Apr. 23rd, 2012

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The crappy punk band was about three quarters of the way through its crappy set when Rafaela caught a glimpse of Noah's face in the crowd. He looked exactly the same as he did the last time she had seen him--the only difference being a pair of cheap, plastic sunglasses. She couldn't tell if he had seen her, but just the presence of that gelled, spiky hair, pierced septum, slight overbite, and dog collar padlocked around his neck came across as kind of a blessing.

When Rafaela was working, she didn't like to draw too much attention to herself, so she shoved the cheaply tattooed idiot next to her and slipped away through the ensuing, good-natured brawl that followed. Her goal was the men's room, wherein she pushed open the doors to all five stalls, apologizing whenever the occasion called for it. The one she was looking for turned out to be the one farthest from the entrance. It looked exactly the same as it did in the photos she had received in the mail last week--the only difference being that the medical examiner had removed Noah's body.

The pictures, the coroner's report, and the general vibe in the room all smelled like suicide, but another odor drifted subtly underneath it all. It reminded her of a teenager burning patchouli oil to cover up the scent of weed. Why would Noah still be hanging around if he was so desperate to leave in the first place? Who the hell sent Rafaela those photos? And why?

After grabbing a beer from the bar, she wandered back into the audience to get her thoughts together--no small feat given that crappy, crappy band. How long was this fucking set going to last? And whose idea was it to name themselves Cunt-Punch?

She put the bottle to her lips and dropped it when a hand slapped her between the shoulder blades--a hand so cold that it froze her skin through her army-surplus jacket, argyle sweater, T-shirt, and bra strap. "How's it goin', Raf?" said what she assumed was the hand's owner.

She frowned, turned, and asked Noah, "Aren't you supposed to be dead?"

"I am dead."

"Literally?"

Noah grinned. "Cool, right?"

Her mind contemplated the growing welt on her back. "But you're physically here."

"Yes and no." He shrugged. "Let's just say I got skills I didn't have when I was breathing."

"Like?"

"Like, for starters, I'm standing here when I'm lying on a slab with more smack in my veins than blood."

"I see your point."

"And," he added, "I just turned you invisible just by touching you."

"Seriously?" Just to be sure, she snapped her fingers in the face of the nearest idiot. She frowned again. "I can still see my hand, Noah."

"It's just a glamour, dumbass," he sneered. "You've done it before."

"Once," she said, "and it took four of us and hours to prep."

"Skills!"

Impressed, Rafaela tilted her head. "So what's this about then?"

"Aside from showing off the skills?"

Rafaela nodded.

"I brought you here to kill you!"

She concentrated long and hard on this before she spoke again. "Why?"

"Because that was the deal," he replied. "I'm supposed to take out the old coven and some solitaries here and there. But I thought I'd start with you. Student killing the master and all."

"That's really interesting," she told him truthfully. "Who wants me dead?"

"Aside from me?"

Rafaela nodded.

"That would be telling, wouldn't it?"

"Yes, it would."

"She told me not to."

"Even though I'm going to be dead soon?" While she was at it, she had to clarify, "I'm assuming that means really dead, and not dead like you."

He clapped his hands. "You really learn fast, don't you?"

"You never did."

"Fuck you, Raf!" he roared before he spit on her face.

Her nose exploded as if it had been smashed by a brick. She staggered backward, and the audience unconsciously parted for her.

"I'm just getting started, you fucking airhead!" He snatched a glass out of the hand of an idiot and dipped his middle finger inside. While the idiot in question just shrugged off the loss, Noah turned his head toward the stage, and then back at Rafaela. "Cunt-Punch, huh?" He snapped his fingers, causing her to grab her crotch.

"Fuck!" she cried out.

"You like that?"

"No," she groaned.

"Then you're gonna hate this." When poured the rest of the liquid onto the back of his hands a weight began crushing Rafaela, forcing her knees to buckle and give out. "How's that feel?"

Through her teeth, she replied, "Really bad..."

He laughed. "Told you I had skills!"

"Yes, you did," she wheezed. "Pulular."

"What?"

Rafaela cleared her throat. "I said, Pulular!"

With that, the crowd swarmed around Noah, giving her a chance to pull herself to her feet and try to work something out. Her agony, the mystery of Noah's current condition, her concern over whether or not she'd need plastic surgery, that crappy band being on its fifth crappy encore, and her inherent flakiness made it extremely difficult to focus, but she wasn’t particularly worried. She’d been doing this kind of thing for almost twenty years, so inspiration was bound to stroll into her mind anytime. To help it along, she did a quick inventory on the contents of her pockets--a plastic lighter, chips of amber in a medicine bottle, a butterfly knife, a brass cigarette case filled with sticks of incense, a small grimoire, a kazoo, a candle, and a cell phone.

Rafaela reached the bar and leaned on it, squeezing her eyes shut. "Okay," she panted, "this is kind of a big deal." After a long, slow, deep breath, unscrewed the lid from a salt shaker and spilled it on the counter. With her left hand, she scribbled a sigil into it, and with her right, she dug through her jacket.

By this point, Noah had extracted himself from the crowd and was headed for her, looking smug--annoyed, but smug. Rafaela lit some incense, traced the shape of the sigil with the smoke, and whispered.

Noah said, "Don't you think you're going to--"

Rafaela twirled the knife open and slammed the blade into the middle of the salt.

His shoulders fell. "Son of a bitch! You did not just ward me out of here!"

"I did."

"Motherfucker!" he hissed as he stormed over to the exit. Just before he left, he called out, "I'll be right outside, waiting for you."

"I know," she moaned impatiently. "Just go."

The glamour wouldn't last long without Noah around, so she extinguished the incense, pried her athamé out of the counter, and wiped off the salt. Sure enough, the bartender blinked. "Whoa! Didn't see you there!"

"Of course you didn't," she muttered. And since she was going to have to hang around and work out a solution to Noah problem, she asked, "Could I get a bottle of Sheisse Haus, please?"

"Sure," the bartender replied, but when he saw the condition of her face, he jumped. "Holy shit! What the fuck happened to you?"

"Punk rock," Rafaela replied.


_____
*This is a bit of world-building for a fantasy novel my wife and I are writing.*

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Jeremiah

January 2013

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