The town was quiet. Too quiet. A girl in a red polo neck with a heavy crimson jumper pulled over the top sat listening on a bench in front of the Caird Hall. The open courtyard appeared bare, except for the herself and a few benches. The trickle of nearby fountains tinkled like a distant song on the cold December air. A crisp packet rustled enviously by a bin, a harmony it didn’t need.
Whether deceitful, shy or light footed, Mavis MacCallum didn’t know. All she did know was that whatever demon was watching her, it wasn’t here to catch a show.
She pulled the hood of her jumper round her ears, only muffling the night sounds further, in a futile attempt to keep the cold at bay. A drag queen in a black dress, much too big for the man within it, ran by. Wearing a silver Marge Simpson wig that he had to hold onto desperately so it didn’t blow away in the wind, he shouted “Help is on the way dear!” and made for the fork that split the town in two. Down one prong lay a street of pubs, clubs and takeaways, all bright and noisy for the easy distraction of nighttime revelers. On the other – something far darker.
It looked like an ordinary street to most. Phone shops, clothes shops, cafés and deli bars, all sat like squat little sentries for a power they couldn’t sense. A boundary lay between the Disney shop and the plus size woman’s clothing store, a boundary between our world and the demonic realm.
A boundary that wasn’t as secure, as some members of the Sorcerer’s Stasi – as Mavis liked to call them – seemed to insist on their monthly visits.
“Two essays and a heap of mandatory reading,” Mavis spoke to the wisps of white air that came freely from her lips. “That’s what I could be doing if I wasn’t sitting here like a fool.”
For a moment, her face blushed red as she thought the drag queen had heard her. He paused, stood and turned to face her, only to pick up the wig she hadn’t noticed him drop and continue on his merry way.
She heard something then, just a soft thump and a curious chuckle, somewhere there in the square. Hopping down from the wooden table, she closed her eyes and tried to feel out into the night. Something quivered at the thought of her finding them. Joy? No, not quite. But something. Whatever it was, it thought this was a game.
“Are you OK?” the voice made her jump. A light amber glow filled her hand as she summoned a spell, ready to maul her attacker.
“Jacques?” she dropped her hand by her side as the lanky, smelly drunk leaned in close to her, the smell of whisky hot on his breath.
“That’s me, doll,” he stood back and extended his arms out in a grand ‘Ta-da!’ that knocked him on his backside.
“Come on, Jacques,” she tried to help him up. He was surprisingly heavy for his gaunt appearance, strong too, and he pulled roughly on the soft flab of her arm, bringing her down with him. As she rolled onto her back, she let a silent scream of frustration wrack her body as she gazed up into the awesome beauty of the night sky above.
She liked the stars more when she was a child. Her mother, a witch like herself, had promised her that the stars were watching her and would look out for her, even when her mother wasn’t around. They twinkled passively, probably basking in their own goddamned brilliance, Mavis thought nastily to herself. Cruel and distant and cold, that was how she saw the stars now. It was all well and dandy being gorgeous, but not worth a grain of salt if there was nothing to back it up.
Right on cue a gaggle of drunk students, one of which Mavis recognized from her philosophy lectures, walked past and began to laugh just a little too loud, no doubt making sure Mavis heard them. She knew what they’d be thinking: “look at that fat bitch, rolling around Caird Square for all to see with a smelly drunk. Suppose, if you looked like that, you’d take what you could get, wouldn’t you?”
What they didn’t know, and she did, was that if Jacques so wanted too, he could eviscerate them all in under a minute and dance in their guts while their hearts still beat a fountain of blood down upon them like rain.
“S-sorry, doll,” he slurred. “I promise its just whisky this time.”
“A hangover is better than a prison sentence. You don’t want to get sent to Bastmount again,” she said as she heaved him to his feet. “That’s it, there we are.”
“No, not again,” he sobered up a little at the thought of returning to that hell hole. “I don’t see the problem, it’s just a wee sniff.”
Jacques was actually a Jacqual, a creature that got its jollies off of smelling the sick. The worse the diagnosis for the patient, the greater the smell for Jacques, resulting in a much stronger inebriation. Although not harmful, they still made difficult times that much worse by stalking cancer patients and the terminally ill, sniffing the air they left behind.
“Those wee sniffs got you banned from Ninewells. You lost your job, Jacques.”
“Awk, job schmob,” he threw his hands in front of him, almost toppling himself again, in a faux show of blasé bravado. “What are you doing here anyway? Dogging class.” He laughed at his own joke. “Its nighttime, see. That’s why it’s funny. Who has class at nighttime?” Another round of self-gratifying, uproarious laughter.
“Aw come on now, Mavy. Enough of this. The boundary is f-fine,” he slurred. “Absolutely, peckingly fabulously. F. I. N. E. Nothing’s getting through that, not anymore.”
But Mavis knew better.
She’d listened, when those prissy bitches at the campus coven had not, to the signs in the air. She’d smelled the waves of distortion around that area of town. She could see as plain as day the type of people that congregated around it, for no discernible reason, and she knew what it all meant.
She’d hoped Sarah, her friend from back home, would have taken her seriously. But she’d been too swept up in coven politics to even bother. No, instead of watching for demons bursting through a hole in reality, she’d rather charm her instagram photos to get more likes and curse chain texts that would truly bring about whatever burden they promised if you didn’t follow their instructions.
“Why do you bother with potions and crystals,” Ashley, the coven leader, had laughed when Mavis had followed Sarah tentatively to that first year meeting with the coven. “This isn’t, like, the fourteenth century, you know. Salem was a long time ago.”
“Salem happened in the seventeenth century,” Mavis had kindly corrected. And that was all it had taken to shatter a friendship that had been forged since they were six years old. Sarah was in, Mavis wasn’t. All hail Queen Ashley.
The curious chuckle from before came roaring through the square like the hooves of a hundred cavalry rushing for the throes of war. But Mavis heard it for what it was this time. It wasn’t curious at all, it was mocking.
“What was that?” Jacques was sobering up quickly, deliberately filtering his blood at a faster rate.
“I told you,” Mavis shouldn’t have said anything, her pride getting in the way, as the voice began to whisper something.
“Shhh,” Jacques tried to figure out where the sound was coming from.
More muffled whispers echoed throughout the square.
“Mavis, leave. Go,” Jacques pushed her towards the shopping centre nearby. “You have to leave. This isn’t normal.”
“Wa…ha, ha,” the voice was getting louder.
“I’m not leaving you. You can’t defend yourself properly,” Mavis insisted as Jacques roughly pushed her away, his hands bruising the skin on her shoulders.
“This isn’t some low level Snarker or Pulliwill, Mavy. I think you’re right, I think the boundary has been brea…” and then his hands were gone.
“Jacques?” something was breathing down her neck. Her blood turned ice cold as t savaged her veins, her breath not daring to leave the safety of her chest. “Jacques?”
She turned and the night was still once again. Silence reigned like a tyrannical monarch and Mavis was in the square alone.
The stars turned away, leaving the sky a black canvas of endless night.