set up, the long tables, the tablecloths that matched the napkin, the tall candles and sconces, all lit.  He then checked inside his briefcase for the last thing he needed to do before walking to the castle.  Where had he put it—there, in an inside pocket, a glass vial, filled with a pale yellow liquid.  A Chardonnay would work fine, should mask the yohimbe taste, the witch had said.  Just be sure to shake well, then drink it about fifteen minutes before.  He took a quick look around the dark street.  Above, the aurora borealis glowed and shimmered in the sky.  There were the others he expected, locking cars, drinking their own elixirs.  None of them looked at the others.  They were from black covens all over central North Carolina; he wondered how many he would recognize in the smoky red light from the torches in the castle yard.  Ed pulled out the cork and swigged the herb-and-wine mixture down.  The liquid, cool at first going down his throat, became warm, almost hot in his stomach.  Yeesss.  That, plus the thrill of secrecy, that all the others in the shadows were part of a great secret, gave Ed a physical charge, a rush of power.  He could taste it on his tongue. They, like him, had come to worship.  The Fomorii came from the Dark, the dwelling place of the Horned God; they were divine themselves.  So Ed had been taught in the years since the Change; so had all the black witches been taught.  Not so the Ordinary Union and its religious counterparts; they had been taught otherwise. They had been taught that they were saving humankind from the evil magicals, and the weaklings who said they were just different. Lie after lie from the Dark, year after year.

And Ed had fallen in love with the Dark, with the Fomorii.  With Magon.

Ed wondered, as he walked down the gravel road, if anyone in Chapel Hill had any idea the Five lived below the castle and that now the ghoul part of the name really meant something.  He doubted it.  The Fomorii had cast a shadow-glamour, an invisible miasmic veil around the little Scottish-like castle and Glandon Forest.  Ed had felt it pull at him, when he had started down Gimghoul Road, tearing at his flesh, his mind: go away, go back, danger, you are not wanted.  Then, a sudden jolt of recognition: come, we wait for you. 

     Not many wandered down toward the castle anymore, not in the past two years.  The people of Chapel Hill had learned to avoid the castle, its forest, its dark road.  The nearby cemetery had only added to the dark shadow over the castle.  Children were warned away; entering freshmen told to stay away, although no one ever seemed to be able to explain just why.  The castle wasn’t a safe place; the Order insisted on complete privacy; the place was haunted.  Witches met there now, not any secret Order—black witches, a coven, and if half the things that were supposed to happen at a black sabbat did happen—then the castle should be avoided.

     That, Ed thought, was well and good.

     I want this one to be young.  I want to feel the soul when I tear it from the body, chakra by chakra, sucked in to me, as I thrust in. 

     Torches bordered the yard and lined the walk up to the porch. The door was open.  Ed could see the sconce by it, another red fire in the dark night.  When he came up to the door, he saw the person ahead of him disappearing down the steps at the end of the cedar-wood-lined hallway.  He paused to let the wards touch him, lick his skin, nip his hair.  The faintly shimmering air that filled the door tongued his face one last time and then parted to let him come inside, into the fire-shadowed hallway, and down the long stairs, to where the Five and the others waited.  Ed was already hard. 

The extra yohimbe was going to be worth it.

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