A SHORT STORY
BY RUSSELL UNDERWOOD
When her story was over, she and I sat in companionable silence for a long while. I guess she was letting me think on it. At the same time, I got the feeling there was something she was leaving out, something important, but I had enough to digest right then and didn't think to push her on it. It might have occured to me later, once I'd sorted things through, but by then there wasn't no time. Because I had the feeling again -- the ugly feeling that something unseelie was heading this way.
Tatiana felt it, too. An instant before the feeling hit me, I heard her gasp. Then she grabbed my hand, but I was already off my ass and backing out of the box. "I know," I whispered. "Come on."
Whoever they were, they were coming up the way we had, from the direction of the gate, up through the maple groves. We were on the far side of the city from them, but it's not a big place. We had a minute's head start, maybe two. I was hoping it was all we'd need.
"This way," I said, but I felt resistance in her hand.
"Just a moment," she said, her voice sounding scared but determined, too, like she had some idea. So, against the better judgment of my legs, which had a mind to beat cheeks out of there, I waited.
I don't know what she did, but suddenly there was a smell like rotten eggs, and then I realized it was sulphur. It was the same smell that always clung to the sisters after they'd worked their peculiar mojo.
Tatiana gave a gusty sign like whatever she'd done had taken something out of her, but there was a smile in her voice when she said it was all right; we could go now.
She followed me East, out of the park and across 5th Avenue, the smell of the ocean getting stronger with every step. It was maybe nine o'clock by then, but we both knew the dark wouldn't help us much. Tatiana had thrown 'em off with a little illusion spell, but they wouldn't be fooled for long. After all, whoever they were, they could feel us leaving the same way we felt them coming.
I had an idea, though, as we closed in on the docks. Kind of a scary idea, because I ain't never been much for no kind of magic, whether from Elfame or the World. But now it was something to be dealt with, and I figured I might as well get some of it working for us.
"Where are we going now?" Tatiana said, a little out of breath after our retreat from the park.
"Shade country," I said. "Let's just see those bastards track us in there."
Tatiana was silent for a while, didn't ask questions until we were a block away from Ocean Avenue and the magic was like a foul smelling fog rolling in off the Atlantic.
"Oak and ash," she said finally. "What is this place?"
"Magic's strong by the ocean," I explained, feeling slightly foolish. It wasn't something I or anybody in Pump City talked about much, though most people knew it was so. Knew about the trickster shades living their half-lives in the haunts down here, drinking souls and throwing magic for whatever it was they called sport. It's a scary place, usually, and I don't come down here much after dark, but it might just be a refuge for us now, I told her.
Tatiana laughed a happy laugh. "I'm so ignorant," she said. "I had no idea magic even existed in the World."
I nodded. "Lots of folks think that. Folks here like things explained nice and neat, and magic just bitches up their idea of reality. Cause-and-effect ain't so simple when you believe in something like that."
"Mmm." Tatiana paused a second, then said, "That's why people are so easy to fool. Simple glamours that any trow or bodach could see through just seem to baffle them." Then the smile was in her voice again. "Present company excepted, of course."
And that was when I figured out what it was she hadn't told me. Part of it, anyway. But I didn't say nothing about it `till later, when we finally made our deal.