The Mage awoke uneasily, to the chill of the grave against his arm. His eyes flickered from a fitful sleep, blurry without his glasses, but close enough to see the phantom that stood at his bedside. Translucent, he could see the wall and closet door behind its luminous, faintly blue form. It looked down on him with a hollow gaze, frost forming along the Mage’s bicep where the phantom’s hand touched him. He lurched upright in the darkness, making a lunge for his wand, before coming to his senses. He reached for his glasses instead, pulling them onto his face.
“What the hell, T.C.?” swore the Mage, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. This stood for Thomas Carlyle, as in Thomas Carlyle Thompson. In life, he had been a prominent businessman, known throughout the region. He had founded the mill town of Siluria. The local schools were named after this benefactor, who had died in 1922 after a bout with pneumonia. Now, the mill town was gone, disappeared, and where his mill had proudly stood, was a park. In death, Thomas Carlyle Thompson was now a self-appointed night watchman to the grounds.
“Pretty far from your park, aren’t you?” asked the Mage, and the phantom nodded and beckoned him silently. In reality, it was only a few blocks, but for a spirit, fettered to a location, the effort required to reach him here must have been great. The Black Phantom of Buck Creek, as T.C. was now known to most locals, had never been sighted outside of the mill grounds or the park. Even now, the ghost looked exhausted, his form, that of an older gentleman in an antique suit, was fading and flickering. He beckoned again.
“Hang onto your ectoplasm, T.C.” said the Mage. “Give me half an hour to get some pants on, and I’ll meet you at the park.” The ghost nodded and faded away. The Mage, known in wizarding circles as Sabbath, known to his friends as J.D., and known in this house as Daddy, blinked the sleep from his eyes and yawned heavily into his fist. His knuckles ached. He was getting too old for this.
Twenty minutes later, Sabbath locked his garage door behind him. On a leash beside him was Copper, a gangly red hound dog who sometimes came in handy for these situations, even if only as an excuse. He’d quickly scrawled a note to his eight-year-old daughter – WALKING THE DOG, BACK IN A FEW, CALL IF YOU NEED ME, DON’T TELL MOM – and grabbed his gear. His wife, a night shift nurse, was working. Don’t bother to laugh; he’s well aware that it sounds like the title of an adult film.
The night was cool, but not quite cool enough for the tan overcoat that Sabbath wore. Beneath it, he had packed light; only his wand, a handgun, and a softball bat. The wand was sandalwood, with a core of Djinn hair, and had been given to him by a Sufi Mystic on a desolate mountaintop shrine outside of Bamyan, in Afghanistan. The pistol was a .45 caliber Colt M1911A1 pistol his father had carried during the Berlin Wall Crisis. The short, aluminum bat had belonged to his daughter, until recently, when they had replaced it with a composite bat. Sabbath had glued pages from an old bible to the thick barrel of the bat. He was not expecting much trouble tonight.
Walking Copper, whose paws clicked along beside him, but was otherwise quiet, Sabbath zigzagged through the quiet suburban streets. He could hear an occasional car from the distant highway, and the mechanical hum from the nearby lime plant. By the time he arrived at the park, he had a decent idea why T.C. had paid him a visit. Posted on power poles and street signs were flyers, desperately inquiring about missing pets; seven, to be exact, in five blocks. He mentally kicked himself for not noticing, and patted Copper’s head protectively. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be satisfied with pets much longer. Sabbath was lucky the ghostly watchman was paying attention.
“Is something in the park?” asked Sabbath, when T.C. reappeared, shoving a handful of flyers towards the phantom. “Is something in the park taking the animals?” T.C. nodded and beckoned, floating past the ball fields and deeper into the park’s walking trail. Gravel crunched underfoot as Sabbath and Copper followed, sounding too loud in the still night. As they walked, Copper picked up a scent, and began furiously sniffing, dragging Sabbath along. The ghost let the hound dog lead, and fell in beside Sabbath at a leisurely pace.
“You ever follow pretty women around while they’re jogging?” Sabbath asked the ghost making conversation. His wife had reported the feeling of being watched while jogging in the park, which is why they’d gotten Copper, as a running companion for her. T.C. indignantly shook his head, but there was a guilty look on his face. “Nothing wrong with that,” Sabbath said conspiratorially, “Just because you’re a pillar of the community doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the beauty of the female form. I’d do the same if I was invisible.” T.C. shook his fist and vanished. Sabbath chuckled to himself while Copper continued to lead the way, his snuffling nose buried in the ground.
The energetic hound dog eventually lead him onto a back trail that paralleled the body of running water for which Buck Creek Park was named. They passed the remains of a crumbling stone bridge. Sabbath new that at midnight, beneath a full moon, the fallen arch transformed into an overpass to the faerie realms. Tonight’s moon, however, was a waning crescent hidden beneath the clouds, and it was long after midnight. After several more minutes, Copper stopped at the edge of the water and began to bay.
A large pipe, as thick as a man’s chest, lay across the creek, exactly level with the water. This was poor planning, on the part of the piping company, in Sabbath’s opinion. A few feet lower and the pipe would remain hidden beneath the water. A few feet higher and the creek would pass beneath it. As it was, the pipe collected all the scum, pollen and garbage that floated along the top of the water, so that on one side of the pipe there was a murky brown strip across the creek, stretching several yards from the pipe; a perfect place for something to hide beneath.
Sabbath thought maybe it was a Kappa, but dismissed the idea. Kappas tended to drown swimmers, but no one would want to swim in this muck. Something else, then. Regardless, he had no intention of wading into that muck, even if there wasn’t some murderous beast potentially lurking underneath. He also didn’t want to have to worry about Copper when things went down, and he’d need a car. He began to walk Copper back to the house.
“I’ll be back in the morning,” said Sabbath as Thompson’s ghost appeared again. “I’ve got a plan.”
* * *
After getting the kids ready for school and dropping them off, Sabbath took the mini-van to Walmart, where he picked up the ValuePower VP-65 car battery for $49.88 plus tax, plus an extra set of jumper cables. He knew the battery would be toast, but he wasn’t sure if it would fry the jumper cables. He called in to work to tell them he would be late. He would have the receipt for the car battery to back up his excuse about his car battery being dead. He would still need to work late. By 7:30 am he was back at the park, and the lack of sleep was catching up with him.
The joggers he passed gave him funny looks as he carried the car battery and jumper cables down the trail, yawning. He’d ditched the trenchcoat, the bat and the pistol. They wouldn’t help much with the thing under the pipe. The pistol was useful when dealing with crazed cultists or garden variety criminals, but magical creatures tended to be resistant to bullet wounds. Instead, he wore sandals, wrinkled cargo shorts he’d pulled from the laundry hamper, and a stained t-shirt, his wand tucked into a cargo pocket. He also wore sun glasses and a ball cap, because the morning sun was way too bright.
Arriving at the pipe, he wasted no time, setting the car battery on the ground, popping the caps, and hooking up the jumper cables. He quickly tested them for a spark, then spread them as far apart as possible and plunged them into the middle of the muck. Loud electrical pops can from the creek, and the cord quickly became too hot to hold. Sabbath dropped it and drew his wand, stifling a yawn. After half a minute, the battery was smoking, the acrid smell of burnt plastic filling the air. The popping had stopped, and a couple of dead fish floated to the surface of the creek. Just when he thought he may have wasted a perfectly good car battery, a flurry of fur and claws erupted from the muck.
Sabbath held his wand forward and drew the sigil of a U with a slash through it. Seconds later, the Bunyip’s slashing tusks slammed against the barrier of the Reflect spell, damaging itself instead. It shook its head before fixing Sabbath with its green eyes and renewing its attack. Sabbath only had a few seconds before the spell lost its effect. He made a simple loop in the air with his wand, and nothing happened. Cursing, he traced the sigil second and third time before the Reflect spell ended and the Bunyip crashed into him. He barely managed to hang onto his wand in his right hand as the Bunyip’s tusks pierced his left forearm.
Biting down on a scream that might draw unwanted attention, Sabbath drew the loop one more time, and finally the Energetic Strike coursed through the Bunvip’s face. Sabbath kicked out from beneath the monster and pulled himself up to lean on a tree trunk. The damage was adding up for the Bunyip as well. It made for the safety of the water, but Sabbath flicked his wand into a one–shaped sigil, casting a Trick on the monster, which left it confused and crashing into trees and branches, unable to find the water. As the maddened beats thrashed through the brush, Sabbath made a slash and loop with his wand, tracing the symbol for the Essence Leach.
Sabbath preferred not to dabble in the Dark Arts, and he felt the weight of the darkness on his soul as the spell began to work. It drained away the last of the injured Bunyip’s life force and drew it into the injured mage, healing his arm. The monster lay still on the ground, finished, as Sabbath flexed the tightness from his healed formarm. He couldn’t argue with the results of the spell, but Sabbath knew that every time he used the Dark Arts, it lead him down a path that could claim his very soul. Exhausted, he drew a large, black garbage bag from a cargo pocket and began the laborious process of hauling the Bunyip to the lime plant.
An hour later, Sabbath shoveled the last of the lime over the corpse, which would soon be dissolved. This came in handy when disposing of bodies of creatures that mundabe folk didn’t believe existed. He popped the tab on a Steel Reserve tall boy and felt the edge leave him as the cheap beer burned its way down to his belly. He tossed the shovel in the trunk and headed in to work, late. He was getting too old for this sort of thing.
The End <More Adventures to come>