7 and 3, Day 4
“Can we start?” Steve tried to keep the impatience out of his voice.
“Just a minute, Sillypants,” said Peri. “I’m checking to make sure you drew the circle right.”
Steve opened his eyes to look, and sure enough, there was Peri, crouched on the ground like a lizard, her eye an inch away from the chalk lines he drew on the cloor.
“I was super careful,” said Steve. “Plus, you already checked it twice.”
“Yeah, but it’s important that you don’t screw this up. You’re kind of a screwup.”
Steve sighed. He couldn’t deny it, but did she have to be so blunt.
“While we’re at it, I really need a better magical name,” he said. “Sillypants is just so…silly.”
Peri grinned her wicked grin up at him. “You’ll get a better name when you’ve progressed in your awakening, Sillypants. And when you get better pants.”
“What wrong with my…”
Peri held up her hand, and Steve fell silent. Something was about to happen.
She sniffed the air. She leaned up on her haunches, and her head darted around liked a meerkat. Excitement welled up from Steve’s root, and he took a deep breath to stop from shaking. He always wondered what she was sensing when she did those kinds of things. He would know soon. She had promised him that, and he believed.
Steve had been undergoing magical training under the tutelage of the strange girl for almost a year now, ever since they met at the anime convention. It had been…transformative.
He started out skeptical. Everyone did, he thought, whether they admitted it to themselves or not. Steve had always known that there was more to the world than what science textbooks presented, but society sent so many messages. There is no magic. There is no wonder. What you see is what you get. Never-mind quantum mechanics and tribal shamans and the little things that every single person in the world experiences that just don’t make sense.
His skepticism didn’t last. Under Peri, Steve had made a candle flame dance, changed the weather, and seen the future in his dreams. This was real. He knew it was real. He just knew it, inside of him. And it was amazing.
“The time is right,” said Peri. She turned to him, her eyes half closed. “Are you ready to meet your spirit guide?”
“Hell yes,” he said before he caught himself. “I mean, yes.”
She laughed. Then her expression turned serious, and she nodded. “Let’s begin.”
Steve flicked on his lighter and lit the charcoal block. He poured on the custom incense—jasmine and thyme and pine resin—and it’s aroma filled the air. He set each candle alight, one after the other. He closed his eyes again, and let the scent, the smoke, the red that filtered into his vision, carry his mind away.
“To they that listen,” he said, “here is one who calls.” From the first word his voice sounded strange in his ears. Distant, barely like his own. This was happening.
“I have begun, taken these first tentative steps, into the Veil that touches lightly upon the world of clay, and into the vastness beyond.” The syllables echoed. He did this in a tiny basement room. There shouldn’t be an echo. Were they somewhere else? He could almost believe it. He fought the temptation to open his eyes and look.
“I have felt your presence in the moment between waking and sleep. I have seen you dance in my dreams. You, who are of me, and above me. Who are a part of me, as I am a part of you. My impossible twin, from impossible places. I call you.” A sound, like a single footstep, resounded in Steve’s ears.
“I lay gifts at your feet,” he gestured to where he knew the silver tray of Madeline cookies lay. They were Peri’s favorite, and she told him the spirits loved them, too.
“I implore you to take what is offered, and, if the time be right, if my offering be worthy, reveal yourself to me.”
A giggle echoed from the distance. From a dozen different points all around him, but in a single voice.
“Reveal yourself to me.”
More footsteps. Another sound, faint, melodious. Flute music, scattered, as if carried by the wind.
“Reveal yourself to me.”
The air changed. It was a cold day outside, and the space heater in Steve’s basement did little to alleviate the chill. Now, there was no chill. The air felt warm, a spring breeze. Warm, and electric. It charged his ever nerve.
“Reveal yourself to me!”
A gust of apple-scented air.
“Reveal yourself to me!”
Another sound, like a giggle and like the note of a flute, all at once.
“Reveal yourself to me!”
Steve’s eyes burst open. For a stretched second, his mind reeled. It had worked! She had answered. He was about to meet an otherworldly being, a guardian and guide from an unimaginable and alien place, that would take him to realms undreamed. He held his breath, his vision focused, and he saw…
She said it an inch from his face, and he leapt back. She fell over laughing, clutching her sides like a cartoon character.
“You should see yourself right now!” she cried between giggles.
“Oh man, that is priceless.”
Steve’s stomach sank. “That was…that voice was…you?”
“Of course it was, Sillypants. Who else would it be?”
“So…” his jaw clenched. “So it was all bullshit?” Anger filled every blood vessel in his body. His fingernails dug into his palm. He wanted to punch something. “What the fuck, Peri? Have you just been messing with me this whole time?”
She stopped laughing, and looked him, wounded. “What? No, of course not.”
He furrowed his brow. “Then why the hell did you do that?”
“Because it was hilarious,” she said, shrugging.
“But what about the ritual? I mean, you stopped it. Why didn’t you let it work?”
Peri looked confused. “I didn’t stop anything. It did work.”
Steve scratched his head. He hadn’t realized people actually scratched their heads in confusion, but here he was.
“Don’t you get it?”
He said nothing. She stared at him as if he was missing something obvious. He didn’t know what to say.
“I’m your spirit guide,” she said at last.
“Huh.” He paused. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means exactly what I said. I’m your spirit guide.”
“But…you’re not a spirit.”
She laughed. “Of course I am.”
“I’ve been to your house. I’ve met your mom.”
Peri shrugged again. “I’m adopted.”
Steve shook his head again. “No, no, no. The ritual, the ritual was supposed to summon my spirit guide. How can it have summoned you if you’re already here?”
“I came a little early,” she admitted. “Come on, Sillypants. You think magic is bound by a dumb little think like time?”
“Huh.” He thought. She had sort of come into his life out of nowhere and started teaching him magic. And she never seemed quite…normal. But then neither had his babysitter when he was little, and she certainly wasn’t a spirit.
“You weren’t my baby sitter, were you?”
“Nevermind. Listen, Peri, I’ve seen some amazing things with you, but I’m just…this is hard to swallow. You’re a spirit? You’re in my life to guide me to…whatever it is you’re going to guide me to?”
“So why do you work at Starbucks?”
“I like coffee,” she said. “And it’s run by a mermaid.”
“I just don’t…”
Peri sighed with her entire body, like a five year old. “Okay, fine. You need some proof?”
“Yes please,” he said, with his best sheepish grin.
“Fine.” She pranced forward and knocked the candle off the altar. It landed on the rug, which immediately burst into flame as if it had been soaked in accelerant.
“What the fuck!”
“Calm down,” said Peri. She stepped over to the flame, reached down, and picked up a large chunk of it in her hands. Then she stuffed it in her mouth.
Steve’s jaw dropped open.
Peri grabbed another handful, and downed that one, too. Within a minute she had eaten the whole thing, and the fire was gone.
“My rug!” Steve cried.
“Oh,” Peri put her hand over her mouth and giggled. “Yeah. I guess I’ll have to get you a new rug.”
“That was incredible!” Steve stared at her. “You’re…you’re a spirit!”
“Well duh. You really are silly, you know that?”
He nodded. “So…what now?”
She look his hand, smiled, and fixed him with a gaze that hid all of the mystery there had ever been in the world.
“Close your eyes, Sillypants. You’re about to find out.”