Saturday, March 01, 2014


Among the side-effects of a creature from Outside the universe binding itself to you are spending an inordinate amount of time in malls. If you are a magician, or at least me. Jay still has days where he will happily eat three pizzas and the like in a single sitting or just want to watch the bindings between humans play out in public, a music only he can hear. Malls are a good place to see while not being seen; the predators I spot in the malls quickly find some other place to be often enough.

Jay has been talking non-stop all morning, not trying to avoid saying a single ess at all, worry radiating from him in its own kind of heat. He knows something is wrong between us but doesn’t truly know what. It is close to noon when he pulls me toward the food court. I peel off bills from my dwindling wallet and nudge him to the ice cream stand. Thirty-two flavours, and he buys a cone of each, eating all but two in a single sitting before cleaning up his fingers and face and following me with the last two cones.

Two nights ago, on new year’s eve, he killed a human being. When I first bound him to my service, it included a ban on killing but he seems to have dissolved that without knowing it existed at all. Charlie is no longer travelling with us, and she could be a monster when she had to – so he thought he had to take her place, and tested that on the kind of person who kidnaps small children alone in parks. He killed the man. Watched him bleed out and then wandered back to the motel with as much regard as we would have for a rabbit.

He is not human. Sometimes I need to remind myself of how deep that goes, how much his past shapes whatever present we are making. He shifted the balance between us in his eagerness to help me and I am trying to decide what to do, or what will become of our binding. Jay is trying not to be terrified that I will cast him aside, looking everywhere but right at me, which is why he spots them before I do, slows his pace slightly as he finishes the last cone.

“There are two people behind you; they’re watching me,” he says softly.

I grunt and find reason to turn and check a shop window. Two males, twenty-somethings with an air of geek about them so strong it could make me believe in auras. One is wearing an ill-fitting plaid shirt with thick glasses, pens in the a front pocket, mismatched socks and shoes and seems so much a stereotype that it’s definitely a trap of some kind. The other has expensive glasses and clothing, what Charlie would have called off-the-rack fashions, and walks beside his friend while pretending to be a long-suffering relative.

They normally come in groups of three, which means the third is probably covering an exit or busy
at a real job. Neither seems armed, though the second is waving a cell phone about and tapping keys on it. Both have hats on.

“Good catch,” I murmur to Jay.

He blinks up at me. “We’re going to eat them?” he says hesitantly, trying to fight back a grin.

“I meant in spotting them.” I give him a light swat on the back of the head and turn to the elevator, heading down to the basement: it’s only half developed and easy to lose crowds in. I walk as if I know where I’m going. No one gives Jay a second look, presuming he’s a younger relative.

I pause and study myself in a window for a moment. All my clothing is dark, down to the shoes. Probably some joke on Charlie’s part involving black magic but it definitely didn’t help hide us from the two men following us. I shove my hands into my pockets as turn a second corner, and then a third. “Get behind me and keep quiet,” I say quietly to Jay, who does so without further prompting.

The one I’ve labelled Glasses comes around the corner first, his clothing as fluid as his movements. Martial arts of some kind, hidden under his geek exterior. It wouldn’t fool anyone who knows what to look for, but it probably surprises other people quite often. The other one comes next, phone in hand, left hand held firmly in an over-sized pocket. Tranquilizer gun, if anything.

“Can I help you?” I say while Jay remains hiding behind me.

“Give us the specimen,” Glasses says. No preamble, no games. No attempt to hide that he is in charge.

“Ah,” the other one says, “I’m just getting human –.”

“Humans don’t eat 32 varieties of ice cream in one sitting without an ice cream headache.”

“Wait.” They stiffen, eyes on me. “That is your proof that this boy is an alien? Really?”

“You know what we are,” Glasses says fiercely, “consider that another proof.”

I sigh. I know it’s useless, but I have to try: “You do know that ET wasn’t a documentary, don’t you?” Nothing. “If I was a real Man In Black, wouldn’t you both be dead by now?”

“We are Protected,” the one with the phone says tightly.

“You’re wearing tin-foil hats.”

“As I said.”

I thread a hint of power in my voice and snap, “Go away.”

Neither moves, their beliefs a solid wall. “I could use some hats,” I say, not turning around.

Glasses is quick; he has time to raise an arm defensively but Jay is already moving in a blur and is beside me a moment later with their tin-foil lined hats, one in each hand, grinning proudly.

I smile. The other one pulls out his tranquilizer dart; I cause it to malfunction with a small flick of magic. The leader moves toward me quickly and I let my smile widen.

“You misunderstand,” I whisper, the words carrying around both of them, felt as much as heard. “He was my cover – modified, yes, but still merely that.”

They both fall back, uncertainty giving way to deeper fears. “The Glactic Order has no desire to be discovered at this time, and no plans for this small world. Do not press us,” I say, and bind a forgetting into the words, letting my shadow twist and writhe behind me like some caged evil. Hokey, but it holds them in frozen shock long enough for me to step back into my shadow with Jay and step out a moment later on the second floor.

“What wath that?” Jay demands, looking baffled.

“Alien hunters. They figured you were an alien.”

“But I hide well,” he snaps, glaring up at me.

“People do notice you eat. And there are people who notice things others don’t. They were a threat.” He snorts at that. “You could have killed them,” I add mildly.

“Why?” Jay just looks even more baffled at the question. “They don’t – they’re not binding-breakerth. Not human monthterth at all,” he says, trying to put alien instincts into human words.

I crouch down, holding his gaze. “You’ve spent your whole life running, Jay. Do you want to become the kind of monster others run away from?”

His jaw drops and he just stares at me and then offers up a small shake of his head.

“Do you think I am?”

“Not unleth you have to,” he mumbles, then flings himself at me, wrapping his arms about me. “Thorry,” he says, over and over until I gently push him away. He begins sucking on his right thumb, eyes wide and stricken.

He’s taken to doing that when scared now because I drew on his true nature to save a town; sometimes he notices he’s doing it, most of the time he doesn’t.

I reach over and pull his thumb out gently. “It will be okay.”

He stares at his thumb, then me. “Thorry,” he says again, sniffing.

“You don’t need be sorry.” I stand and snag his right hand in mine, walking toward the exit. “We’ll work it out.”

“We will?” he says, half-begging.

I just squeeze his hand in reply and he lets out a huge relieved sigh.

There is a third alien-hunter waiting outside the main doors; he doesn’t notice either of us at all.

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