- | - | -
1. Visions Of Sugared Pastry Cooked Up In Clarified Butter
The smell of sweet tea steeping gave the whole house a syrupy, calming fragrance. Grandma's was always full of the kind of senses that stuck in your head for days, that you took back into the real world with you. The smell of the sweet tea and the sound of wind chimes kept Mackenzie from crying when she felt alone. None of the people at school knew about this. They were all so far away from this place in the Laurel Hill woods.
Here, she rolled dice of hewn stone to predict the weather. Here, she drank fresh-squeezed lemonade that sparked and popped with the flavor of electricity. Here, she tossed written prayers into the fire and read answers in the smoke and ash. They were all the same prayer, really. To leave the world of the mundane, the world of her parents and her grades and getting pushed over on the playground, to leave it behind. To live in this world, glimpsing the Everything Under Everything and taking over the little well-decorated downstairs shop. There, her Grandma — frail and old but with a fire in her eyes and a collection of hats to make any churchgoer jealous — entertained Governors, foreigners, executives, pouring tumblers of bourbon with single fat ice cubes. They were there for her collection, "the finest of magic objects in the whole South," she always said.
Some British men showed up more than once. Almost a dozen times over the summer, they came, holed up in the shop for hours of talks. Mackenzie spent those days alone, rolling her dice, thinking about the things to come.
"This contract is an agreement between Florence Crook, The Marshall, Carter & Dark Acquisitions, Imports and Exports Corporation - New York Branch (hereafter referred to as Marshall, Carter & Dark) and The Seven Society."
2. Don't Expect Them To Thank Or Forgive You
Why in the name of Hell am I here? was all Mackenzie could think to herself, leaned against the wall, punch in hand, as some horrible Beastie Boys song blared over the too-loud speakers. She made the critical error of not wearing waterproof mascara, but she wasn't expecting it to hurt so bad to look at Lisa, hair done up, makeup perfect, dancing raucously with the Clemson-bound senior quarterback.
She wasn't expecting to spend her senior prom thinking only of the past, but the memories wouldn't let her be, they hadn't since she went away. The first secret hand-holding under the table at lunch. The long afternoons Mackenzie spent helping Lisa fill her Lisa Frank notebook with spells, incantations, and sketches. The scandalous rush of kissing the cheer captain behind the risers on some starry Friday night after a Bulldogs game.
The good memories always came with company. Her sudden disappearance at winter break. The night Mackenzie drove the three miles to her house in the cold December night and threw pebbles at Lisa's window. The hope when she showed her face in the window, the feeling of it coming crashing back to earth when she whispered, shuddering. "My father. He knows. About everything. He read my notebook, Mac."
No more phone calls. No more kisses beneath the bleachers. No more interwoven spells and locked hands.
Just her. Walking out of the hall alone, after watching her first love kiss the prom king. Thank God for graduation.
"Under the terms of this agreement, after the death or retirement of Florence Crook, her grand-daughter Mackenzie-Lee Crook will assume responsibility for Acquisitions, Imports and Exports (as defined in §A¶12) for the Seven Society in Florida."
3. The Fellowship Of Hell
Mackenzie's roommate came back to the dorm, still groggy from her morning class. She stepped into the room and her sleepy eyes, for a moment, didn't perceive the difference. But she snapped into attention when she saw the bottom bunk was stripped bare. Mackenzie's half of the closet was cleared out, and her desk was bare but for a handwritten note. She picked it up. "Dropped out. Sorry."
Poem For My Grandmother On The Occasion Of Her Death by ML-C
It was two weeks before your ninety-forth Birthday and
You "slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God"
(As they say)
Peggy Noonan didn't know a lot of things, and one was that
you already had.
That in the hawthorn-breaks on your tiring-house The
Holy Ghost rushed in to
finish your work.
But even Godlike reason and capability
can't quite beat a Crook when there's
work to be done.
4. (Both Of Us Do)
After months of asking her to get a drink after every meeting of the Southern United States Extranormal Organization Cooperation Treaty Enactment Task Force (because you couldn't get more than three Foundation and U.S. government people in a room without a long acronym spontaneously appearing), Mackenzie was mostly doing it for the running gag at this point. So when the relatively cute Foundation press officer said "yes," it caused a nontrivial amount of surprise.
When she actually showed up at The Bull (and on time, even), it was an even bigger one. After three or four gin fizzes, though, nothing in the world was capable of surprising her, she figured. They walked out in the muggy Gainesville night, laughing and leaning on each other for support. When they got to Kate's door, she got a look in her eyes Mackenzie couldn't recognize.
"Listen, I," the anxious Kate, with the stammering and the wavering voice, was back, "this was tremendous, you're really special. I'm engaged." Mackenzie narrowed her eyes and almost wanted to laugh. I guess there was still a way to surprise her. Kate continued. "I mean…I was. Years ago. Anne. She thinks I'm dead. Fuck, I don't even know why I'm telling you this, it's not —"
Mackenzie put her pointer finger to Kate's lips and stared right in at her eyes. She gave the girl whose doorstep she was standing on a long kiss, feeling the warm hum of the alcohol, hearing the sound of crickets. She pulled away after ages.
"We've all lost people, Kate. You don't get into this game we're in without something being a bit fucked up with your story." Kate smirked, a bit sadly, at that. Mackenzie laughed. "So, am I coming in or not?"
5. I Double E, Con't
When she opened her eyes, everything was blurry. Trusses and towers of light, pure and white, surrounded them. They were the only things visible in the buzzing dark. Kate was feeling falling-down drunk, like her thoughts worked but her limbs weren't quite on the same page, moving slowly and then all at once. She stumbled and Mackenzie held her up for support.
"Where the hell are we?" Kate asked, slurring.
"The Everything Under Everything. Points of light. Come with me." She seemed totally unaffected by the disorienting surroundings. "There's stuff here you can't quite see yet. But you can see the exits. This is how my people get around."
Kate looked up, questioningly. "Marshall, Carter and Dark?" Mackenzie made a derisive noise with her breath. "No, not those morons. My people, of which you are one, now, if you'd like to be. When you're walking outside and there's a breeze that lasts just a second, rustling the leaves with surprising force, you know that thing?"
"Someone's traveling via leyline, right through you. Here. Hold tight." Mackenzie felt Kate complying with her request as she pulled her into one of the pillars of light. Blinded for a second, they blinked their eyes and saw a full moon reflected on the waters of the Gulf. The two of them could see the glowing line of fireflies, floating out over the water into the horizon.
Kate collapsed into the sand, exhausted. Mackenzie sat down to hold her there. "Welcome to Horseshoe Beach. I used to go here all the time as a little girl. That leyline goes straight over the water to Panacea."
Kate's eyes flashed with recognition at the phrase. "There used to be a church here." Mackenzie nodded in recognition. "Yeah, there was. My people did some foul, evil things before figuring out the right way to go."
"Mac…Who are your people, exactly?" There was a hint of fear in Kate's voice.
"Do you love me, Kate?"
"Of course. Every day."
"Will you, no matter what?"
"Yes." Silence for a few seconds. "Who are your people?"
"The Order of the Hyacinth." The words floated in the air. Kate closed her eyes and leaned into Mackenzie's embrace, listening to her heart racing. They sat, no sound but the lapping of the waves, for a very long time.
6. Excerpt From The Enigma Variations Demo Tape
7. We Are Cursed
Glass broke with another bullet, raining over the heads of the two women crouched below it. Mackenzie finished reciting her verse into the radio. "Thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God." If she was going to die, she was going to die broadcasting the word of the Lord, for Christ's sake.
Kate, bruise on her face and a tear in her suit-jacket sleeve, pistol almost empty, whispered frantically to her. "Hey, not that I don't appreciate the poetry of the fucking shortwave suicide note but you are all sorts of fucking magic. I am not going to die in Goddamn ass-fucking Dixie County. Find a fucking leyline and let's teleport out of here."
"I need a dried flower, an hour of time, and leylines aren't every—"
More gunshots. A scream. Who knows how many they had left. "I love you, Mac, and I need you to improvise. Quickly."
Mackenzie, eyes wide, searched around the shack they were holed up in. Her eyes settled back on her partner.
"And I love you, Kate, but you really can't pull off a pocketsquare." She yanked the stupid floral-patterned cloth out of Kate's jacket pocket. The spirits better be feeling generous today, Mackenzie thought, flicking open her lighter. The fabric caught flame, smoke making waves, finding nothing.
Kate looked on the verge of tears. "No line?"
"No." Mackenzie had never tried what she was about to try. But as the noise of assault rifles got closer, now was not the time for precedent. "But I'm improvising." She grabbed Kate's hand and looked at her. "Think very intently about somewhere very safe. Also, I'm very sorry for what I'm about to do."
She pressed Kate's hand right into the heart of the flame. She screamed. Everything went white.
They snapped back into reality with an ear-piercingly loud crack and fell in a heap on hardwood floor. They were inside a house. Snow was piled outside the window. They were far away from Florida. The two of them were covered in cuts, like they'd jumped through a window. Kate's hand looked horrible. But the look on her face was worse.
"Oh god. Oh god. Mackenzie, I didn't have time to think, I didn't mean to —"
Mackenzie didn't have to ask what she meant. Because a woman was descending the stairs, looking at Kate like she was seeing a ghost.
All the breath went out from Kate's body. "Anne."