"Paying For It"
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Gaz and Fiona got cold last night. Said it was too cold for anyone when they left. Gaz' mum has a flat a couple of blocks from Camden station. They thought she might let them stay there for a few nights, until the worst of the storms pass. Especially with Fiona being due in a few months. Mind you, Gaz' mum was the one that gave him that scar on his cheek. Maybe they were able to stay with her. Who really knows?
Gaz invited me along. I had to say no. The ol' bitch wouldn't want three East Enders on her clean sofa, now would she? No, I'll mind the flat I said. It really was getting cold in there. I spent a few hours taping up cardboard against the windows, to try and hold in some of the heat. The cold keeps seeping through, like a living thing that just wants in from the night. The old curtains are on my bed, along with Gaz and Fiona's thin blankets.
'I'll be warm enough to last the night,' I thought. 'The storm has to break, and then it won't be so bad. A few more months, and we can afford a bit of a proper flat. Something with heat, and stop squatting in these little holes. When the baby comes, we'll have to. No proper place to raise a child, this.'
Too cold for a child.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a magician. My dad used to pull pence coins out of my ears and make his thumb detach and all those little tricks that seem to come with parenthood. When I was seven, he bought me a book all about how to do magic tricks. That was the trouble. They were just tricks. Silly little things that you do to fool the other kids or audiences on the telly shows from Las Vegas and Morocco. I wanted real magic.
Then daddy made himself disappear. It was a long time before I started thinking about magic again.
Mum used to say that dad was going to come back. She never stopped waiting for him, even after his body was found and the insurance was paid and the bones went into the ground.
"Right around the corner, Anne!" She'd say. "Right around the corner and down the walk, your dad. The silly man must have stopped at the pub on the way home. Let's start supper then. I'll make him a plate." And she made him a plate up every night. Tribute to something she couldn't face.
When I was a teenager, all awkward and embarrassed and like every other girl, I walked by my mother's room in the middle of the night. She was moaning. I was mortified to think of my mum doing the same thing under the sheets that I did. But her door was a little open, and I saw her hands up on the pillow, beside her head. That was her own little magic. She couldn't understand where dad had gone, and conjured him back when she needed him. I started shutting mum's door when I went to bed at night, and in the day, starting thinking about magic again.
"Hallo, luv. Another look around?" Darius had very black hair and very white teeth. We used to giggle because we knew that both were fake. His name was really Arthur Cooper, be he liked to call himself Darius because it fit more in with his persona; the Supreme Arch-Magnus of North Camden's premiere occult bookshop, The Sick Rose. He was a bit of a prat, but he loved his books and believed everything they said. No matter what you brought up, he could tie it in with ancient mages from Mu, nagas in the sewers, the Brotherhood of Hidden Templers and Taoist immortals roaming the West End.
"Just for a few minutes, alright?"
"As long as your little coven there behaves themselves. No skyclad rituals or turning people into stone statues in this shop, mind."
"Right Darius." We giggled some more. The coven was his pet name for us. We might have even agreed if it wasn't for the fact that we all thought witchcraft was a bit wet. Witchcraft was for midwives who wanted to feel a little naughty. We wanted magic, the four of us. We liked to dress in what we felt would be proper for a magnus; long black skirts, severe collars, hair pulled back and gathered with long pins. Goths could hike their little skirts up high to show off all the leg and fishnets that they wanted, but no amount of eye makeup and weepy poetry could make them into someone powerful. Into what we wanted to be.
Fiona liked the art part; pentagrams, old woodcuts, secret codes, forgotten languages and cabbalist symbols. I think she was with us more because the magic part made her feel safe and daring at the same time. She was a thin girl, with long blonde hair and a solemn, serious mouth.
Daria was in love with the devil. She said when she was thirteen, she saw him for the very first time. He was wearing a dark grey suit with an open collared blue shirt, and was feeding ducks at the pond. He looked at her, smiled, and his eyes just briefly flashed red. She said it was her first orgasm. Since then, she wanted to see him again.
Liz was the practical one. She wanted power. Magic, as she used to say, was the ability to make the impossible possible, the unreal real, and the unright avenged. Of all of us, she was the one that most understood the games that we were playing. She was also tall and black haired, with round glasses that hid her eyes in the light. A sort of black and white totem for us all to follow at the time.
And me. The little egoist, who just had to know how the world worked and what history was before it got rewritten and hidden by the bastards and the mundanes. I wanted to know all about magic, and through that, all about everything else. A magic trick can fool a child into believing, and the same thing can be said about the world around us. But magic leads to the manual that shows you how to do everything. I wanted to know.
Daria never came back from Italy. We kept calling, but her housemate said she'd disappeared on a Tuesday night to pick up a couple of books and never came back. The trick to making someone disappear is the most common form of magic, I think. The easiest too. The policia closed the case a few months later, figuring that she'd just skipped off with some guy she'd met down there and would turn up in her own good time. Liz called around and finally got in touch with the book dealer she'd gone to see. He'd gotten a copy of a rare old folio called 'Summa Diabolica' by Benedicto Casiano, which she'd bought. Several thousand dollars. In fact, she'd cleared out her scholarship to get it. We did some research, and the text in question was supposed to be a manual for summoning the devil. We all hoped that they were happy together.
Fiona was in her first year of Art History when her drawing teacher tried to rape her after class. It was after that when we all got our first real taste of magic. We all were in our first year, Liz in Pre-Med and me in History. Well, mostly history. Also languages and medieval literature and anything I could get my hands on that might help in our quest. Liz did the other end, with science and metaphysics and the wobbly bits of the body.
Fiona came to us crying, with her shirt torn and a smear of paint on her cheek. It was obvious what had happened. Like the rest of us, she went to Liz. Liz wanted him dead. More than dead. She wanted him damned. We learned the very first rule of magic at that point.
Magic comes to those who want it the most.
"This is not right." Liz said, her glasses all opaque in the light. "Something needs to be done."
"I called the college. They refuse to make any kind of investigation." I was still thinking in straight lines.
"I wasn't talking about going through the school. I meant taking care of it ourselves."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not going to take a hammer to some guy in a parking lot."
"Magic, Anne. I have an idea."
That's how it started Liz had found some information which was actually above the table in terms of occult reality. Some guy she'd met, blond. Sort of like you. It was simple. You focus on the subject and you focus on the method. A picture of the teacher from the school paper. A diagram of a car's brake lines. A few days later, we heard Fiona's art teacher had lost control of his car, and slammed headfirst into another car. There was a family in it. The news said that one of the children was alive on a respirator, but they weren't hopeful. The rest didn't make it as far as the hospital. Fiona didn't talk to us for a year. Liz and I moved in together.
Her skin was velvet. Her tongue was everywhere. There are all sorts of rumours about tantric sex magic and spells fuelled with seminal fluids. Most of them made up by con men looking for an easy fuck. Liz had never taken it seriously. It was a bottle of red wine, too much stress and study, and her hand on my neck. Our first time.
Liz and I were not a couple in any sort of real sense. It certainly wasn't love. It was more moments of need along the way of a quest. The comfort of soldiers, as they used to rationalise it. She was devouring books day and night; hardly sleeping or eating. Even already thin, she was growing gaunt. I'd wake up to find her asleep face down on the pile of books, a cup of tea cold and forgotten beside her elbow. It was a little odd, taking her back to bed like she was the child. We worked endlessly, obsessed with the first few steps we had found.
I was ready for anything. Liz was that everything. Her drive and talent, my knowledge. The sex was an extra spice to continue that. We piled up page after page and ritual after ritual. Fiona wouldn't return our phone calls. Mum died of a stroke. Nothing mattered but the magic that we had finally found.
We summoned something.
Yes, I know. Summoning demons for power is about as brill as dumping a radio in the bath for music. But, we thought we had it. A bit of demon essence and we could reverse the world on the bastard. Suck him dry and in turn increase our own power. We called up a narglith: a demon of middle realms. Nothing too horrific but also something worth holding on to. This lot specifically has a succubistic element in it's make-up. Makes them a little more open to suggestion. Liz stepped into the circle with it. Fucked it senseless for twelve hours before the wretched little prick finally came.
The ritual worked like a charm, until we learned the true price. Demons have a lot of power, but it's all borrowed, like angels. In the angels' case, it's all from God, which is a pretty infinite source. But demons are the creation of man, and they gain their powers through that belief. Our ritual opened up a conduit in that belief. We gained the demon's power alright.
We also killed twenty-three people in the flats around us doing it. Strokes, heart attacks, coronaries… oh god, crib deaths. Twenty-three people dead because we had made just one tiny mistake. I came home the next day to find Liz in the tub, with the water red and the paring knife sitting beside her glasses. Her eyes were blue, you know.
Fiona found me at the home a few days later. I was almost comatose, and her voice was what led me back from the edge. All our things had been in Liz' name, and the state seized the lot. If one of the young cops hadn't been a friend of Daria's at Uni, I wouldn't have even been allowed to get my clothes. The books I left, along with all the magic trappings. I still didn't know everything, but I had already learned too much to bear. Fiona was working as an artist, doing tattoos, ad copy and anything she could get her hands on. Her boyfriend Gaz was a musician. Neither had much money, and Fiona had just learned she was pregnant. They still took me in. Magic, that.
"That's the story, more or less, really. Could use another drink though."
"Sure Anne. Hold on a sec, luv." John Constantine lit another cigarette and waved his arm. "Tracy! Another pint an' a gin here."
"It's nice of you to listen. I really couldn't take the apartment any longer, and especially not today." Anne smiled. "So why aren't you at home today? Family?"
"Up north, really. Planned to go up for the holiday, but had a few other things to take care of. Cold, this Christmas."
"I know. Looks lovely though. My dad used to point out all the lights at Christmas from my bedroom. Funny, what you remember."
"Hmm." Anne sipped at the gin and set it back down, looking up. "Are we going to stay here all day?"
"Just waiting for a friend, luv. Then we'll sort it all out. Cheers." John drank deeply, holding his cigarette in two steady fingers as he drank the pint.
"It's getting a little chilly in here, isn't it?"
"Nope. One more guess?" Death smiled as she sat down beside John Constantine. "Hello Anne. Having a good time?"
"Great. Just boring John here to death. Do I know you?"
"I think so. At least a little. Not like John here."
"Right." John lit another cigarette. "Lets leave us out then, right?"
"Of course. Anne, how do you feel?"
"Cold. Tired. Christmas always makes me a bit dodgy."
"Oh, Anne. It's not a problem any more?"
"I think you know." Anna looked down at the blue tinge around her fingernails and nodded sadly.
"I heard about the ankh. I thought you'd have better taste."
"Tastes change." Death smiled and laid a hand on Anne's shoulder. It was icy cold; more bitter than any wind that have ever touched her. "Close your eyes, Anne. I'm going to show you a magic trick."
"What's that then?"
"How to make someone disappear."
"That's a let down." Anne's eyes closed, and she began to lose substance; changing to a thin shadow before their very eyes. "That one's dead easy. Any one can figure out how to." The shadow vanished with a faint whisper and cool breeze.
"Little idiot froze to death, right?" John said, draining the last of his pint.
"It was kind of you to look after her until I could make it. This season always is busy. Hectic as you can imagine."
"Bollocks. If I'd known last night, I could have ducked around and brought her to the pub; bought her a pie and given her a couch. Why call me after she's dead?"
"But you know the answer, John. You always have. Everything comes due eventually; all prices are paid. She had a price to pay. The death will activate her forgotten insurance, and after her mother died, on a whim, she named Fiona her beneficiary. Fiona's baby will have a warm home, safe from the cold. Her debt is now paid." Death stood, dropping a small package on the table. "Merry Christmas, John."
"Call someone else next time, eh? Beats having me tell you to fuck off." John said, but the spot in front of him was empty. Death waits for no man, including, it seemed, John Constantine. He leaned over and hoisted the full glass of gin from the other side of the table and tipped it back. Only then did he pick up the package Death had left for him.
The paper was black, without any ribbons or fancy wrapping. Black paper, tied with a length of twine. John ripped open the top, and slipped out a small notebook. It was at least five years old, with the spiral rings already starting to rust. He flipped through it until he came to a page with handwriting different than the rest of the book. It had a beer stain on one quarter, and the words were a touch smudged from the moisture.
It was the basis of a ritual, with a lot of mindless wanking arranged around a simple spell of revenge. John could recognize his own handwriting. On the inside cover of the book, it said 'Elizabeth Grange'. Under that, in a very fine copperplate, was the hand of Death, and a single sentence. John read it several times before he tilted the other gin back and proceeded to get violently drunk, with a single line echoing in his mind.
"Eventually, everything comes due, and all prices are paid."