New Rourke Unmasked
The Walkabout: Vision
Business of the Gods | The Furthest Away Is Home | Beyond the Borders
Showers helped. Summer would languish under the patter of hot water and above the rising steam. The wet ran over her, and she could feel every inch of her skin. She was encased in her own little world. She would reach out a hand to touch the slick tile and find comfort in it being just where she had expected it to be. Since in this space her perceptions ruled, only that which she touched existed, and permanence was at her command. There was no hotel room, no Gabriel asleep in the other bed, no messages from the beyond, no unspecified quest, no guilty obligations. The world made sense.
Gingerly, she stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around herself. The rough fabric itched, as she knew it would. She sidled over to the counter, running her hands over the laminated top, looking for her brush. Something stung her eyes, so she rubbed them and blinked.
Her heart fluttered. She could see! The walls were off-white. The towel was blue. There, staring back at her from years gone by was her face in the mirror.
Finally, she thought, it’s over!
Then the world came back to her.
“Shit. Here we go again.”
Something churned in her stomach violently. The thing she retched up was not unlike a lizard, except that it was made entirely of flame. It writhed on the counter then slithered down the sink’s drain. A large beetle crawled onto the faucet, stood up on its hind legs and let out an ear-piercing scream.
Summer shouted, wheeling backward. She hit the door with a loud bang then fell to the floor.
As sat up on the cold linoleum, Gabriel banged on the door. “Summer? You okay?”
“Yes.” she said, blinking and waving her hands in front of her face. She was blind again.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Just…just give me a second, will you?”
After crying for the next five minutes, she picked herself up, got dressed, exited the bathroom, and with a keen smile asked, “So what are we doing today?”
* * *
“Boy, howdy, we sure are having some fun now.” Summer said dryly.
They were in the backroom of one of those small town bars that cropped up on the edge of the Idaho state line near the Nevada border. Summer sat leaning the back of her chair against the table where Gabriel was in the middle of a high-stakes, and quite illegal, poker game. She imagined dim light barely illuminating the other, most likely sketchy looking, players, faded posters of scantily clad and provocatively posed beer models, and mold forming under the ice machine. All of these things were present, but what they actually looked like was a mystery to her. The air was stale with smoke, it stunk of skunky beer, and the floor was suspiciously sticky.
“You didn’t need to come.” Gabriel said.
“Oh, I guess I’ll just go to the movies then.”
“My wife’s like that too.” said one of the other players who had introduced himself as Marty. “But I’m smart enough to leave her at home.”
“She’s not my wife.” Gabriel said. “We’re a traveling sideshow.”
“I’m the funny one.” Summer chimed in.
“You could just go sit in the bar.”
“And leave you to lose all my money? Not on your life.”
“I’m not going to lose all our money. Trust me.”
The bet came to Gabriel. He raised.
“This is the sixth place we’ve been and we’re barely getting by. You said you used to do this for a living.”
“A living. Singular.” Gabriel said trading in a card. “I wasn’t lugging anyone around before.”
“So it’s my fault then?”
Another player, who went by Big Lou, grumbled, “Shut up and play the damn game.”
After a several more minutes of listening to cards and chips move around the table, Summer grew antsy. She was becoming severely under stimulated, and the things here that she could perceive she did not want to contemplate.
“Is this really how you plan to fix things with Akiva?”
“Are you just going to keep asking that same question?”
“Yes.” Summer said cutely.
“There’s your answer.”
Two exceedingly dull hours later the, Gabriel cashed out, and they started walking along the sidewalk towards the bus depot. After three weeks on the road, Summer thought they must have made an interesting pair. Her, a handsome Native American woman trekking across this great land, fit and ready for whatever might come her way as long as it didn’t involve color or moving faster than an easy stride. Then there was Gabriel, whatever he looked like, being all pig-headed about his life choices, unintentionally racist on occasion, and really grouchy in the morning. She had not been on an adventure like this since she had lost her sight. It felt good to get out in the world again, even if the actual plan was a barely thought out scheme to fix a relationship which, as Summer saw it, probably wasn’t going to work out anyway. But she knew that when you saw someone drowning, you’ve at least got to give them something to hold on to.
“Did you win enough to get us to Vegas?”
“We’re not going to Vegas.” Gabriel said.
“I thought that was the whole idea? Reno?”
“I said I was going to Nevada, and you decided to come with me.”
Maybe he was just grouchy all the time.
“Then where are we going?”
“I know a few places in Elko. The games are fair, and I can probably get a job there.”
“Is that your best option? I mean, you’re not the luckiest man in the world now.”
“I’ll make do. I always have.”
“That’s the spirit.” Summer grinned.
“Are you going to be this incessantly chipper the whole time?”
“Oh, come on. It’s a nice day. We’re out in the fresh air. Getting exercise. You’re…working on self improvement. Cheer up. No one likes a sour puss.”
“I can’t help it.” Gabriel with forced melancholy. “You bring it out of me.”
“Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards fixing it. You need to have a more positive outlook. Sure, your life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. I mean, look at me. I was blinded by a celestial bookkeeper, but I'm out here putting my time into helping other people. What you put out into the world is what you get back. Hold your head up and march on. The world isn’t all that bad. Trust me.”
It was at that moment when Summer realized she was alone. She tapped her cane around just to be sure.
“Son of a bitch ditched me. After everything I’ve done for him.”
She heard voices a little behind her between the Doppler effect of the afternoon traffic. One of them was definitely Gabriel, the other sounded like a woman.
“Don’t mind me.” Summer said, making her way back to them. “I'm just in a town I've never been to with no idea where I am. I'll be fine on my own.”
“Lady,” Gabriel said to the woman, “I think you’ve got the wrong idea about me.”
The woman replied. “I am not propositioning you, if that is what you think.”
Summer got closer and heard the very low and surprisingly quiet purr of a well-tuned engine. As she tapped along, she determined it belonged to a stretch limo, and the woman was talking to Gabriel from the window of the back seat.
“I know who you are, Mr. Docket.” the woman continued. “You aren’t exactly easy to find. Still, we have business to discuss.”
“What kind of business?”
“The kind that involves you being an agent of the pattern weaver.”
“Oh.” Gabriel said, attempting to sound coy.
“If you get in, we can go over the details. If you don’t like what I have to say, I will drop you off wherever you are going.”
“Hello.” Summer said. “I’m here too.”
“You can bring the seer if you wish.”
“You know her too?” Gabriel asked, surprised.
“I make it my business to know things.”
“What do you think, Summer? Lady wants to give us a lift.”
Summer affected a pitiable expression. “My feet hurt.”
Inside the limousine was plush and comfortable. Summer helped herself to the bar and tried to relaxed as they rode along. The seats were like soft, leather-clad, marshmallows, and the whole car smelled of sage, jasmine, and honey. There were several LED screens inside displaying scrolling stock tickers, news sites, social media hubs, and one constantly shifting through endless varieties of porn. Of course, these meant nothing to Summer, but the woman, and the bird next to her, were of particular interest. She was stunningly beautiful, with dusky skin, large almond eyes, and jet black hair piled atop her head, held in place with two sticks tipped with tiny khopeshs. To say her curves were alluring would have been a gross understatement. She wore a white button down blouse, a black pencil skirt, and poised delicately on her nose was a pair of small, round, green-tinted, spectacles, most likely decorative. The bird was a brightly colored cockatiel, bobbing and jerking its head absentmindedly in every direction. At least that is what Gabriel saw. For Summer it was something else altogether. The woman and the bird were made of magic; that was abundantly clear. They beamed so brightly, that Summer had to squint in order to look in their direction, and only for about a minute at a time before it started to hurt. In place of the woman, Summer saw a lioness lounging in her car seat the way a human would. She bore scars that had long since healed over. The bird was a large, evil-looking, raven, and it would not take its gaze off Summer. Summer lifted her glass to her lips again, and pretended to take a drink. She needed to be clear headed here. It paid to keep your wits about you when dealing with gods.
“So, who are you?” Gabriel asked. “And how do you know who we are?”
“My name is Basinah Musharraf. And I—”
“That’s not your real name.” Summer interrupted.
Basinah slowly and deliberately turned her attention from Gabriel to Summer. “No. It’s not. But you are quite aware that names have power, which is why you don’t go by yours.”
Now Gabriel looked suspiciously at Summer. “You two know each other?”
Summer shook her head. “Never seen her before.”
“Then how…Oh. She’s one of those. Great.”
“Summer’s not your real name?”
Summer shrugged. “Is that really important right now?”
“You kinda just made it important.”
“I’ll tell you later.”
“As I was saying,” Bashinah said sharply, “I trade in information. Due to rather extraordinary circumstances, a client of mine has a problem that goes beyond conventional solutions. I consulted with the pattern weaver and in exchange for a favor, it pointed me in your direction, Mr. Docket.”
“As a barer of the Hands of Fate, you can eschew certain restrictions and get the job done without overly complicating matters.”
“You mean I can cut through some sort of cosmic red tape.”
Basinah nodded. “That is an apt analogy.”
“Must have been some favor.”
Summer noted Gabriel was wisely not mentioning that he had no idea how the bracelets worked. So far, he had managed to keep a bottle of beer from going warm and accidentally set fire to a sheet in his sleep. She had learned that if Gabriel had one skill that he excelled at, it was bluffing.
"So what exactly do you want us to do?" Summer asked.
"I wasn't actually expecting to find you, Summer." Basinah answered curtly. "And I don't see how an answering machine would be of much use."
Summer bristled at that, but then Gabriel surprised her.
"We're a package deal." he said.
Basinah hesitated. "Very well. There is a village in northern Norway along the Mazejohka River. Over the centuries, the village has had several names, but most recently Tilbud. In the nearby valley, there is a stone monolith. You will need to go there, make an offering and recite an incantation.”
“What kind of offering?” Gabriel asked wearily.
“Nothing too dramatic. A side of uncooked meat would suffice along with a small amount of your blood.”
“You want him to perform a blood ritual.” Summer said. “What does it do? Why can’t your ‘client’ do it?”
Basinah shifted in her seat. “This is one of those things which needs to be done from time to time; like resetting an old clock. However my client is very busy.”
“Sounds simple enough.” Gabriel said. “If it’s just a milk run, what’s the catch?”
“The catch is that the ritual requires a significant amount of power to enact properly. As an agent of the pattern weaver, your blood can channel that power.”
Gabriel was silent for a long moment then said, “I’ll do it, but it’s really out of my way.”
“My client is wiling to compensate you for your trouble.”
“And when it’s done…one-hundred-thousand dollars, American.”
“Twenty-five.” Basinah replied without missing a beat.
“Seventy-five.” Gabriel offered. “You came to me. How many people have the juice you need to make this thing work?”
“Each.” Gabriel said shrewdly.
“Altogether.” Basinah answered. “You are a package deal, after all”
"An additional ten upfront. I had other plans for my weekend."
Basinah growled softly. "I can have a payment ready for you once you land. And a guide will meet you there."
“Very well, Mr. Docket.” Basinah said extending a hand. “Do we have a deal?”
Gabriel reached out his hand as well, but then stopped and smiled. “I know all about that ‘rule of three’ thing you people use.”
“Then you understand how binding this agreement is.”
Gabriel shook Basinah’s hand firmly. “Deal.”