The light had developed
that changing quality to it that informed the alert it was
fall. That meant, mercifully, that the temperature was dropping,
Alison stood on
the porch, looking out into it. The southern summer was the
worst part of living here. No.
It was the second
worst part. The worst part was the neighbors and their parochial
attitudes and their going on and on and on about religion.
That was all some
of them could talk about. The most common conversation opener
was ‘Which church do you go to?’
Small minded. As
soon as Robert finished this contract, she was going to demand
that they left. Oregon. California.
Anywhere but here.
Besides. There was a thing out there. A beast of some kind.
She knew it was there.
Nobody else seemed
to, so perhaps it was all in and only in her mind. All in her
head. Maybe she was going nuts.
If she was, it was
the heat that was doing it, the humidity, and the utter secrecy
with which she was forced to live.
Not to mention the
loneliness. At least in some places she could admit to not
following the teachings of scripture.
Here? She dared
not. She even had forced herself to go to church a couple of
times, hating herself for the hypocrisy and being careful what
she had said.
The beast had been
Maybe the beast
was after her. Maybe it hunted witches. Maybe it was something
these good people had called to keep her kind out.
She would be only
too glad to get out, but she could not. Not until the contract
They needed the
Maybe she would
have to separate from Bob for a while. Maybe he’d understand
if she told him she was leaving. Not leaving him. Just that
she needed a vacation.
Just that she needed
space and air and freedom. She needed to be able to step out
into her back yard and do stuff without worrying about being
And there it was.
The beast. Snuffling at the edge of her lawn. It sort of looked
like a dog. In fact, she would have thought it was exactly
that, or maybe a coyote, if she had not had other senses.
It was something.
A hellhound, maybe, if such things really existed. Knowing
her luck, they just might.
Maybe she was hallucinating,
but she murmured a few words.
It backed off, then
abruptly turned and padded away. No doubt to bother somebody
else, somebody with fewer defenses.
She hoped it would
not end up hurting anyone. She would feel bad if it mauled
some kid who’d bought a tarot deck and was trying to see the
That was the moment
at which she realized she had to do something about the beast.
She began to make
plans almost immediately. Bob was working twelve and fourteen
hour days, yet another reason to be glad when the contract
He didn’t normally
work quite that hard. In fact, she had not managed to get him
into her bed for, literally, weeks. He’d been too tired to
perform, as it were.
Maybe that was the
real reason she was so out of sorts. Maybe, though, it was
First, she had to
identify the beast. Not, after all, a hellhound, she realized
quite quickly. Had it been such, in normal circumstances, she’d
have called the nearest Catholic priest. They were properly
trained to deal with demons of all ranks, after all, far more
than she was.
But this was not
a hellhound, it was an elemental creature of some kind. That
was, as it happened, far more dangerous. Hellhounds can only
really touch people who are genuinely evil.
Elementals can kill.
led her in a different direction. Obviously, somebody had summoned
it. She still thought it could be the good citizens, calling
something to deal with outsiders. On the other hand, most of
them were frankly too narrow and dull to even believe in magic,
much less attempt to wield it.
Most of them, if
they did believe in it, would think it the devil’s work.
The other possibility
was somebody who didn’t want rivals. What mage would set up
One who didn’t want
to be disturbed. As stifling as this community was, at least
somebody living and working here would not have to worry about
dealing with other magic users.
The beast would
probably be completely invisible to mundanes. She doubted Robert
could see it, even, and he had a wee bit of sensitivity. Or
she would never have married him.
Of course, he had
yet to give her a female child. Or any kind of child. She would
have settled for a boy, after eight years, but no...
In any case. Banishing
an elemental...and this one was clearly earth...was one of
those things that managed to be simple and dangerous at the
The process was
not complicated, but it was likely to lead to her being attacked
by the beast.
It was that she
was preparing for, carefully. For one thing, she did not want
to deal with it at her home, but where?
walk right into churches, even if any of the churches here
would have tolerated her. A properly cast circle could stop
one, she just needed a place to put it.
The logical spot
was Martin Hill. It was called a hill by virtue of being one
of the few places that rose above the unrelenting flatness
of this particular part of the country. In any other place
it would not have obtained such distinction, and probably not
even a name. Had it been only a little larger, they would probably
have claimed it a mountain.
Martin Hill did
not belong to anyone, having been donated to the county by
the Martin family fifty years ago. It was a park, and a popular
one. But there were times when it would be almost deserted,
and nobody around here enforced ‘closed at dusk’ on any level
other than the honor system.
Yeah. That would
be the place. Slowly, she began to gather up what she needed.
Of course, that
was when the weather took a turn for the worse. Witch or no,
Alison could not simply turn off the rain. It did not work
Sure, she could
affect the weather, but not so abruptly or suddenly. Which
left her the choice between delaying things and, well...
Trying to cast a
spell in the rain. Not that she had never done so before. It
was miserable, but certainly doable.
Could she really
risk waiting? She glanced at the skies, then at the doppler
on her computer.
It looked like it
was about to set in for a couple of days. The fact that that
was highly unusual stuck in her mind.
Maybe, just maybe,
she had a battle on her hands. The thought both alarmed and
excited her. She hadn’t got into a real fight in, at this point,
a good long while.
A good long while
indeed. There was no easy way to find out, though. She had
to go to the hill, and try to capture and banish the beast...and
keep her eye open for other trouble.
Trudging up the
hill in the rain, she thought she might have no problems finding
the beast. Was that it in the shadows?
Yes. It was following
her, looking more like a dog now than before, as if settling
into that form.
That was not a good
thing. If it settled too much, if it became too solidly here,
it might be hard indeed to get rid of. And she was most certainly
not keeping it as a familiar!
It was definitely
following her. Definitely. With a frown and narrowed eyes,
she quickened her pace, just a little.
It broke into a
slight trot. Pad, pad, pad.
She scowled into
the rain. Blasted thing was following her like a stray dog.
It was not, of course.
It was trouble on paws. Although, oddly, it had not actually
It had to be under
orders not to. That was the only explanation. The fact that
it had no reason to did not occur to her.
She reached the
top of the hill, and started to cast the circle.
It sat just outside,
now fully manifested into a shaggy brown dog. It regarded her
with sad eyes and wagged its tail slowly.
A trick. It was
a trick. It was trying to get her sympathy so she did not banish
She steeled her
heart. She opened her mouth to begin the binding spell.
Blast it. It was
making it hard to concentrate. She closed her eyes so she could
not see it.
“Stupid thing,” she
said, the spell shattered as she cracked her eye open. “What?”
It just sat there
at the edge of the circle, but it, and her resolve weakened.
No, she was not going to keep the thing as a familiar. It already
had a master!
But the circle broke,
and it padded towards her. “You have a master.”
It nudged her. “What?”
Then she saw the
slim chains of the binding spell, and she realized that it
was stretching them, pulling them to the limit. In a moment,
it would break free...
And those chains
chafed, and in a moment, she changed her mind, her heart softened...and
she reached out and broke them.
It wagged its tail
and licked her face. For all the world, it looked like a normal
returning whence it came.
A week later, the
contract ended. Alison never did find out who had been using
But she did make
a mental note. In future, she would never assume.
She would always
# # #
The Beast by
published June 29, 2009