Monday, January 27, 2014

Road Trip Chapter 9

 9. Cars & Ruins

The car shudders under me. I’ve drawn on the strength of the god inside me, who once lived in a closet as a monster (and sometimes under my bed), in order to keep the wheel steady as I shift gears. I hit a hundred miles an hour and shortly after the needle gets stuck as we burn rubber and gasoline hurling down the interstate. Every vehicle is somehow moving out of our way, the police not even noticing and I’m not sure I could even crash the car if I tried.

I don’t. I just drive, foot pressed to the accelerator and watch the world blur past me on either side as eat up miles like someone inhaling calories at McDonalds. The car shudders underneath but is somehow holding together and I’m trying, very hard, not to think about what this is costing the magician. Jay has at least ceased shooting worried looks over his shoulder and is staring out the windows with a grin as the world rushes past us.

“Why are you smiling?”

“I’m hanging fun out of my mouth.”

“Jay.” I sigh. “Okay. Why else?”

“He never useth magic for fun, and thith ith fun,” he says, bouncing in the seat as he turns to me. “Can I drive?”

“Do you know how to drive?”

“I don’t know; I’ve never tried before.”

“Then we’ll say no.”

“But –.”

“We’re going twice as fast as a DeLorean,” I say, though the reference misses him entirely. “Now is not the time to take the wheel and find out if you can drive a car or not.”

Jay sighs and sits back in the seat.

“You could play games on your phone.”

“It won’t work right. My phone, I mean.”

“Because of this?” I say as I turn a corner. Vehicles blur and shift: I have no idea if we’re driving in the world anymore or somehow slightly off kilter from it.

“Maybe? We’re being watched,” he mumbles, hunching down in his seat. “I don’t think magic like thith can be hidden?”

“And the watchers are using your phone?”

“A few? I turned it off along with your phone. The rest are...” Jay trails off, then offers up: “around?” as English fails whatever he’s sensing.

I press the pedal harder, even though my foot is already aching. Metal groans underneath, the sound of rivets popping like small fireworks as the car somehow finds more speed. The magician lets out a small gasp in the back seat but doesn’t open his eyes as the world turns into a green-tinged blur as we pass through cars rather than going around them. I’m no longer driving so much as aiming it, and Jay is sitting in a still quiet in the passenger seat, his eyes pale and wide in delight.

The car bucks slightly under me like a horse in a movie would before shuddering again, the speedometer making a low humming sound as the needle vibrates and begins to slow, the world snapping into focus. Trucks. Cars. Road.

I yank left and we hurl into an empty field, the car shuddering as it slows, wheels tearing furrows into earth as the car rips through wooden fences as if they didn’t exist and finally comes to an abrupt halt in the middle of a third field, smoke rising from the engine.

“Okay. Okay.” I let go of the wheel, my fingers having dug into it. “Is everyone all right?”

“Yep!” Jay pulls off his seatbelt. “Can we do it again?”

I shove him into the door, which falls off under the pressure. “No.”

The magician is getting out the back, moving slow and stiff as he gets out and opens the trunk, casually getting out our bars and pushing them into the air to vanish from sight. “Good driving.”

I looked at the car, then the fields, then back at him. “Good driving?” I say, since it’s better than asking why he never put our bags somewhere else before.

He offers up a small smile and begins to walk slowly. “I drove a magician’s ride once. Turned the ground under us into glass when I hit the brakes; Leo made jokes about it for weeks.”

“You mean we could go quicker?” Jay says, trying to hide excitement at the idea.

“Not today, no.” The magician picks up his pace and comes to a halt near a tree in the next field, sitting down. “We’re close to Leo’s home: keep an eye for danger, please.”

Jay scowls but says nothing as the magician sits cross-legged on the ground.

“We’re still being watched?”

The boy nods, biting his lower lip. “He uthed a lot of effort getting us here, and thith ithn’t helping at all!”

“Huh.” I look about, but aside from distant sirens and the barking of a dog I get nothing at all. What the owner of the field and the authorities will make of the car is anyone’s guess. “How bad is it?”

“Being theen is always bad,” Jay says firmly.

I let out a breath, not reaching for the god inside me but everything else instead. The magician smells of fresh-cut grass and rain, the world itself under and in him as a smorgasboard of energies and scents under his own. Jay smells small and entirely human even though I know he’s not and around us I catch scents that there are no words for, things I slot into chlorine and hospital cleaners in my head.

Jay goes still, then edges between me and the magician with a determined look on his face. I ignore him and turn in a slow circle, feeling for the scents of things Other, inhale, then smile on the second circle. “We’re not some porn for you to watch; get lost or else.”

Something moves about me, a sharp nettle-sharp scent, pressure in the air. I pull, in a way that words don’t express, and the smell twists into chocolate and butter, edible and drawn inside in a moment. I lick my lips and feel my grin widen as I turn in another circle. I say nothing at all but each alien scent is simply gone and the god within me as calm and still water. I let go of the scents carefully and turn back to him to find Jay still crouched down between me and the magician.

“I won’t let you eat him,” he says, baring his teeth and letting out a hiss that comes off as nothing more than silly.

I don’t move regardless. “Why would I do that? I’m his friend.”

“Hunger don’t have any kind of friend,” he says, then pokes his teeth with his tongue, trying not to look worried as he lets out what is intended to be a threatening growl.

“I don’t think you can do fangs at all anymore?”

He deflates a little as colour creeps across his face and straightens, looking sheepish.

“And for the record, your stomach growling is scarier than you are.”

“That’th mean!”

“But true.” I walk over, and he doesn’t flinch at all. “We’re not being watched now?”

Jay frowns, then shakes his head and waves a hand to the magician. “The honcho is doing a ward.”

“Leo is trying to scry us,” the magician says quietly as he stands, all stiffness and slowness gone from him. “At least I hope it’s Leo. This way,” he adds and heads to the left toward other fields.

“And if it’s not? Or if it is?”

“Find cover. Wait until the dust settles.”

“That’s it?”

“This is Leo’s place of power; he knows I’m here but not why.” His smile doesn’t try for reassuring, not even reaching assuring. “If we do test power and Leo wins, run away. No useless heroics, just get away.”

“No,” Jay says fiercely, glaring up at the magician.

“Jay.” The magician stops and turns. Jay’s glare doesn’t change, his hands curling into fists. “I have enough on my conscience without adding you and Charlie. Run, don’t look back and don’t even think about revenge because that’s nothing but a waste of any life. Please.”

“You could make me run,” Jay says carefully, “with a binding.”

“I could.” The magician begins walking again. “There are things even a magician should not force.” His gaze flicks over to me, his smile small and wry. “And don’t think I’m taking your silence for agreement.”

I just salute him with my middle finger and walk on.

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