Being human was absolutely miserable.
"Hey, will you look at that?" The aging man nudged Demetrius with the toe of his tattered sneaker. Demetrius grunted at him, a warning huff, like an animal would make, and huddled deeper into the blanket he'd snatched from an empty baby carriage while the mother wasn't looking. It wasn't very big, and the soft smell it had emitted at the beginning was already fading beneath slightly less pleasing aromas.
"C'mon, D-man, stop being so damn grouchy and look."
Muttering under his breath, he lifted his head. "My name is Demetrius." He hated when Gus called him by made up nicknames, all of which began with his initial. D-man. D-dog. Just D. And yes, he was grouchy. He was cold, shivering in the bitter March wind. He was hungry, his belly burning with it. His head ached, his eyes watered, and his body was sore from sleeping on concrete and park benches. This experience was not turning out the way he'd hoped.
Gus grinned down at him, tobacco-stained teeth flashing in a weathered, whiskered face. "Over there," he said.
Demetrius looked where the old manwho had somehow become his only companionwas pointing. Across the busy street, a newly erected digital sign was flashing its message for the first time. They'd been watching as work crews put it up, wondering what useless product it would advertise. Now the scrolling marquee-style message told them The New York State Lottery is now 12.5 Million Dollars!
"And all it takes is a dollar and a dream," Gus said, shaking his head, a blissful smile on his face.
"We don't have a dollar between us." Demetrius wrapped the blanket around his face to protect it from the cold, his eyes peering out from above the warm flannel.
"You could sell your trinkets, trade 'em for a few bucks." As he said it, Gus hunkered low, reaching for one of the plastic shopping bags Demetrius kept tied to his belt. Before Gus could blink, Demetrius clamped a large hand around the smaller man's wrist.
"Don't touch my things."
"Awright, awright!" Gus pulled his hand away, rubbing his wrist. "Damn, D, I wasn't gonna steal it. Why you always gotta be so touchy about those treasures of yours, anyway?" He waited for a reply he wasn't going to get before going on. "I mean, I get it about the knife. A man needs a weapon out here. And I guess I understand about the necklace. Sort of. I mean, it's kinda girly, but it's nice enough." Demetrius lifted his head and sent the other man a glare for that comment, but Gus went right on. "But that danged cup. What the hell does a guy like you need with a fancy-ass mug like that, anyway? We could pawn that thing. Prob'ly get enough to pay for a night in a nice place. A decent meal. A whole suit of clothes, for cryin' out loud."
"They are mine. They're all I have. And they mean something. I just don't know what yet."
"Yeah, yeah, I know the fairy tale. You're not quite human. You came from another realm, got yourself a body with the help of three witches."
"Two," Demetrius corrected. Though there were supposed to be three. The mass of useless knowledge swirling around in his brain, more and more coming to the surface all the time in disjointed and mostly meaningless bits, had told him there should have been three. But he was sure there had only been two. One had freed him from the darkness where he'd been trapped for
always. It must have been always, because he didn't remember there being a before. And yet, he had some vague notion of having once been human. But the witches, the three witches.
The first witch had opened the Portal, allowing him to see into the human world, where he'd observed, then absorbed everything he'd seen. And the second one had somehow helped him to manifest a body. And that body had come with the dagger, the chalice and the amulet.
They meant something.
He imagined the third witch was supposed to help him figure out how to make his way in this world where money was king and one had to have mountains of it in order to exist. This world where he had no idea how to get any of that money for himself. That had to be her task. But she had not arrived to help him yet.
Nearly two months of misery had him wondering if she ever would. Seven weeks of living on the streets with the other homeless, many of them suffering from broken minds, had him wondering if any of what he believed to be his history was real. Or if, perhaps, he was as mentally ill as Alice, who thought she'd been impregnated by an alien and was due to have her baby any day now. Gus said she'd been waiting to give birth for years, but that didn't seem to affect her delusion. Maybe his own backstory was like that. A symptom of an illness, and not a real history at all.
"I don't see why, if you have enough imagination to think you came from some other dimension, you can't use it for something positive."
"Something like what?"
"Like dreaming, D. It doesn't hurt to dream, you know." Gus put a hand on Demetrius's shoulder. "Try it, huh? What else we got to do, anyway?"
"Dreaming?" He sounded irritated, because he was. Though he was doubting his own sanity, it angered him that Gus didn't believe his tale. Maybe more than it should.
"Dream a little with me, Demetrius."
Using his full name to soften him up, Demetrius thought. Clever old Gus.
"Come on, it'll be fun. Just think about it. What would you do with twelve million bucks?"
Demetrius's brows rose in two arches, the idea far more appealing than he'd expected it to be. Grudgingly, he lowered the blanket from his face, settling it around his shoulders, and looked at his only friend in this world. "I suppose it can't hurt to dream." He closed his eyes and thought about it. What would he have, if he could have anything he wanted? What, exactly, was the point of going through so much to manifest in a human body, anyway? What desires had driven him at the beginning? What desires did he have now?
He knew immediately, and his eyes popped open. "Do you remember that TV show we watched in the window of the electronics place the other night?"
Gus tipped his head, thinking back as Demetrius willed him to remember. They'd been standing together outside the appliance store, watching the televisions in the windows, which were always playing whenever the store was open. It was one of the few ways they'd found to alleviate the monotony of their lives, and the owner usually let them loiter for a solid thirty minutes before coming out to yell at them in broken Korean-laced English.
A smile split Gus's face, crinkling the corners of his eyes, and Demetrius knew he had remembered. "The one about the Playboy Mansion?" he asked, grinning further. "Not likely to forget that one, am I?"
"That's what I would do, if I had twelve million dollars. I'd have a place like that. Gated, private. A staff of servants to see to my every need. Heated swimming pools with waterfalls and fountains. Sprawling, fragrant gardens with every kind of flower and tree. The softest beds imaginable. Anything I want to eat anytime I want it. Beautiful women basking in almost no clothing, eager to satisfy my every desire. And a constant flow of cash without having to work."
Something tickled at his side as he spoke, and he jerked his head down, pulling his blanket away to see what was crawling on him. The golden dagger seemed to be
glowing. A gleam of golden light in the exact shape of the knife and its sheath shone right through the plastic bag that held them.
"D-man! What the hell?" Gus crab-walked backward along the alley floor, his eyes wide and focused on the glowing bag.
Demetrius scrambled to his feet, turning his back to the sidewalk, intuitively wanting to hide the bag at his waist from the view of strangers. He moved fast, deeper into the alley that was, for the most part, their home, past Gus, and past the bins overflowing with trash, until he was well enough hidden to examine this phenomenon more closely. Gus came up behind him but kept his distance, his eyes wide and riveted on the illuminated grocery sack.
Demetrius removed his blade from the plastic bag that hid it from would-be thieves and slid the double-edged dagger from its jeweled sheath. It was glowing. No question.
"You were right, D! I can't believe
but you were right. Them trinkets of yours
they're some kind of magic."
Demetrius shot Gus a look over his shoulder. "But why now?"
"Because! Don't you see? You were dreaming. Imagining. Visualizing. Isn't that what those witches of yours do when they want to cast spells? Visualize?"
Demetrius stared at the glowing blade, saying nothing. Gradually the light began to fade, and then it was gone.
"Do it again, boss. Visualize the shit outta that dream life you were talking about before. And make damn sure I'm in it, too!"
"Wait, wait, wait, let me help get'cha started." Gus had lost his fear of the apparently enchanted weapon and moved up close, standing shoulder to shoulder with Demetrius, who thought Gus must have been an impressive man once. They were close to the same height, and there were traces of what must have been an almost regal bone structure in Gus's face. Every once in a while, when Demetrius looked at him, he saw someone else in the old man's eyes. Someone vaguely familiar.
"See it with me now," Gus was saying. "See it real clear in your mind. Playboy Mansion. Big gorgeous house. And good old Gus is the head of security, D-dog's right-hand man. He's wearing fine clothes, shiny shoes, a nice suit. Catalogue nice. Gus decides who gets in and who has to stay the hell out." He pounded his chest with a fist. "I'll protect you from the swarms who'd take advantage of a guy like you, bein' new here and all. Shoot, I know how. I was a soldier once."
That brought Demetrius right out of his vision. "You were?"
"Shh. Not now, Dog. We got visualizing to do. Now see it, damn you. See it. See the pool? It's bluer than blue, crystalline water sparkling in the sunshine. It's warm all the time. Like summer, year-round."
Demetrius nodded, wanting to examine the knife but resigned to shutting Gus up first. "All right, all right. I see the pool. It's kidney-shaped. And there's a waterfall off to one side, natural-looking, with stones all piled up." He really was seeing itand enjoying the vision playing out in his mind, though he would rather be shot than admit that to Gus. "And off to the side, just above it, there's a bubbling spa tub that looks like a pond and spills over to feed the waterfall."
"Ah, that's nice. And there's aa poolside bar, fully stocked all the time. And women in bikinis everywhere you look. Can you see them, D-man? There's a redhead with bazongas out to here, and there's a brunette with a butt so round you want to bite it."
Demetrius frowned. He could see the bikini-clad beauties, all right. But they all looked alike. Pale corn silk-haired angels with piercing blue, blue eyes.
No, no, no, not her. Not her. She'll ruin it all.
What an odd thing for me to think, I don't even know who she is.
"And the cars, oh, Dog, the cars. Be sure you visualize a big garage in there someplace, and fill it with the hottest cars. Like that Jag we saw the other day. And a long black limo, with a driver who knows everything we could ever need to know."
Cars, yes, cars. A good way to get the blonde out of his head. He'd seen enough kinds of cars speeding past his alley to know what he liked. He wanted one of those giant SUVs, and the limousine and Jaguar Gus had mentioned. And then some of those sports cars that made his pulse speed up. A Mustang. A 370Z. A Carrera.
He tried to see himself behind the wheel, but every one of his imaginary vehicles had that blonde sitting in the passenger seat. Every glimpse of her made his heart rate speed up and his nerve endings jump with fear. Who was she? And why was he afraid of her?
There was more tingling going on. It was happening behind him this time, near his hip, where his silver chalice hung in its own plastic bag. He quickly ripped the bag open, tearing it in the process, which meant he would have to find another one. He took the cup out and looked inside it, where the light was coming from. It was filled with
something. Swirling colors, and
was that a face taking shape?
Do as I tell you, Demetrius.
"Who said that?" He looked left and right, then turned to look behind, too, but there was no one there.
"Who said what?" Gus asked.
Demetrius looked at his friend, saw the worry forming in the old man's eyes. "Didn't you hear that? A woman. Kind of whispering."
Gus took a step backward. "What'd she say?"
"She said to do what she tells me."
"Then do it, boy, there's magic goin' on here! And keep visualizing. Don't you stop. Make sure I'm in it. Don't leave me out, D."
Demetrius tried to keep visualizing his own personal den of pleasures, tried to keep seeing Gus as a part of it, but that damned blue-eyed blonde kept popping in everywhere. She was in the sprawling living room with its wall-sized gas fireplace and in the theater room with its giant movie screen. She was sprawled invitingly on his giant four-poster bed's satin sheets.
The knife in his hand was getting hot and feeling kind of jumpy. And the cup was vibrating, swirling.
Lower the dagger into the chalice and say these words.
"She wants me to put the knife into the cup," Demetrius said.
"Well? Do it!" Gus stomped his foot. "Do it, damn you."
Demetrius flipped the dagger so the point was aiming downward and moved it over the cup. Actually, he didn't have to move it, because it felt as if something was pulling his hand toward that big sparkling mug. He started lowering the blade. It seemed to want to move slowly, so he let itwhatever it wasguide his hand.
Say these words as you lower it, she told him. As the rod is to the God, so the chalice is to the Goddess.
"That's stupid. I'm not saying that. It doesn't even make any"
"All right. All right. As the rod is to the God."
"Huh?" Gus asked. "What's this now?"
"It's what she wants me to say. 'As the rod is to the God.'"
"How the hell do I know what for?"
So the chalice is to the Goddess. Say it, Demetrius.
"So the chalice is to the Goddess."
And together they are one.
"And together they are one." As he said it, the cup pulled the blade down like a super magnet, and the tip of the blade clanked against the bottom of the chalice. There was a big flash of light, and some kind of sonic boom that blew him back toward the mouth of the alley. Gus's eyes got huge as he backpedaled to join him, and then they both just stood there, staring at the fast-fading glowing orb.
And then it blinked out and there she was, that blonde. She was crouching in the alley, completely naked, and everything in Demetrius told him to turn and run like hell. But he couldn't seem to move. He just stood there, staring at her.
Slowly she stood and lifted her head to look straight at him, and those blue, blue eyes hit him like a pair of lightning bolts.
He felt sheer terror. His gaze roamed up and down her lithe, naked form, pale skin, small, perky breasts. Everything about her was small. She was like a fairy or an angel.
"I'm no angel, Demetrius," she said, as if reading his mind. "I'm a witch."
He dropped his precious blade and chalice, spun around and ran out of that alley as if the devil was after him, because it seemed as if she was.
He never saw the car that hit him. But he sure as hell felt it.