“Uh, let’s see …. Five down, eight letters, starts with s. Magic man. What?” Anie scratched her cheek with her pencil. “Magic man,” she muttered. “Eh. Well, lessee, what’s five across — ”
“Geez!” Anie bolted upright in her chair, legs flying off the desk. Her pencil disappeared somewhere among the cabinets of paperwork, and jackets, shovels, lunch boxes, telephones, and other items that she had collected over the years.
She gaped at the guy through the plastic partition above her desk. Thirtyish, dark hair, fancy suit and tie, green jewel in a tie clip. Anie frowned, not recognizing him — and, really, how had he snuck up on her like that? — and she knew all the regulars who would have a reason to drop by the airfield at this time of night.
“Help you?” she finally asked.
“My apologies — ” His voice echoed weirdly through the plastic, sounding hollow. His gaze dropped to the name sewn onto her cover-alls “ — Anie. I did not mean to disturb you, but I understand that you mistakenly received delivery of a casket earlier today. The remains of Petra Montrose. It was sent from Bali.”
“Oh, yeahhh.” Anie nodded slowly. She tossed aside the book of crosswords and began to dig through the mass of papers, old napkins, magazines, and pens scattered across her desk. “Uh, I got the delivery notice here somewhere. Was supposed to go upstate. I swear, the freakin’ post office. Thought the family was sending a transport to pick it up tomorrow?”
The man shrugged, glancing around the waiting room behind him. “Change of plans, or so I have been informed. I just go where I am told.”
Anie snorted, still digging. “Yeah, I hear that. Oh, uh, you got any i.d. on you or something?”
“Yes, of course.” The man offered a small smile and slid his hand inside his jacket. He pulled out a fancy envelope to go with his fancy suit, the paper thick and creamy. The paper he pulled from the envelope was just as fancy, the name of a law firm printed across the top in curling script.
Anie slid the little door aside and reached through the plastic partition to take the letter. She frowned down at it. Family signature, notary signature, stamp. It all looked legit.
“You a lawyer?”
“A business associate of the family.”
When Anie looked up, the guy held out his identification.
“Kahu … what now?”
“Yes, no kidding.”
“What is that? Like, Balinese?”
One eyebrow shot up. “No. Maori.”
“Gotta remember that.” Anie scrabbled around for a scrap of paper, hastily jotting down the name. “Could come up in a puzzle. What’s it mean?”
“Sky blue. May I see the casket?”
“Yeah, sure.” She scribbled faster. “… Skyyyy bluue. Got it.” She stood, the keys jangling on her belt, and gestured towards the door beside her desk. “You wanna hold on a sec and I’ll roll it out for you.”
“Thank you. As quickly as possible, if you please.”
Anie nodded, waving her hand as she strode away, heading deeper into the warehouse. “Yep. Yeah, sure.”
Back in the day, this little airfield had been a pretty busy place, favored by legitimate and not so legitimate businesses and individuals who wanted to avoid the noise and delays of the international airport on the far side of the city. These days, though, it was mostly small cargo and private aircraft.
Like the small cargo that had been accidentally dumped that morning. Anie shook her head, pausing as she approached the casket.
She’d seen a few over the years. More than one body had been shipped home from this or that war. This one looked more solid than most, though: heavy-duty steel, plain, but it did the job. And a keypad, which was kinda weird; usually they just had padlocks.
The casket was still on the dolly that had been used to unload it from the small transport plane. Grasping the wide handle, Anie started to tug and pull the dolly towards the front of the building and her little office and the guy with the fancy tie clip.
Anie paused, glancing around. Not the squirrels. Had those dumb owls come back?
Shaking her head, she heaved the dolly a few more feet.
Anie whipped around, staring at the casket. The sound had definitely come from that direction. Definitely. Except that was stupid. Unless the body hadn’t been secured right and it was rolling around.
Yep, that sounded —
The casket shook.
“Uh.” Anie took a step back.
The whole casket lurched on the dolly.
“Jumping Jehosaphat!” She stumbled a few more steps as more thumps and bangs shook the casket. It jerked sideways, one end beginning to slide towards the edge of the dolly.
Behind her, she was vaguely aware of a pounding and shouting, but she was too busy staring in mute shock as the steel lid deformed, whining horribly, and than snapped, the dent popping as a wide crack swept down the top of the casket.
Another pop and then another, the metal shrieking in protest.
Anie’s brain lurched.
Five across, seven letters. Class one lever.
She lunged for the nearest shelf, snatching up a pair of crowbars as the crack in the casket widened. An awful smell came out.
Footsteps behind her as the top half of the lid blew up and out, crashing into the metal shelves, knocking tools and buckets and paint cans and boxes of bolts everywhere. The shelves rocked precariously.
A hand grabbed her arm, hard, yanking her back. Mr. Fancy Suit stepped in front of her just as a stinky, slimy, awful thing crawled out of the casket.
Long black hair, beautiful and thick and slightly curled. Pale face, wide eyes, neck and shoulders and full breasts and then … nothing … just a spinal column and entrails dripping across the coffin.
“Do. Not. Move,” Mr. Fancy Suit whispered.
“Really? ’Cause running seems like a good idea.”
He slowly slid his right hand around, reaching for the back pocket of his pants.
The gross thing hissed. Sharp teeth appeared, extending as its mouth widened.
Smith stilled. “Can you reach my pocket?” he whispered.
“Hands are kinda full. With iron.”
There was a heartbeat’s pause, and she felt his attention jump to her and then back to Ms. Gross and Slimy.
“No. No effect.”
The icky thing pulled itself further up the coffin towards them, long nails digging into the steel. It hissed again.
“What’ve you got?” she asked, voice low.
“Glass beads filled with dried gandasuli flowers and needles. She has to swallow them.”
“Oh, well that should be eas — ”
Ms. Gross and Slimy threw herself into the air, spinal column and intestines dangling, sliding across the floor. A hiss turned into a shriek, her mouth wide, her throat convulsing.
“Split!” Smith yelled, dodging to the right. Anie went left.
Icky thing twisted, spinning in the air, first right, then left.
“Hey! Bangke!” Anie screamed, waving her crowbars. It twisted back towards her, face hideous now, and hungry.
Seven across, nine letters. Confined aquifer.
Anie smiled. “Aquiclude.”
The concrete floor heaved, cracked in a circle, cracked again. Water bubbled, then erupted in a stinging geyser, slamming into the icky thing, driving it into the high metal ceiling. Anie left it pinned there for a long moment, flailing —
— and then she let it drop, pulled the water away, returning it safely to the ancient aquifer beneath the airfield. The creature fell, hitting the shattered concrete with a sickeningly-solid thump.
Smith stepped in front of it, pinning one clawed hand with his foot. He grabbed the creature’s hair, yanking its head back to shove a mesh bag down its throat. He hastily scampered away, moving to the far side of the wrecked casket.
The icky thing twisted and whined. The glass beads shattered, filling its guts with needles and the dried petals of gandasuli flowers. It clawed frantically at the floor, spinning and twining around itself. A piece of its spine broke off, and then another. Its intestines turned green and black and began to slough off, leaving bits here and there as it continued to spin in its death throes ….
And, then, finally, it was still.
Anie wrinkled her nose. “Well, that was disgusting.” She looked up to find Smith staring at her, one hand suspiciously hiding behind his back. “Petra Monrose, hunh? What idiot thought shipping a langsuyar was a good idea?”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Be that way.” She carefully set the crowbars back on the shelf where they belonged. She called the water back to the surface as she turned towards the office. It gurgled, spreading across the floor, picking up bits of bone and flesh. By the time she reached her desk, it had returned to the aquiclude far below, pulling with enough force to drag the langsuyar’s body and stray bits down, down into its depths. The earth knit up neatly behind it, restoring rabbit burrows and mole tunnels.
The aquiclude might be separated from the rest of the regional water system by impermeable stone, but she wasn’t going to take any chances. It wouldn’t take long at all for rock to grow up around the remains. She had some gold lying around, old coins and rings; she could drop that into the aquifer and gild the rock, keeping the remains safely encased forever.
She plopped into her chair and picked up her crossword and a pencil again. She scowled. Five down, eight letters, starts with s. Magic man.
She hated it when the puzzles did that.
“Anie,” he said. He stood at her elbow, hand still behind his back. Not a gun. He wasn’t the type. Probably a wand or charm or trap of some kind. “A nickname, I would hazard. I did not set off any wards when I crossed through the gate, so you are not a witch or sorceress or any other sort of practitioner. And you have full control of the water here, even from deep underground, and the earth itself. Anie. Short for anima loci.”
She carefully laid the puzzle book in her lap and stared up at him, waiting.
She sighed. “How many babies did that langsuyar kill and eat? And, I repeat, what kind of idiot tries to ship one stateside?”
“I do not know, but even one is too many. And an idiot with money and ego who is not being nearly as clandestine as he thinks he is.”
“Dabbler or serious practitioner?”
“Eh.” She shrugged and picked up her puzzle again. “You crossed into my land without me knowing. I never felt you. You got plenty of juice. You’ll be fine.”
“Mmm. Should you hear anything or receive any more misdirected packages .…”
A fancy business card appeared in her line of sight. She ignored it. The card waggled.
She scratched at the puzzle. “Nope. I never leave. I don’t hear anything.”
He crouched beside her, tie clip winking. She finally noticed that his clothes were covered in splotches of slime and blood, and that there were lines of exhaustion around his eyes.
He continued to hold out the card. “You are of the water and the earth and the trees. You hear and know things that I cannot and never will. Please.”
Far far below, she felt the rock close around the langsuyar’s remains, forming a small boulder on the bottom of the aquiclude. Such a tiny thing, to contain something so horrible.
A horror that someone had paid a lot of money to acquire, and who was going to be very annoyed when it wasn’t delivered.
She grabbed the business card. “Fine. Now go home and take a shower. You stink.”
His voice was low and serious. “Thank you, Anie.”
She nodded silently and propped her feet back up on the desk. He opened the door to the side, walked quietly through the front waiting area, and slipped out the far door. She knew the scent and sound of him now, the taste of his magic; this time, she could feel him and knew when he crossed back through the gate and out into the world.
Anie tossed the business card onto the desk. She would be able to find it again if — when — she needed it.
Turning her attention back to her puzzle, she muttered under her breath, “Four across, six letters, starts with d. Peril, hazard.”
Damn it. She hated it when the puzzles did that.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. She has been published in a variety of venues, and a complete list of her publications can be found here.]