At the other end of the RV, Dyer is typing up what he is calling the mystery of the not-mysterious letter, which turned out to be an assignment from CASPER that wasn’t about ghosts at all but a woman wanting some more excitement in the bedroom with her wife and faking a ghostly haunting to accomplish it. Some days I really do understand why we’re not paid much at all to deal with incidents of weird. Dyer’s been dead a hundred years, so not sleeping means he has a lot of time to make reports poets would weep to read.
I don’t do reports. Too much like school. Besides, if anyone asks me, I just smile and let the god inside me leak into my eyes and most government bureaucrats decide not to ask anything else. We get the job done: even they have to admit that. I eat gods, Dyer eats ghosts, and between us we can deal with most problems in one way or another. He’s as solid as human flesh but doesn’t have any of the crap humans do so I not only have a partner for missions but the entire bathroom to myself. On the flip side, he doesn’t chip in for groceries he doesn’t eat but I figure it balances out.
I stare at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, considering what to attempt to my hair that would make Dyer gape in shock when my reflection is no longer mine. Sometimes the god inside me, the monster that lived under my head, manifests like this when it wants to be let out for fun. This time the face that stares at me is a few years older than mine and secret-agent bland if secret agents were bland, the kind no one would notice until they realized they should have in the first place. He’s the one who put the god inside me, possibly by accident. A friend, but sometimes other things as well.
“Jay has a phone. You could have used his phone to call me,” I snap.
“He would have listened in; I bought him three games to make sure he probably isn’t right now,” the magician says, but his smile doesn’t quite touch his eyes. He looks tired, the wandering magician, more than usual. He’s definitely thinner, hasn’t shaved in at least three days. Worn out, almost.
“Okay. You want to step out of the mirror and actually talk to me?”
“No. I’m trying to rest right now. I don’t have the energy to spare for that.” He runs a hand through his hair, hesitates, then says: “You’ve heard about Raven’s Bluff.”
I nod. “Small town, two thousand and change people. No one’s there now. Just broken buildings and not a single sign of life. CASPER wants us to look into it, but secret agency or not we’re based out of the department of education and all the big alphabet soup groups are swarming it right now. Way I see it, the bosses just don’t want to see me or Dyer get poached by some other agency. Why?”
“I was there.”
And that’s all I need to hear to put a few pieces together. I’ve seen him like this before, when he murdered some minor magician for being a psychopath. “Talk to me, Nathen.”
He actually flinches at my using his name, but does. How he and Jay tricked the Bank into taking his account and giving it to some kid named Lucas, how they got pissy and the end result was dumping the magician and the entire town Outside the universe. And Jay was too terrified to go outside; not that it would have helped, but it took longer to get the town back. So you end up with a town where everyone died and it looks as if some terrorist secret weapon went off, none of which is good for anything.
“Yes. I am good, but – what the Bank did shouldn’t have been possible. Banishing Outsiders back where they came from is easy for magicians to do. Perhaps banishing a magician could be as well, because we come into contact with so much from Outside, but an entire town?” He shakes his head. “I need you to look into that whenever you are there, Charlie. Please.”
“Okay. We can do that. Jay can call me about it after. How is he?”
“Rough. The nightmares are getting worse. I can protect him, perhaps, but if I don’t made it he will seek you out after.”
“Fuck off. Where are you? Dyer and I will be there.”
He actually smiles at that. “Even after everything?”
“You’re my friend. Despite everything.”
“The nightmares are not about Raven’s Bluff. It just made him less able to avoid having them again, dreams of something out beyond the darkness. Something even the magic is afraid of.” He pauses. “The universe as well. Something is coming that has the universe afraid, and I think that somehow – someway – Jay and I seem to be involved in that, at least on Earth.”
“How the hell do you make a universe afraid?”
“I don’t know. It’s not about dying; the universe was made from the wild madness of the places Outside. Some day it will be unmade, and it knows that. Not accepts it, of course, but no one does.”
“So you’re the universe’s shrink?” I snap. I can count on three fingers the number of times I’ve seen him genuinely uncertain about things; magicians know things, or they wouldn’t last as magicians.
“I don’t know what it will be. Something to alter the very fabric of the universe, if it succeeds. Or make it so the universe never existed at all. These are just guesses. I don’t know. I don’t even know how to know. But if I die and Jay survives, he will need you.”
“And if he dies, you’re going to need me.”
“I might, at that.” He lets out a low sigh. “If more things are getting in and out of the universe, that might explain Raven’s Bluff. It’s a given that satellites and eye witnesses have put me near it for certain agencies by now, enough that I can’t simply show up and expect to investigate it without problems. Find out what you can.”
“We’ll try. And tell Jay that if he is having nightmares, they should be about me.”
He laughs softly at that. “I will,” he promises and is gone from the mirror.
I stare at my reflection, then fight my hair to make it long, straight and boring, and head to Dyer’s room to knock on the door. I have no idea if we’ll be breaking rules by going to Raven’s Bluff, but I’m not in the mood to care about any of that at all.