the revised devil’s dictionary 

from ESP Fiction

             

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Prologue

Providence, RI. December 12, 1995.

“I’m bloody sick of this place.” The speaker, a short woman with brown hair pushed back behind her ears, stared bleakly outside at the snow that eddied about on the frozen sidewalks and street below. Even in the courthouse, she wore a light blue down jacket, though it was no longer zipped up. Her companion squeezed her shoulder in mute support and found herself following the other’s gaze outside. She said, her voice pitched low by habit rather than any furtiveness, “It’ll be over soon. You saw the way the judge looked. He’s not buying any of it.”

The first woman, Pam Whitby, glanced at her friend and nodded without commenting before she looked back outside.

The second woman, Debra McKinley, smiled sadly. Had not a drunk decided to drive rather than take a cab, Pam would be her sister-in-law and the two of them would not have found themselves in a courthouse. Kevin, Deb’s older brother by two years, had left everything to Pam, which turned out to be considerable, much to everyone’s surprise. Kevin’s two remaining sisters and mother had hit the roof, not so much because of greed as because of an overwhelming dislike of Pam.

Pam didn’t think much of them either.

She looked back outside and stiffened. A figure now stood at the bus stop across the street and seemed to be staring up at her. Dressed in a dark cloak that came down past the knees, a white face was framed by a hood; Pam recognized the figure only too well.

Debra had turned away and moved a few steps toward the courtroom when she felt a cold draft of air wash over her. She peered to her left into an alcove that she’d would have sworn had been empty but a few seconds before. Startled, she caught her breath and froze for a moment.

Pam spun around and in three lightning steps, interposed herself between Debra and the figure that had been outside but a moment before. “What the hell do you want?”

The woman pushed the hood back and regarded Pam for a moment before she glanced at Debra. Her eyes were ebony and her hair onyx, framing a pale face whose smile hinted little warmth of character. She returned her gaze to Pam. “You have my sympathies, Pamela Whitby. Kevin was unique.”

“Lovely. Now that you’ve shared that, Hecate, I sure you’ll excuse us . . . “

The figure sighed and shook her head minutely. “I’m afraid not. There’s the oath Kevin left unfulfilled.”

“Let me guess. You want me to do it.” Hecate nodded. “Forget it. I don’t have Kevin’s resources or abilities and you know it.”

“Perhaps, but you have talents of which you are ignorant. The need is great.”

“That’s a shame. However, you don’t have any claim on me and right now, I’ve got business of my own to straighten out.”

“The lawsuit will be concluded today. In your favor.”

“Bully. I’ve still got a full schedule. Hit the bricks.”

Hecate showed no reaction but locked eyes with Pam for several long heartbeats. Then slowly she shifted her glance to Debra. “I can’t force you, as you know. Kevin taught you well. A blood token will have to do in that case."

Pam stiffened and moved between her friend and the dark woman. “Leave Deb out of it.”

“Or . . . “

Pam clenched her teeth—she had no way of stopping Hecate and knew it. “She’s done nothing to you; she doesn’t know anything about Kevin’s work.” Behind her, Debra looks puzzled and started to speak but Pam shook her head and remained, a barrier between the two, her gaze locked with Hecate.

Hecate raised a hand to make a flicking motion and Pam found herself standing several feet to the left. Slowly, Hecate began to close her hand, drawing it back toward her body and Deb let out a low gasp and began to fade away into clear air.

She had no choice; Pam jumped toward Deb. “Stop! I’ll do it—leave her out of it.” She grabbed for Deb’s arm only to find nothing she could touch.

 

  Hecate stopped. She locked her gaze with Pam. “Do you assume the debt? Will you swear?”

Pam closed her eyes for a moment and then straightened up and opened them again, defeated. Formally, she answered in a low voice, “I so swear.”

Hecate opened her hand again abruptly and nodded. “I dislike forcing you, but I have no choice. Know that Kevin would have honored his oath to me. Indeed, had he known of the situation, he would have taken it on, willingly, on his own. He was that kind of man.”

Pam shrugged—might, might not. At this point it mattered very little. “I still have things I have to do.”

“Then do them. You have time. I have many things to prepare before you can begin.” Hecate smiled slightly, a cold impersonal look within which lurked subtle danger. She nodded once more to the two women and faded from view.

Neither spoke for a long time. Deb broke the silence finally. “What the hell just happened?”

Pam sighed and after a glance back out the window to the cold street below, turned to her. “Forget it. I’ll handle it.”

“Like hell I will. That woman came out of nowhere.”

Pam looked at her and realized Deb wouldn’t let it go; she shared that weakness with her brother. Nor would Pam have let it slide. “It’s a long story and complicated.”

“Then you’d better get started.”

Pam regarded her for several long, weary seconds and sighed. She led her to a dark mahogany bench up against an internal wall and sat down. “Well, it’s like this. Kevin was a magician.”

Debra McKinley looked at her for five seconds, her face expressionless. “Like David Copperfield? Right?”

Pam shook her head. “Well, not really. More like Merlin . . . ”

It was indeed a long and complicated story.

* * * * * * *

Outside, the snow began to fall with a vengeance, icy corn snow pellets that signaled a serious storm that would last days. Hecate wove a glamour about herself, shielding her from the scrutiny of any passersby. Gently she began to weave a spell that slowly erased the memory of her visit from Debra McKinley’s mind. She held it in abeyance once prepared and began the more difficult task of manipulating Pam Whitby’s memories. Some things she merely dimmed, made difficult to recall, while others she obliterated without a trace. Delicately she trimmed, fit, and smoothed away any trace of memory that could reveal that Pam Whitby had encountered Hecate that day. She then slowly released both spells in a seeping flow that no power, natural or supernatural, could discern. Like the slow melting of a glacier under the sun, her alterations continued until after the sun had set and the new born night walked the city, clocked in still falling snow.

Once finished, she smiled coldly. It was again time to challenge the Maker, again time to renew the war between them that had lasted for more than a thousand years. Bound servants, trusted followers, talented adherents had all failed in the past. But a free agent, a person acting on their own, following no plan and certainly not under Hecate’s control in the slightest. Would that succeed?

Perhaps. Hecate faded back into the night of which she was Queen, and began to make the few material things Pam would need. They’d be placed where they would be found, but that was as far as Hecate could go. That would have to be enough. She could do no more without a serious risk to Pam.

The night held no answer. Nor would the coming day.

Six months would pass before the struggle could begin.

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updated 08/23/02