Three is a magic number. It was three days between Matthew’s near-fatal accident and the power outage at the store. Three days between Lady’s Erica first appearance at his apartment and her second.
Bad things come in threes.
So despite knowing he was being superstitious, Matthew was on edge from the moment he woke up Saturday morning, jolted awake by a dream in which the witch sat with her usual opaque expression in the tree outside his apartment building, while Pat was obliviously about to be erased from existence by a runaway car…
He had woken up and had been unable to get back to sleep, and so he had finally rolled out of bed to take a shower. His stomach felt clenched, but he fried some eggs anyway just to force himself to eat something. His shift didn’t start until noon. There was no laundry to do—with Pat gone, the hamper languished only a quarter full. He didn’t even need groceries, since he hadn’t been cooking.
He put another forkful of oversalted eggs into his mouth and chewed slowly. The same resigned dread from Wednesday night hung over the living room like a gauzy grey shroud, but Lady Erica had not appeared.
In the day, when things seemed at their most normal, Matthew’s mind had tried to comb for rational explanations or make sense of it as a religious experience. It certainly didn’t seem like anything Meihua had described, or anything he’d ever read—most of the structure might match up, but the details didn’t fit.
These Thursday-Friday ruminations hadn’t gone anywhere; they just left him feeling more fatigued. But now it was Saturday, and in his morning daze Matthew felt inclined to wonder again what Lady Erica was really after…
…realizing as he did so that an answer would entail acceptance of her as an individual and as a witch. But somehow that didn’t seem so outlandish right now. Surely something was bound to—
The telephone rang. Matthew started, banging his hand against his fork, and a bite of eggs catapulted onto the floor. For a moment he froze, staring at the errant bit of food, his brain agonizing over whether he should clean it up before answering. Then the phone rang again. Matthew ruefully set down his plate and hurried across the room to answer it.
“Hey, M, it’s Pat.” His lover’s familiar voice came over the phone, and Matthew felt some of the tension ease out of his shoulders. Somehow this mess had gotten tangled up with Pat’s absence, but that meant it would all be over in a few days.
“You there?” Pat said.
Matthew started guiltily. “Hi,” he said, his voice cracking. He hadn’t spoken aloud at all yet this morning.
“Hi,” Pat echoed, sounding amused.
“Is something wrong?” Matthew asked hesitantly.
“You’re in a dark mood.” Matthew heard a cough that might have been a surpressed laugh. “No, everything’s fine. Good, actually. Ma’s walking again—with the walker, anyway—and the doctor confirmed that she’s recovering well. So I’ll be home Monday afternoon, as planned.”
“Good,” said Matthew. He tried to put some positivity into it.
“Come home, take a shower…” Pat went on, adopting a suggestive tone, “…and see what my work email looks like. And cry.”
Matthew smiled. “Then come to bed.”
“You just got up,” Pat said pointedly, teasing.
The smile left his face. “Didn’t sleep well.”
“Ah, so that’s what you need me for.” There was a crackling noise as Pat sat back, breathing against the receiver. “Well, I’ll be there on Monday, and everything will be back to normal.”
Be where on Monday?
Matthew straightened up suddenly. “Did you buy your ticket already?” he asked.
“No,” answered Pat, clearly surprised at the sudden urgency. “We just got back from the doctor’s.”
“Maybe…” Matthew’s thoughts swirled. “Maybe don’t take the afternoon flight.”
“Matthew.” The concern was evident. “Is something wrong?”
“I—” He pursed his lips. “I don’t know. I have a bad feeling.”
“About a flight two days away?”
The silence stretched. Finally Pat gave a short sigh. “All right. If it makes you happy, I’ll take the later flight. You better meet me at the airport, though.”
“Thank you, Pat,” Matthew said, surprising himself by almost collapsing with relief. “See you on Monday.”
“Love you, M.” He could hear the eye roll, and smiled.
“Love you too.”
Resolutely, Matthew set down the phone and went back to pick the bit of egg up off the floor. The dread was gone, but the sense of foreboding remained.
The reckoning had been put off two more days.
Even the characters can tell the story’s reaching its endgame.
There are still a handful of sections to come. I’m making slow progress what with the continuation of my Japanese class, not to mention current events, but I’d still like to finish this, if only for myself. I hope I’ll get the next segment done in less than the month it’s taken the last two, but no promises.
I should probably include NaNoWriMo revising/editing in the list of distractions. It’s been a month—two months now—since the end of the event, and I’ve gone through my story and flagged all the sections that need to be rewritten—not just copyedited and rephrased, but actually redone in light of the complete story. (Remember, it’s a mystery. It has to be coherent.) Unfortunately, there are a fair number of these sections, and I need to get myself back into that mode, something that’s been hard to do lately with so much else on my mind. So it might be a while before that one’s ready to share.