Sunday Serial: Giving up the Ghost Chapter 7

Chapter Seven: Hero continues to struggle with Jenny’s transformation but is chagrined to realize she has forgotten an appointment and heads off to meet the mortician and his son.

Jenny prompted me to drink my coffee, and we sat in silence.  I was trying to make sense of everything Jenny had told me, but I just couldn’t get my brain to accept that the supernatural existed. I’d seen Jenny change from my best friend to killer canary and back again, but it was getting harder and harder to believe what I’d seen. And everything Jenny had told me was so far outside of reality, so crazy, I just couldn’t make sense of any of it. I don’t know if it made it better or worse that if it was true, everyone in my life had lied to me about it. 

I finally settled on pretending, at least until I could really try and process the world of crazy, I could play along.  Treat the whole conversation like a game, like make-believe. 

“So, what about Kyle, the detective?” I asked Jenny again.

“What about him?”

I shifted on the couch to face her, “Is he human?”  It felt silly to say it aloud, but it would explain Jenny’s immediate dislike of him.

Jenny sighed, “Are you sure you want to know?”  She paused, “Are you sure you want to keep going with this?”

I shot her a dark look.

“I just thought you might want, you know, a little time to process or whatever.”  She forced a smile, “I’m trying to put myself in your position, and I’m thinking that I’d be pretty overwhelmed. It’s a lot too,” She paused with a frown, “take in, I guess.”  She paused again, the crease between her eyebrows deepening, “I really don’t know if I’d handle this as well as you are.” She finished.

I laughed, a bitter, tired laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. “In the last two days, my entire life has been demolished. Everything I thought was true is a lie. Dee is gone. And after she’s gone, I find out that everything was a lie.” I rubbed at my forehead, feeling a headache brewing. “It’s not just learning that she adopted me and had this other secret life. I could deal with that. Hell, I’d expect she had some secrets from me. But you’re telling me she hid what I am and I have no idea why. I’m past wanting to process, I don’t know if I can process any of this,” I vaguely waved my hand, “If all of this craziness is real, I want to know. No, I need to know the truth.” I paused and took a deep breath, I watched Jenny’s expression change from confused to hurt. Her lip was quivering again, and her eyes shone with tears. “I need to understand why Dee kept this from me. Is there something wrong with being a lemur?” I knew that wasn’t the right word, but I didn’t care and trying to say ‘an I talk to dead people person’ really didn’t roll off the tongue.

Jenny blinked back her tears, and stared at me, stunned.

I didn’t get angry often. Sure we’d had our fights and disagreements but anger, yelling, just wasn’t something I did. Maybe she hadn’t realized how I was processing, or maybe not processing everything. It seemed like to her this was all a fun secret that she finally got to tell me. Like we could share the secret handshake and I could go to all the secret parties now.  But I didn’t know the secret handshake, hell I couldn’t even get the vocabulary down. “Jen, my entire life has just been ripped to shreds. Everything and I mean everything, I knew about the world, about my existence has just been completely blown apart,” I paused and took another deep breath, “Can you try and understand that?”

Jenny’s lower lip started to quiver and she took a deep breath trying to compose herself.  “I’m sorry Hero.”  She looked at the floor, “I guess I never really thought about how hard this would be for you.  I never thought about how much you don’t know, or about how you’d react.” She ran her hands through her hair, “I guess I just kind of assumed you’d be happy to know about it,” She raised her eyes to mine, “I thought it’d be exciting and fun, and I’m sure Dee had a good reason for keeping this from you.”

I gave her a “don’t go there look,” and she stopped mid-sentence.

“Um nevermind, that part,” She said slowly.  “So, do you still want to know about your detective friend?”     

I nodded.  I was still hurt and really angry, but if Kyle was human at least he hadn’t lied to me.

Jenny scowled, “He’s a lilu.”  She glanced at me, “And I’m pretty sure he’s stalking you.”

I blinked, “Kyle, detective Smyth is a lulu and a stalker?”  I sighed not looking forward to another vocabulary lesson, “Ok what does that mean?”

Jenny continued to scowl, “It’s leelu and they’re like um, what’s the word,” she paused in thought, “Um an incubus.  You know what those are right?”

I nodded, “Some kind of sex demons? Like a boy-succubus?”

She harrumphed at my use of “demon.”  “Demons don’t exist.  But lilus are close.  They feed off of emotions, mostly sex and love.  They choose a victim and stalk and seduce them to death.”

She said it so matter-of-factly that I couldn’t hold back my laugh.  She glared.  “Sorry,” I said between my laughter, “But really a sex demon, isn’t that kind of what sirens are?”

She struck a haughty pose, “We are so much more than them.  Ok, so we usually seduce people and well feed off of their life force, but that’s not the same as emotions, and we try not to kill people.”  Her voice grew quieter, “Well I try not to kill people.”

I raised an eyebrow at her, “What’s the difference between lifeforce and emotions?”  I started the question, but as I said it, I realized that I didn’t really want to know.  I didn’t want to get bogged down in another round of obscure words I didn’t know. “Forget explaining it,” I said before she could open her mouth, “You’re telling me that Kyle, the lilu detective, is out to, what sex me to death?” I felt my face grow warm and knew I was blushing because as I asked the question, I knew I wouldn’t mind a death like that at all.

“That’s what they do.” Jenny said, “Really, Hero you’ve got to stay away from him. Lilus are dangerous.”

I sighed, “More dangerous than sirens? Or lemurs, or Heca-witch-people?”  I still thought the words sounded dumb, but if I was going to buy into crazy, I guess I had to go all the way.  “And I’m guessing in the world of weird, that these are only the basics.”

Jenny nodded gravely. “All preters are dangerous in their own ways, but you’re special. Your bloodline is really powerful, like really, really powerful. That makes you attractive to other preters, the type like that detective.”  

“So, in preterworld, I’m the hot girl?” I paused, my mind starting to rebel at having this conversation.  “Um, why?”

Jenny was looking more relaxed with the conversation.  She shrugged, “It’s not about being hot, it’s about power.  You have it, other preters want it.”  She paused and chewed on her lip, “All the local preters knew Dee or knew about her, and all of them were terrified of her. They left you alone because of her.  Now that she’s, she’s gone…”  Her words trailed off.

What she didn’t want to say was now that Dee was dead. I knew it because I didn’t want to say it either. All I had left was Dee’s laptop and her books that might prove Jenny’s story or might just prove that Dee was as crazy as Jenny. I reminded myself of Jenny’s transformation, but it seemed to grow more distant in my memory. Something I could ignore as a trick of the light or well something at least plausible.

I sighed, trying to think of something to say.  Something that would make this day normal again but found I could say nothing.  We sat in strained silence for a few minutes.

Jenny finally broke the silence, “So, are you ok?”  She asked softly.

I started to nod and ended up shaking my head.  “Not even remotely ok.”  I rubbed at my temples again.  “Wait, if I can talk to dead people, how come I’ve never seen a ghost or anything?”

“That’s Dee’s fault.  Um that whole witch-like powers thing she had, she, ah, locked up your powers so you can’t use them.”

“Wait, explain that to me,” I said with another sigh.

Jenny blinked, “Magic? Um, I can’t do it or anything,” she frowned in thought, “Ok, it’s like veal…” she started.

I cut her off, “Veal? We are talking about baby cows right?”

She nodded with a frown, “Of course, what other kinds of veal are there?” She shook her head and went on, “Well you know how they keep the baby cows in those little boxes, so they can’t move or build muscle or anything…” She bit her lip, and her face paled, as she realized the awfulness of her description. “Um you’re the baby cow, and the spell is the box.” She finished her voice soft.

“So, Dee put me in a box that kept me from moving, from growing? Her spell, or whatever, kept me from fully being me for almost thirty years?” I said not bothering to keep the anger out of my voice. 

Jenny had stayed pale and looked horrified, “Um yeah, I guess it is like that.” She said weakly.  “But she wanted you to have a normal life.”

We shared a glance, and Jenny said, “I guess that doesn’t make it better, does it?”

I shook my head.  So locking part of me away was supposed to protect me? It didn’t fit with the Dee I knew.  She’d always been open with me, honest in a way most parents weren’t.  Yeah, she kept parts of her life from me, but I’d always assumed it was like her secret sex life or something. I’d thought that we’d always been honest, but I’d been wrong. Or maybe I was misjudging everything. Maybe there was a reason. And I just didn’t understand.

Jenny continued when she saw my anger diminishing, “Dee was really powerful, but she was always worried about you.” She paused as if remembering something, “When we were kids and we became friends, I was under her protection, most of the bad stuff at home stopped.  The abuse,” she stumbled over the word, “Stopped.”

I frowned.  I knew Jenny had suffered some sort of abuse as a kid, but we never talked about it.  It was kind of an unspoken understanding we had, and Dee had always told me that Jenny would talk about it when she was ready. Dee said that you couldn’t force people to deal with the stuff they weren’t ready for.  I realized maybe that was why Dee had kept the truth hidden from me, she thought I wasn’t ready. “Dee made your mom stop… abusing you?”

Jenny’s face crumbled, silent tears streamed down her cheeks, “The first time I mentioned Dee, was the first time I’d ever seen my mom afraid.  She was all pale and wide-eyed scared.  She, my mom, nothing scared her…”  Jenny’s voice broke, “After Dee, my mom just stopped doing anything to me.” I pulled Jenny into a hug, “Dee saved my life,” her voice was barely a whisper.  “I know you’re angry at her right now, but I can’t believe she’d ever do anything to hurt you, Hero.” Jenny pulled out of the hug and looked me in the eye.

I took her hand and squeezed it, while she fumbled to wipe away her tears with her free hand.  I realized just how selfish I’d been.  When I’d learned about Dee, about her being gone, I’d only thought about me. I hadn’t spent even a second thinking about Jenny and her feelings.  Her relationship with Dee with just as important as mine had been, and I hadn’t spared a second trying to help Jenny with her grief.

“Jenny, I’m sorry,” I said through my tears.  “I’ve been so caught up in myself, I should’ve thought about you.”  I hugged her again, “I didn’t think about your feelings, and you’ve been doing everything,” I gestured at the forgotten food on the table. “I’ve been a shitty friend.”

Jenny broke into a smile, “No, you haven’t been a shitty friend.” She paused to sniffle and wipe at her tears, “Yeah, I’m grieving too, but it’s different for me.” She shifted to sit cross-legged on the couch.   

I cocked my head at her, “What do you mean?”

She continued to smile, “I have you.  With you, death doesn’t mean a lot.” She must have noticed my confusion because she went on, “You can talk to dead people, so that means I can talk to them too.”

“Huh,” I sat stunned.  That hadn’t crossed my mind.  Of course, I had no idea how to talk to dead people, but if Jenny’s story was true, I could. “So if I can talk to her, I can find out why she kept this all from me?”

Jenny nodded, “Eventually.  Like once you learn how to use your powers and stuff.  So, yeah I’m grieving, but it’s not the same.  I know what you’ll be able to do someday.”

I considered that possibility.  I could still have Dee in my life.  Maybe not in the Sunday dinner way, but at least I could talk to her. I could share all the stuff in my life with her, all the stuff I’d be thinking that she would miss. “How do I learn to do that?” I asked and suddenly knew that I was ok with the world-of-weird that Jenny had led me into.  If it meant that I could talk to Dee, that I’d at least have a chance to say goodbye, I could deal with killer-canaries and sex demons.

Jenny laughed, “Suddenly you want to be part of the Preterworld.” 

I smiled back.

“I don’t know how you learn to use your powers,” She shrugged, “We can try and find another lemuria.”

I noticed she stressed the word, probably in an effort to get me to stop saying lemur. “So like is there a social networking site for preters?” I managed to say it right, I think, “Like preterbook, or preterspace or something?”  I was only half-joking. It was the twenty-first century.

Jenny laughed, “That’d make it easy.  But, no, there isn’t a preterbook. I can try asking around, but preters are kind of secretive, and well my family isn’t well-liked.”

“What do you mean, not well-liked?”

Jenny sighed, “A lot of Preters are obsessed with bloodlines. They use their linage to bully other Preters. And my mom is all about bloodlines. She acts like it makes her special like the family is special because we’re powerful. Before Dee moved here, and well before you or me, my mom had a lot of power in Southern California.”

I shot Jenny a confused glance, knowing that her mom couldn’t be that old.  Dee had been old enough to my grandmother.

“My mom’s a lot older than she looks,” Jenny answered, “Sirens live a really long time.  Dee kind of stopped a lot of the bad stuff my family was doing, at least a lot of it.  But it doesn’t mean the Preterworld has forgiven the family.”  Her mouth twisted into a grimace, “Basically, a lot of preters don’t like me.”

I knew that I wasn’t ready to hear about what Jenny’s family had done before Dee. If it was bad enough that people still carried a grudge, it was a story for another time. “But Dee had contacts in the Preterworld?  Would she have known Kyle?”

Jenny frowned, “I don’t know why she would.  She probably knew of him, but I doubt she knew him, like personally.” She paused, lost in thought a moment, “But she did know some Preter cop. He kept track of Preter-related crime.”

I sat up straighter, “But it could have been Kyle?”  Out of all the weirdness, I found myself still hoping that at least part of what Kyle had told me was true.

“I guess,” she said but didn’t look happy admitting it.

Our conversation was interrupted by my phone. I glanced at the display and saw it was a blocked number.  I answered.

“May I speak with Ms. Adams, please.”

The voice on the line was naggingly familiar, but I couldn’t place it.  “This is she.”

“Ah Hero, this is Aidan Markson.”

Now I remembered the mortician who knew my aunt.  Then I remembered I’d promised to stop by today and finalize the arrangements for Dee.  I glanced at the clock and cringed, it was after six, hardly what I could call afternoon anymore.  “Oh, Mr. Markson, I am so sorry.  With everything going on, I completely lost track of time.”

“Completely understandable, given the circumstances. But I did want to check in with you. How are you holding up?”  He paused, “I hope that doesn’t sound too intrusive, but well, having known you as a child I felt compelled to check up on you.”

I cut in, “No, it’s fine. I appreciate it.”  I turned to Jenny and mouthed “the mortician” at her. “I guess I can come by first thing tomorrow.” I was hoping that Jenny would try and clue me on Mr. Markson. If Dee knew him, it seemed likely that he was some sort of Preter too.

Jenny nodded at me.  I took it to mean he was a preter too.

“Actually, I live in the apartment over the mortuary.  If you still wanted to come by tonight, it would be no trouble at all.”

Before I could even start to rattle off a polite non-committal response to him, he continued on.

“My son will be here too, and I’d love for him to meet you.  I’d hoped that you two would become friends, but I never got the chance to introduce the two of you when you were children.”

He wanted me to meet his son? I couldn’t figure out why, unless maybe they were lemurias too. That made sense, they owned a mortuary. “Um, I guess if you insist, I could come by now.”  I glanced at Jenny with a “help me out” look.

She mouthed back at me, we should go. And nodded her head so hard, I thought she’d get whiplash. 

Mr. Markson was already confirming that it would be perfect for me to come over now and that he would expect me soon. 

I managed a mumbled thanks and hung up.  I turned back to Jenny.  “Could he be a lemuria?”

She had stood up from the floor and was busy fixing her makeup.  “Huh?”

I rolled my eyes.  “Aidan Markson, the mortician.  It makes sense, he’s a mortician.  So couldn’t he be a lemuria?”

She looked up from her compact, “No he’s a moirae, I checked after he mentioned knowing Dee.”  She said with a dismissive wave. “But he might be able to help us find one.”  She clicked the compact shut and slid it into her purse.  She glanced at me, “Um you may want to wash your face before we go.”

I wanted to ask more, to know just what this mortician was and how he could help us, but I decided it would be better to wait.  I frowned at her and went to the bathroom to wash away the evidence of crying.  I even stopped to apply a little makeup.  I stomped back out, “Better?”

Jenny nodded and handed me my purse.  She led me out to her car, giving me little chance to ask her more about moiraes.  Once in the car, I took the opportunity to grill Jenny on what to expect with a moirae.

“So what exactly is a moirae?”

Jenny smiled as she turned on to the major downtown street. 

“They can see the future, kind of. I’m guessing if Aidan owns a mortuary, he’s an atropos.” She caught my confused expression, “Ok, there are three types.  clotho, lachesis, and atropos.  In mythology, Atropos was the Fate who cut the thread of life.  An atropos in the preterworld can see people’s deaths.  Clothos can see people’s births and so on.”

I shivered, “Seeing people’s deaths is a little creepy.”

Jenny shrugged, “Eh, we’ve all got our thing, and you’ll probably start chatting up dead people and as creepy goes…” she let the joke trail off with a laugh.

Right, I see dead people. I’d kind of put that part aside.  If this whole crazy story was true, eventually I’d have to figure out the talking to ghosts part of my life.  I gazed out the window, lost in my thoughts.  I let the familiar downtown scenery drift by.  The old-timey theater closed until it could be retrofitted, followed by antique shops and boutiques.  A car wash, and then Marksons. Jenny pulled into the parking lot.

She started to get out of the car, and I grabbed her arm.  “Um Jen, if Dee bound my powers,” I paused suddenly feeling silly again, “Will they come back?”

Jenny turned back to face me.  “Now that she’s gone, they should come back.”  She suddenly looked so sad.  I realized that her relationship with Dee was something that I’d never really understood, and probably never would.  But Dee meant something to Jenny, and she was mourning too.

I nodded, swallowing my other questions.  There’d be time enough for that later.  I glanced at the mortuary, a two-story brick building with a Spanish tile room.  The offices and chapel were on the first floor.  A security screen closed off a stairway that led to the second story, and the mortician’s apartment.  I realized that I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to meet Mr. Markson in the mortuary or at his apartment.  I glanced between the screen and the sign for the office with an arrow pointing toward the front of the building.  I was saved by a door slam from the second floor and hurried footsteps down the stairs.

A young man came racing down the steps. He looked about college age, and I was guessing that this was Travis.  He was tall with a swimmer’s build and wearing some heavy metal band t-shirt, that left his heavily tattooed arms bare.  Travis had dark hair that wore swept back, and I wondered if he wanted to show off his Bela Lugosi widow’s peak, or just didn’t know what else to do with his hair.  He came bounding out of the security screen.

“Hero,” he offered his hand, “Nice to meet you.”  He said.  His voice was deep, deeper than I’d have expected from a young guy.  I noticed his eyes quickly flickered over me. Was he sizing me up as a preter, I wondered.  

“Travis,” I smiled, “Nice to meet you too.  Your dad’s told me so much about in you in the last two minutes.”

He shook his head and laughed, “My dad was always really into the idea of you and me being friends. I never got it, but I guess that’s parents.” He glanced at Jenny, who’d taken in our exchange, but she had remained strangely silent throughout.

Travis’s eyebrows shot up, “Aren’t you a Roundaly?” He said in a low voice with a nod a Jenny.

She tossed her hair and scowled at him, but rather than her usual “estranged” retort, she narrowed her eyes, “You’re…” she let the thought trail off, but I noticed her jaw drop slightly.

He glared at her, “Yeah, what about it? I’m some sort of lesser species, broken, whatever. I’ve heard it all before, and I know exactly what your lot think about it, Rondalay.”

Jenny glared back.

I stepped between them. “Hey,” I said glancing at both of them, “Seriously? Is this some sort of junior high school insult game?” Both managed to look chagrined at their behavior, but I could still feel the tension between them. “Travis, this is my best friend Jenny. Jenny, this is Travis, the nice young man whose father I have an appointment with.” I looked at them both, “Now, play nice.”

I noticed that Jenny backed off, but I could still see the tension in her. Travis at least still looked abashed at his behavior. I didn’t have time to wonder what was going between them. 

“Dad asked me to bring you up to the house.” He mumbled and gestured at the stairs. I grabbed Jenny’s arm and started to lead her up the stairs. I glanced at Jenny and caught her appraising Travis as we walked up the stairs behind him. She was sizing him up for something, but I couldn’t tell if she wanted to hit him or get his number.

I sighed and continued to pull Jenny up the stairs.  I didn’t know if this was a preter-thing, or just a Jenny was pissed about her family reputation. Then again, I realized, her family reputation was a preter-thing. If her mother didn’t care about harming people, people probably assumed Jenny didn’t either.  

Travis led us across the wide adobe tiled patio, and into the apartment.  I took a second looking over the room. I was in a mortician’s apartment, and I had assumptions about what it would look like. Mostly I’d guessed Addams Family chic.  I was wrong. Pale wood floors stretched throughout the living room.  There were a white, modern-line couch and glass and metal coffee table.  Two white club chairs sat opposite the couch.  It was far more urban loft than Addams Family. Travis gestured for us to sit.

He and Jenny continued to eye each other, but at this point, I had no idea what they were up to. This could be preter-flirting or it could be preter-fighting.   

My musing was interrupted by an older man entering the room balancing a tray with a tea set. I rose to help him, but he shook his head. He gracefully set the tray on the table between the couch and the chairs. I noticed that Travis got his height from his father; both of them were over six feet tall. The elder Mr. Markson had the same dark hair as his son, in the same swept-back style, but he was starting to gray at the temples. 

“Mr. Markson,” I began.

“Oh, Hero dear, call me Aidan.”  He began pouring tea.

“Ok, Aidan, I wanted to apologize for missing my appointment.  And I really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me now.”  I knew I must sound as awkward as I felt.  My mind kept reminding me that this guy was probably a preter too and that he saw when people would die.  I tried to shake off the thought; after all, he seemed like a nice, normal man, for a mortician.

He handed me a cup of tea and paused looking at Jenny.  “Ah, this is my friend Jenny.  She came along for moral support.”

He narrowed his eyes at her briefly, “I know your family, my dear. You come from the Rondalays don’t you?”

Jenny nodded, “Currently estranged from them too.”  She said and thanked him for the tea.

He responded with a raised eyebrow and a slight nod. “An old family in this area,” he said, seating himself in the only empty chair. He cuffed Travis gently on the arm in what I’m pretty sure was an effort to get him to stop eyeing Jenny.  Travis turned his attention back to us.

Aidan pulled out a file and began flipping through the pages, “In regards to the services, your aunt laid out all the details.”  He handed me a form.

I glanced at it and found it was a fill-in-the-blank funeral planning form. Music, service, places to print obituaries, and even her headstone – all planned. I blinked at the form, shocked by the level of detail. I swallowed, “Wow, I didn’t know that you could pre-plan this stuff.”  I hoped I didn’t sound too flippant. 

Aidan nodded sagely, “It is wise. It allows those we leave behind to mourn in peace.”  He paused and seemed to be considering his words carefully, “I admit, I am taken aback by the suddenness of Dee’s passing.”

I cast a sharp glance at Jenny, if he could see how people died, why would her death surprise him? “We all were.” I managed.

He pulled another page out of the file, “She also included a copy of her will.”  He handed me the papers.  This time I didn’t bother to glance at them, I just held them in my lap.

“Are you really a moirae?” I blurted out. I immediately blushed and kept my eyes on the floor. 

Everyone in the room was silent. I finally forced myself to look up and saw Jenny staring at me slack-jawed and let my eyes pass over Travis, who looked like he was losing a battle with laughter. I finally forced myself to look at Aidan.  His grave expression had barely changed. Maybe there was a hint of a smile.

He sat back in his chair, “So you want to know if Dee died a natural death?”

He wasn’t going to answer my question directly.  Or maybe I’d committed some preter faux pas.  I glanced at Jenny who gave me a barely perceptible shrug.  “Did she?”  I rolled the teacup between my palms, “The police say she did.”

He gazed at me a moment, “Of course they did.  What else could they do?  All of the evidence that a human can access indicates a natural heart-attack.”

I felt myself growing sick. I’d been ignoring my own concerns, the break-in at Dee’s, the letter on her computer all of it. If I was the heroine of a detective novel, I’d be well on my way to proving it was murder, but I wasn’t.  I was just me, and stuff like murder didn’t occur to me.  “Did she?” I whispered.

He closed his eyes a moment and again seemed to be searching for the right words.  He opened and closed his mouth a few times before he finally spoke. “No, Hero, she did not die a natural death.”  He paused and patted my hand.  “I checked the moment you called.  I was a little surprised you didn’t ask then.”

“She didn’t know too,” Jenny said, “She didn’t know, well anything.” 

Aidan turned to look at her, “Dee never?”

Jenny shook her head.

I interrupted them, “No, Dee never told me about all this crazy supernat…” I stopped and corrected myself when everyone in the room cringed.  “Preternatural stuff.”  I took a deep breath, “So you really can see when a person will die?”

Aidan glanced at the ceiling a moment, and he looked like he was collecting his thoughts. “Yes and no.” He gestured for me to wait for him to finish. “I can see the probable death of an individual, but the future is never set in stone.  Free will and all that.”  He waved the idea away with a lazy motion.  “But I can certainly see a death echo,” he caught my confused expression, “The moment a person actually dies.  Dee did have a heart attack, but it was not natural at all.”  He lowered his voice, “I believe Sosostris finally found her.”

I blinked.  And then clapped my hand over my mouth. It wasn’t possible.  Dee was murdered?  It hadn’t just been a regular heart attack.  All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe again.  I hunched over on Aidan’s couch, clutching my stomach.  This was just too much.  Somewhere, outside I heard a dog howl, and my vision tunneled.

“Hero?” I heard Jenny and felt her hand on my forehead.  “Hero, you need to breathe.”

I tried to force air into my lungs, but I couldn’t.

I heard Jenny and Aidan whispering, and Jenny’s voice changed. 

“Hero,” It was like she was singing again. “Hero, breathe. Take a breath.”

It was like I had to listen like I had to follow her directions.  I felt air fill my lungs and my vision started to clear. 

“Come on Hero, do it again, another deep breath.”  Jenny’s voice seemed to reverberate through me.

I took another breath.  After a few more, Jenny helped me to lean back and Aidan handed her a wet towel.  Jenny laid it on my forehead.

“Hero, I’m so sorry,” Aidan said, “I didn’t think.  I had assumed that you had already spoken to…” his words stopped, “I should have chosen my words more carefully.”

I managed a weak cough, followed by a mumbled, “It’s ok” or something like that.  “I just need a minute.”  I managed to sound coherent this time.

It was a lot to take in, and that was an understatement.  On top of everything else, the kindly, seemingly normal man in the tailored black suit just very casually told me someone had murdered Dee.  Even thinking about it made me shake again.  I continued to force myself to breathe, to calm down.  If Dee had been murdered, I needed to know why.  After a few more minutes of Jenny hovering nervously over me, I managed to sit up and start thinking again.

“Aidan, are you sure?”  I whispered.

He nodded gravely.  “I believe it was as she feared, Sosostris has been reborn.”

I decided to start with the vocabulary part, and something about the word tugged at a memory.  “What’s a Sosostris?”  And then I remembered the picture, the one of Dee and my grandmother.  The back had said ‘the end of Soso,’ was it about Sosostris?  I let the thought go when Aidan began again.

“It’s a long story, and much of it involves your grandmother as well.”  He sighed, “I had hoped that Dee would have finally relented and told you everything herself.”  He paused, “I feel a little out of place, being the one to tell you.  Especially after I’ve so badly managed things.”  He fidgeted in his seat.

“Aidan, it’s ok.  And I don’t have anyone else who can tell me.”  I leaned forward, balancing my elbows on my knees, “Dee purposefully didn’t tell me and she was my only family left.  Jenny doesn’t know anything about this, and she’s the only one who has been willing to tell me anything. If Dee was murdered, I need to know why.”  I felt my throat catch as I spoke.  If Dee had been murdered, it changed everything.

Aidan glanced at Travis.  It was a look I knew.  One that said beat it and let the grownups talk.  Grudgingly, Travis unfolded himself from the chair and offered me a brief wave. He stopped behind his father and pantomimed a phone call at Jenny while mouthing “call me” at her.  I noticed that she smiled a little.

Aidan didn’t seem to notice at all. “Sosostris isn’t a who, it was,” he paused, “is a coven.” He glanced at Jenny, “Did you tell her about covens?”

Jenny shook her head.

“Hecates, Lemurias, and human sorcerers all used to group together in covens,” Aidan began. “Sometimes these groups could be quite large. They helped each other to master their powers and train their children” He paused, waving a hand as if to dismiss what he had just said. “But that was before Sosostris. I know that she didn’t want to put either of you in any danger, so I assume that is why she kept all of this from you both. She was a Hecate, and one of the best.  Why she got wrapped up in that foolish coven of humans still alludes me,” his eyes grew distant, “folly of youth perhaps.”

I interrupted, “Wait there are human sorcerers?”  At least it was a normal question, at least normal for me now.

Aidan paused a moment, “They are mostly human. I would guess they have distant, very diluted preter blood. And this allows them to learn a type of magic similar to the Hecate.  Sorcerers, of course, are weak and rely on all sorts of nasty rituals to augment their powers.”

I nodded, “So they’re like witches, but not like Hecate are witches?” I noticed Aidan’s pained expression, “More like storybook witches, with cauldrons and eye of newt and whatever?”

He nodded, still looking unhappy with the analogy.

I went on, “So Dee hung out with other witches,” catching his grimace I corrected myself, “with sorcerers and they had a coven, I don’t understand why that would be bad.”

Aidan looked troubled and seemed to be considering his answer.  “Not entirely bad. Many preters do interact, and as I understand it, sorcerers and Hecate work together, but in the case of Sosostris, I simply meant that Dee was better than the people she chose to associate with. She and your grandmother were involved in Sosostris, and both were far too good for those upstarts.  Sosostris was founded by some major sorcerers, who seemed at first interested in getting the preters to work together, creating a kind of preter UN.”    

I nodded for him to continue.

“It ultimately became something far different, and Dee and your grandmother fled after they stole something very important to Sosostris.”

I wondered how much of his language was melodrama.  I couldn’t picture Dee fleeing anything.

Aidan continued, “Whatever your grandmother and Dee became involved in frightened Dee, even sixty years later. And Dee always blamed Sosostris for Lenore’s, your grandmother’s, death.  When she came here, she created an extensive network of preter friends,” he paused, and I guessed I was supposed to figure out that he was one of these friends.  “She relied on us all to keep an ear open for word of Sosostris re-forming.”

My mouth felt dry.  It was one thing for Jenny and me to talk about this sitting on the floor of my apartment sharing a bottle of vodka, it was entirely something else to hear Aidan talk about it. I was going to have to admit that all of this was real, but that also meant I’d have to admit to the “I see dead people” part and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.  “Have they?”

Aidan shrugged and held us his hands. “I’ve heard nothing about them, but it would appear they may be back. Dee’s heart attack was magically induced. It would take a coven of immense power to accomplish that. Very few sorcerers even have covens anymore, after Sosostris it seemed prudent to prevent that. Whenever other preters find out a coven of sorcerers is becoming too large, we discourage them from continuing.”    

I glanced at Jenny and found she looked just as confused and frightened as I felt. “Will they come after me?”  My voice was barely a whisper.

Aidan nodded slowly. “If it is Sosostris, I believe they will.  Whether they seek you for the power you wield, or for whatever Dee stole, it seems reasonable to assume they will come searching for you.”

I felt cold.  I remembered the break-in at Dee’s and the flash of light I’d seen before I passed out.  Could that have been a spell?  These creepy Soso-supervillain guys looking for something at Dee’s house. This was all too much. Preters and a sixty-year vendetta against Dee.  A vendetta for something I knew nothing about.  Today was becoming more and more bizarre.

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