Gerard Demille closed his eyes and rocked back and forth on the soles of his feet, swaying gently. He could feel the invisible walls of the pentagram around him, the magic solid and thick, streaming upward and downward. An impenetrable barrier. He could feel it, he could touch it – it would hurt like hell, but he couldn’t feel his own feet. Life was not fair.
He took a deep breath and blew it out. He couldn’t feel that either. He just went through the motions, following a muscle memory.
Bored. Bored, bored, bored. So mercilessly bored.
Around him the basement lay steeped in gloom, the thick stone walls patterned with a lattice of light and shadow, filtering through the wooden grates guarding the basement windows. A mouse scurried in the corner and paused to wash her nose with tiny hand-paws.
“You stop that,” Gerard told her. That’s all he needed. Mice gnawing on the walls.
The mouse looked at him with beady eyes.
“Shoo. Leave. You’re not welcome in my house.”
The little beast appeared unimpressed.
Gerard heaved another sigh and concentrated. A small chunk of rock in the corner shivered and shot across the floor in front of the rodent. The mouse jumped and dashed away. Gerard chased her with the rock all the way to the wall where a strand of ivy had made its way down into the basement through the broken window. The mouse jumped, trying to get to the ivy, but the vine ended too high up. Gerard dropped the rock. His magic reached out like an invisible hand and gently closed about the mouse. The animal squeaked, flailing. Gerard held it tighter – mice could squirm through the smallest openings and this wasn’t his first time at the rodeo – levitated the mouse up to the window, where a corner of the glass pane had broken out, and gently pushed her through the hole. The mouse darted out, no doubt feeling for its life. He concentrated, flattening the magic into a narrow plane and sliced at the vine, severing it neatly at the window.
Well, that was fun.
He pondered the vine and began stripping the leaves from it, one by one. What marvelous entertainment. What delightful pastime. Why, he would have to pace himself or he might earn himself a fit of apoplexy from all this excitement—
A rumble of the car engine slowing to a stop.
Maybe they just had a flat tire.
The tires crunched rolling over twigs in the old driveway. The motor fell silent. A car door swung open.
He had visitors. Oh yes. Gerard grinned and shot an astral projection of himself straight up, through the two floors to the round attic window. A silver Audi had pulled midway up the driveway. A tall redhead had stepped out of the driver side door and peered at the the house. Mirabelle Heath, the picture perfect real estate agent. Real name Shirley Heath. He’d snuck a peak at her driver’s license the first time she came to assess the house. He guessed Shirley just didn’t go with the entire super-agent persona.
Mirabelle’s bright red hair was pulled back into a ponytail. A female buyer then. For men, she curled it and left it loose. Dark grey Armani pant suit over a crisp white shirt, ridiculous platform shoes. Probably Ferragamo. At least that’s what it said on the inside of the one he’d pulled off her foot three months ago, when she tried to sell the house to some idiot with a midlife crisis. That shoe was real kidskin too. Judging by the way she freaked out when he tossed out of the window, it was expensive as hell.
His memory served up the shoes flying out into the yard. Gerard chuckled.
Mirabelle frowned at the house for another half a second and popped open the rear door. A boy jumped into the grass. About six, dark hair cut short. Oh Mirabelle, you sleek devil you. Trying to pawn me off on some unsuspecting family.
The boy held his hand out and another child emerged from the car. A little girl, maybe three. Full house, huh. One point five children – the toddler counted for only half. Where are the parents?
The front passenger door of the vehicle swung open, and a woman stepped out.
She was… lovely. There was probably a better, more precise word to describe her, but he couldn’t think of one. She was about fifteen pounds on the right side of plump, and her blouse and ankle-length jeans hugged her figure. Her hair was a deep, rich brown, a kind of sun-tinted cloud around her head. Her face… there was something so captivating about her face. He couldn’t explain it. She was somehow so… alive. It must’ve been the big dark eyes. He was always a sucker for a woman with dark eyes.
She took the toddler by the hand. Gerard noticed the way she bent, the curve of her neck, the way her hair fell… He watched her move across the grass, suffused with sunshine. He couldn’t even remember what it was like to feel the heat of a summer day. Rage boiled inside him, the same rage that landed him in this damn purgatory. In that moment, if he let it lose, it would exploded like a fireball, bursting the house until only splinters remained.
Get a grip, Gerard. It’s just a woman walking with her child in the grass. One day, you will walk out there again.
At least he wasn’t dead. Everything else, well, it was temporary.
They were walking up the front door. He faded his projection, turning himself invisible, and sank through the floor. This ought to be good.
Gerard dropped down into the great room on the first floor just in time to see the door knob turn. The door swung open. Mirabelle paused on the doorstep, surveying the house like a soldier in an enemy territory. Gerard had to give it to her, Mirabelle was tough. With most agents all it took was a couple of whispered, “Get out!” or some blood on the wall, and they fled for cover. Not that he chased them off that often – if he had any hope of getting out of the damn pentagram, he would need help. But he was particular. He wanted a single young woman, preferably gullible one that could be easily molded and influenced. Unfortunately not many of them were in the market for a three story house. In a pinch, he would take a family. If he didn’t like the client, he wasn’t shy about letting Mirabelle know. Yet, she kept coming back, with a steel determination in her eyes. He had a feeling that he’d become her personal mission. She would sell this house if it was the last thing she did.
Mirabelle clenched her teeth and took a step across the threshold, launching into a practiced spill. “As you can see this is a beautifully restored pre-civil war home. It was built in 1859 in an early Italianate also called Tuscan style, which was very popular back then. It was owned by Colonel Groves, a hero of Mexican American war, who had chosen to settle here in Musk, Georgia and became our first mayor. He also built our first church. The house has been completely remodeled several times and the last renovation was only ten years ago.”
Mirabelle moved through the foyer, her high heels clicking on the wooden floor. The woman behind her stepped inside, holding the small child by the hand. Her eyes widened. “It’s beautiful.”
“It is,” Mirabelle confirmed. “Two stories, roughly four thousand hundred square feet of living space…”
If only she knew.
“… in addition to the detached garage, attic, and a basement. Two stories, four bedroom, four and a half baths. As you can see, the first floor has hardwood floors throughout, brand new water heater, brand new roof, central heat and air. This house is the best of both worlds: on the outside it has historic character and on the inside it’s a picture of modern convenience and design.”
They drifted into the great room.
“Beautiful fireplace, tall coffered ceiling, and plenty of room. There are a total of six walk in closets in the house. The kitchen is this way.”
The boy stirred. “Mom, can we go upstairs?”
The sunny woman waved him on. “Go, guys. Don’t destroy anything.”
The boy took off, toddler in tow. He watched them head for the Master suite, while the two women moved into the kitchen. The sunny woman stepped in, looking over the cabinets and counters. He really did like the way she carried herself, with a kind of subtle assurance. Poise. Yes, that was the word.
“It’s a gorgeous house, Mirabelle,” the sunny woman said. “What’s wrong with it?”
Mirabelle paused in the kitchen doorway, her shoulders rigid with tension. “Structurally it’s perfectly sound.”
“There is no but.”
“Why is it so cheap? Less than one hundred and sixty grand for all this space?”
Mirabelle heaved a sigh. “It’s cheap because the market is awful. This house is old, Helen. Old house, old problems. Most people don’t even bother to come inside. They look at the listing and move on. Why buy something old, when you can have a new place for extra fifty grand with a guarantee of no electrical or plumbing problems and the modern exterior?”
“Are there electrical or plumbing problems?”
“No.” Mirabelle raised her hand with obscenely long yellow nails. “Helen, you have two children, one of whom is a six year old boy, so you will likely need at least two bedrooms for the children down the road.” She bent two fingers. “A bedroom for yourself.” Three fingers. “A home office for your business.” Four fingers down. “That’s four.” Mirabelle opened her hand.
Helen smiled. “I can count.”
She said “yourself” not “you and husband.” Interesting.
“You are approved for one eighty. It’s difficult to find a four bedroom house in that price range. Not impossible, but difficult. This is a nice house in a nice neighborhood.”
“On the edge of town.” Helen said.
“Yes, but the school district is decent.” Mirabelle sighed again. “Helen, I’ll be blunt.”
“Should I brace myself?”
He laughed softly.
Helen turned toward him. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Mirabelle asked.
She heard him. She heard him. Even if she was only a low level sensitive, as long as she could hear him, he could influence her. He had to make sure she bought the house.
“When you’re buying a house, the temptation is to max out your loan and buy as much house as possible,” Mirabelle continued. “That’s not always the best thing to do. There are closing costs. On this house the seller will pay them for you. That’s will save you almost five thousand dollars out the gate. And the recession is hitting everywhere, not just the housing market. I understand that right now Charles is paying child support and your business is relatively secure but that could change. My mother was a single parent. We grew up terrified that she would lose her job, because that meant we would become homeless. I don’t want to see you in the same situation. This seller is motivated and this house has been on the market for two years. You can purchase it without the fear that someone will come along and drop a large down payment down, cutting it from under you. You can put less money down and keep the rest for a rainy day, in case things don’t work out and you have to move.”
“Why would I have to move?” Helen arched her eyebrows.
You are losing her, you idiot.
“Who knows what might happen?” Mirabelle said.
“The place isn’t haunted, is it?”
Mirabelle opened her mouth.
The toddler ran into the room, the boy following her.
“There is a huge bath and there was a spider in it!” she announced. “And Charlie tried to eat it!”
“Not for free,” Charlie declared. “I said I’d eat it for a dollar!”
“Don’t eat spiders,” Helen said. “They aren’t good for you. Have you seen the upstairs? Go look at it and tell me how it looks.”
The kids departed, stomping up the stairs.
Mirabelle looked after them. Her mouth firmed into a resolute line. “You know, maybe this isn’t the right house after all.”
Oh no. No, no, no. Now wasn’t the right time to have the attack of integrity. Gerard concentrated on three potholders hanging off the hook in the wall behind Helen. The potholders slipped off and floated in mid-air.
Mirabelle clenched her teeth. “In fact, I think we could-”
He yanked the potholders up and jerked them along the ceiling and out of the kitchen.
“-Look at some other-”
The first pot holder smacked into Mirabelle’s back. She braced herself in the doorway with her hands.
“-Properties. I’m sure we can find-”
The second potholder slapped the back of her neck.
“-Something else. That-”
He turned the potholders into a barrage, hitting the small of her back in rapid succession: wap, wap, wap!
“That you might like better,” Mirabelle squeezed out furiously.
“I think I’ll take it,” Helen said.
Gerard dropped the potholders.
“Really?” Mirabelle raised her eyebrows.
“Yes. Assuming the rest of it is nice and the inspection doesn’t come back with cracks in the foundation.” Helen swiped a speck of dust off the counters. “It feels like home.”