Matthew didn’t get much done the rest of the day. Pat was away this week visiting family, so Matthew had the place to himself. He managed to buy groceries and drop off his suit at the dry cleaner’s, but the original plan to update his résumé at the coffeeshop and look for new jobs wasn’t going to happen.
Despite getting decaf, his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.
Finally Matthew gave up and took the train home…deliberately taking a route that avoided the scene of the accident. He’d make a simple tofu stir-fry and go to bed early, and catch up on everything after work tomorrow. On autopilot he took the elevator up to their apartment, unlocked the door, stepped inside, turned around to lock the door once more, turned back—
And there was the witch, Lady Erica, standing next to the couch in the living room.
“Goodness,” gasped Matthew, leaning against the door.
“Matthew Li,” said the witch, “I believe we have unfinished business.”
Matthew simply nodded. So it wasn’t a hallucination. That, or I’ve gone crazy.
“I cannot provide you with the certainty you desire,” continued Lady Erica, putting an odd emphasis on the word “certainty”. “But as you are now aware of my existence, I wish to make you a proposition.” As before, her face was a mask, showing no particular interest in him or his astonishment. Her long hair shifted behind her shoulders.
Matthew laughed weakly. “You saved my life, so now I owe you my firstborn child?” His mind was churning, but nothing useful was coming to the surface. For a moment it flashed onto Pat, discovering him here with a teenage girl. It’s not what it looks like…
He found he was hoping to get a reaction out of his flippant remark, but Lady Erica only turned her eyes toward him, that inscrutable expression remaining in place. “Nothing of the sort, Mr. Li. Your life is your own, free of debt or obligation.” The girl shifted her gaze away again. “I confess I am surprised there was no mention of gratitude.”
As before, her face didn’t change in the slightest. Matthew’s, on the other hand, reddened when he realized what she meant.
“Thank you for s-saving my life,” he muttered.
“I assume you might also care for the life of the one who is close to you.” The witch continued as if he hadn’t spoken.
It took Matthew a second to realize. “Pat! Pat’s in danger?”
“You’ve seen what I can do,” Lady Erica said. A response? A non sequitur?
Matthew’s head was spinning. Both his faith and every story he had ever read warned him against dealing with…beings like this. Not that he ever expected to encounter one. But if Pat was in danger…it was almost certainly a trick of some kind.
“What do you want from me?” he finally asked.
“Muy bien,” replied the witch. “Nothing. I ask nothing of you.”
Matthew was silent for a moment. If only his mind would settle down for a second, so he could think through this properly…but nothing had changed, really. He kept his mouth shut.
“Very well,” Lady Erica finally said, “as you desire.” Still showing no particular emotion, she gave Matthew an elegant curtsy and disappeared—this time by bursting into a cloud of black dust that faded into nothingness.
Matthew ate cold canned soup that night and lay awake for hours.
Whew! Finally some progress on “Determination”. I was stuck for a long time on a question of Lady Erica’s motivation, but I think I have that resolved now. Unfortunately it might never show up in the story, because one of the rules I have here is that it’s never from her perspective. That means some things may stay permanently behind the scenes for the duration, unless there’s a sequel in the future.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m avoiding posting each section until I have the following section written, and now I have drafts for parts 3 and, um, 5. So part 3 (short) might be up soon, followed by another break while I work out part 4. (There are two more blockers, and one of them is Lady Erica again. Those troublesome witches!)