Thursday, September 8, 2016

The First Storm of Spring, Part 3 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 3 of The First Storm of Spring. If you haven't read Part 2 yet, you can find it here.
And if you're ready to go, Part 3 starts now…
The First Storm of Spring
By Catherine Mesick
The next several hours were spent in silence. Subee sat with her eyes closed, and it seemed to Garrett that she was meditating. For his part, Garrett sat and watched the sky steadily darkening through the window in the kitchen.
When the wind began to pick up, Subee’s eyes flew open, and she looked over at Garrett.
“The evil presence is coming. I can feel it.”
Garrett sat up in his chair. “Is there something we should do to prepare for it?”
“There are a few small things we need to do when the time to act draws closer,” Subee said. “But right now, all we can do is wait—we have to wait until the storm makes landfall. There’s no point in getting ready too soon.”
So while they waited, the sky continued to darken and the wind grew stronger and stronger. Soon rain began to fall.
The storm was starting to intensify, and Garrett glanced over at Subee. But Subee was sitting with her eyes turned down to the table, and her attention was clearly elsewhere.
She appeared to be listening for something.
Time passed and the rain outside began to batter at the windows. The wind began to moan, and the walls and roof began to rattle.
The room had long since grown dark, and the window showed only a solid sheet of grimly determined rain. It seemed to Garrett that the entire outside world was now made of water.
He glanced at Subee in the gloom.
But Subee did not move.
Just as the wind began to truly howl, and Garrett began to fear that the house was going to be carried off with the two of them still in it, Subee moved slightly and seemed to come out of her trance.
“It’s time to get ready now,” she said.
She stood.
“What are we going to do?” Garrett asked.
“We’re going to start a fire.”
Subee stood and moved through the gloom to a cupboard.
“Where?” Garrett asked.
“In the living room.”
“It is very dark, ma’am, but I’m pretty sure there’s no fireplace in here.”
“The fire’s going in the middle of the living room floor,” Subee said, retrieving something from the cupboard and returning to Garrett. “The house is going to be destroyed anyway. A little extra fire damage won’t hurt anything.”
“There’s also the little matter of ventilation,” Garrett said. “We could very genuinely suffocate before the storm or anything else outside got the chance to damage us.”
“The roof will be off soon enough,” Subee said. “Smoke inhalation won’t be a problem.”
“That’s good to know,” Garrett said.
Subee glanced at him sharply. “Speaking of damage, you don’t seem too concerned about the storm any longer.”
“You said that mark on your arm will protect you.”
“And you believed that?”
“Yes, ma’am. I believed everything else you said. That part’s no stranger than the rest.”
“And you believe I can protect you, too?” Subee asked.
“I do,” Garrett said. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have let me stay.”
Subee stared at him for a long moment—her expression was unreadable in the dark.
Then she moved to the center of the living room.
“We’ll build the fire here.”
She dropped a dark sphere on the floor and it cracked open like an egg. A thin tendril of flame rose out of the top and danced over the sphere.
“Well, that was easy,” Garrett said.
Subee sat down in front of the little flame. “We’ll have to build this fire up in a little bit. But this is good for now.”
Garrett sat down opposite her. The flame threw flickering shadows over her face, and he watched her in the newly created light.
 “So what now?” Garrett asked.
“We wait, and I need to meditate. Then I’ll show you what to do.”
“Before you go into your trance or whatever it is,” Garrett said. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course.”
“What did you do to me back when I first arrived?” Garrett asked. “How did you knock me out?”
“Earth smoke,” Subee said.
“Earth smoke,” Garrett repeated. “Is that some kind of magic?”
Subee smiled faintly in the light of the tiny fire.
“No. It’s just an herb. But it can be very effective against an enemy if you know how to use it right.”
“Is that how you saw me?” Garrett asked. “As an enemy?”
“Is that how you see me now?”
Garrett thought he saw Subee smile again, but the flickering of the flame made it hard for him to be sure.
Subee closed her eyes then, and while she sat quietly, Garrett listened to the howling of the wind and the driving rain as it railed at the house—roof, walls, and windows. The tiny building began to shake, and Garrett heard ominous creakings from the roof—it sounded as if it were in imminent danger of being torn off.
To Garrett’s great relief, Subee eventually opened her eyes.
“We’d better start building that fire,” she said.
She stood and walked a short distance. Garrett quickly followed her.
In front of them stood a coffee table and a small uncomfortable-looking couch that was little more than a wooden frame with cushions.
“We’ll need to chop these up,” Subee said, pulling an axe out from under the couch. “We’ll also need to chop up all the furniture in the bedroom and in the dining room.”
She glanced around the room. “Sorry I only have one axe. I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be here.”
“That’s okay, ma’am,” Garrett said. “There might be a heavy knife or something like that I can make do with in the kitchen. Do you have a flashlight?”
“Yes, I do. And for the last time, just call me Subee.”
Subee produced a flashlight from one of the kitchen cupboards and handed it to Garrett. And while she got to work in the living room with the axe, Garrett took the flashlight and a sturdy steak knife and went down the short hallway to the bedroom.
The bed was much like the couch—a spare wooden frame with a mattress on it, and there was also a dresser and a little wooden nightstand.
Garrett attacked the bed first, propping the flashlight up on the nearby nightstand, and as he worked, the storm howled and buffeted the house so fiercely that it seemed as if it were in imminent danger of being carried off.
Garrett realized ruefully that that was probably the case.
After a short time, he returned to the living room with his first armful of firewood, and Garrett saw that Subee had already produced a bright, blazing fire in the middle of the floor. Around it in a wide circle was a thin ring of flame, and above it was a hole in the roof through which smoke was passing. The ring of flame was not connected to the larger fire, and it held steady—the ring was not increasing in size or feeding on any fuel—it was more of a border than anything else.
And the hole in the ceiling above the fire let out the smoke but didn’t let in the rain.
Garrett stopped and looked up at the roof. “How did you do that?”
“I can touch spirit,” Subee said. “And that includes the spirit in the elements. I can control them in a way. So I’ve created a selectively permeable barrier. It lets the smoke out, but stops the rain from getting in.”
“A selectively permeable barrier?” Garrett said.
“And how did you make the hole in the roof?”
Subee reached for an object on the floor.
“I did it with this.”
By the light of the fire, Garrett could see a long, thin metal tube that looked something like a fire iron—but it was clearly hollow.
“And what is that?” Garrett asked.
“I made it myself,” Subee said. “I call it a fire staff, and I use it to channel the flow of fire. I’ll give you one to use too. Luckily, I always bring a spare.”
“So you shot a hole in the roof with this using fire.”
“Yes. The roof really will be gone soon, but as you pointed out before, proper ventilation is important. And thanks very much for the firewood.”
Garrett glanced down at the dismantled pieces of furniture in his arms. “You’re welcome. There’s plenty more back there.”
“Bring it all out,” Subee said. “We want this fire to be as big as we can get it.”
Garrett and Subee continued to feed the fire, and eventually they had a blaze going that lit up the house even brighter than daylight.
But no matter how high the fire blazed, it never moved beyond the circular fire barrier that had been drawn around it.
“I assume this is keeping the fire under control in some way?” Garrett asked, pointing to the ring of fire on the floor.
“Yes,” Subee said. “And I’ll do something similar to protect you.”
“From the fire?”
“From the fire, from the storm, and from the evil spirits.”
“That’s a tall order for one circle,” Garrett said.
He glanced at the gold leaf on her arm.
“And you’re sure that little mark will protect you?”
“It has for many years.”
“Does it protect you against the storm or the spirits?”
“It protects me against the storm,” Subee said. “I protect myself against the spirits.”
Once the furniture was exhausted, Subee stood back seemingly pleased with their work. “Well, that’s done now.”
“And what am I going to do exactly?” Garrett asked.
“You are going to tend the fire.”
“Ah,” Garrett said.
“It’s a vitally important job,” Subee said. “I need to have a reserve of fire to draw on.”
“You’re going to fight the evil spirits with fire?”
“Yes. Fire is the only element that is like spirit—it’s the only element that isn’t a solid, liquid, or gas. It is, by its very nature, diffuse—it’s pure combustion. Because of this fire can be used to disperse evil spirits—break them up when they concentrate and send them off alone so they can do less harm. And that’s what we’re dealing with here—a concentration centered in this storm.”
“Well, I’ll take your word for it that that works,” Garrett said.
“It does,” Subee replied. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”
She took the metal tube she had in her hand and dipped it into the fire. The fire filled the tube, and a thick plume of flame came out at the top of it.
Subee then used the flame to draw another, wider ring of fire on the floor which encompassed the earlier ring and fire at its center. Then she stood back.
“This circle is for you,” she said. “Step in.”
Garrett glanced at her curiously, but he stepped inside, taking care not to let the fire singe his clothes as he did so.
“And you’re going to need this.”
Subee pushed the metal cylinder into his hands.
Garrett was surprised to find that the cylinder was cool to the touch. He held the flaming end away from his face and glanced back at the big fire that was roaring behind him.
“This situation feels a little hazardous,” he commented.
“Don’t worry,” Subee said. “The circles I’ve drawn should keep you safe. The first one will contain the fire and keep it in place. The second one will keep the spirits from getting to you.”
“Getting to me?” Garrett said.
“Yes,” Subee said. “The spirits are going to attack the fire. I need you to protect it.”
“With this?” Garrett indicated the fiery cylinder in his hands.
“Yes. The spirits cannot cross the barrier, but they will go after that big central fire. The spirits bring profound cold that they’ll use to put the fire out—they know it’s the only thing that can destroy them. I need you to walk around the perimeter of the fire and ward off the spirits with the fire staff.”
“And how do I do that?” Garrett asked.
“Just wave the staff, and it will respond,” Subee said.
Garrett gave the staff an experimental shake, and a jet of flame shot out from the end of it.
Garrett was so startled that he nearly dropped the staff, and he was relieved to see that the flame died back down as soon as he stopped moving it.
“That certainly seems to be effective,” he said. “How do I refuel it?”
“You won’t need to,” Subee replied. “I’ve linked it to the main fire, so as long as that one is still going, you will have plenty of fire to fight with.”
“What about the wind and the rain?” Garrett asked. “Won’t those put the fire out?”
“No—my barriers will keep those out, too. All you have to do is keep the spirits from getting too close to the fire and putting it out. The cold they bring is a spiritual cold, and I can’t stop that with my barrier. Just be sure to stay inside the circle yourself—you’re safe in there from the spirits and the storm. But once you step outside, you’ll be vulnerable to both.”
“I’ll have to watch my footing, then.” Garrett said.
“See that you do—you won’t last long against either one of them.”
Subee moved off to the other side of the fire, and Garrett got to work with the staff, swinging it experimentally to see how he could control the volume of the flame.
As he did so, he noticed that he could hear the roaring of the fire behind but nothing else—the howling of the storm and the rattling of the house had disappeared. He stepped outside the circle just to be certain, and sure enough, the sound of the raging storm returned instantly. Garrett listened to the din outside for a moment, and he could feel the house around him shaking—he could tell it wouldn’t last much longer.
He stepped back into the circle carefully, and he was enveloped again by relative calm—the only sound he could hear was the fire behind him.
And he could no longer feel the shaking of the house at all.
Soon Subee reappeared by his side. Her face was drawn and pale, and she was clutching her own fire staff tightly.
“They’re here now,” she said. “The first thing they’ll do is tear the house apart. Then they’ll attack. You probably won’t be able to see the spirits, so don’t let that bother you. But you will be able to feel them. Concentrate the fire anywhere you feel cold. And keep moving around the circumference of the fire—protect it on all sides as best you can. And if you can’t feel the cold—just keep moving around and around and keep your flame blazing as high as you can.”
Garrett looked at her closely. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I have to,” she said.
A moment later, there was a distant cracking sound, followed by the barest hint of a breeze.
Subee gripped her staff even more tightly and glanced sharply out beyond the ring of fire in which they stood.
Garrett followed her gaze, but he could see little beyond the ring itself—the air around him had taken on a hazy golden glow, and the room beyond was little more than a dark blur.
“Stay inside the circle,” Subee said. “You’ll be safe in here. Don’t come out no matter what you think you see or hear.”
She stepped outside the circle and was lost to his sight.

*You can read Part 4 here.*

Thanks very much for reading!

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