MONICA: The apartment looks like it was mid-century, the kind that was once meant for a large family but now has been split up into multiple apartments by a landlord who needs to stretch his investment. It’s a pretty old rowhouse, but fairly well cared for. I’m in a hot, wet place, so I’m guessing by the looks of things, it’s a city in the US, probably in the south-east region, what with the heat and extreme humidity. So . . . just fucking great. Not my ideal. There are other mismatched apartments and houses, up and down the street. But I arrived here. Through a door . . . a fucking rip through reality and it put me on the curb. Right in front of this house. Is there a reason for that? Fuck knows. But I’m here and this is where it wants me to go, whatever it is. I’m looking for Jake. That’s my goal. That’s what I’m gonna do. I know my track record hasn’t been exactly great with finding the people I want to through the doors of Ostium, but hey guess what, I found Steve in the end. Sort of. So . . . one for one.
And my chances for finding Jake look . . . [sarcastic/uncertain] Good?
I mean, he’s . . . somewhere. And yes, that somewhere can be literally anywhere and anywhen . . .
Okay, time to stop feeling shitty.
As I take two steps towards the small steps and gate it hits me . . . it’s physical . . . it’s invisible . . .it’s . . . fucking strong. I can’t see anything, just your normal looking apartment building. But I can feel it, sort of. I can sense it. There, coming from the steps down to the basement apartment. I can sense . . . Them. More than one. Like levels of obstruction, holding me back. They’re . . . Oh shit, they’re wards. This house is under protection . . . From what? And who’s inside? A witch? A wizard? A warlock? Some other magical being that I know nothing about?
To say I’m out of my depth here is a gross overstatement.
But let’s take a big fucking step back for a moment . . . Mentally and physically. Ahh, that’s better, less pressure from the wards. So . . . How do I know they’re wards exactly? Where did this insight come from? Last time I checked I didn’t know thing one about . . . Magical thingies. Case in point. And yet some-fucking-how I know wards are protecting this place.
O . . . Kay. Maybe it’s something to do with going through these doors, on my own. Jake said he was changed after the blackness . . . What? Took him? Enveloped him? He survived, came out the other side, and was stronger for it. Maybe I’m going through a similar thing. I sure am speculating and pontificating like him.
So how does one get past or through a ward?
Let’s find out . . . I guess.
I move forward again and immediately feel the pressure. I walk slower but don’t stop. I’m just forcing myself against them. It’s like walking underwater, and the water’s like “heavy” water. I start to feel pricks on my skin, like tiny needles, or micro shocks. It’s very uncomfortable, and unsettling, but . . . bearable. Then things start to heat up. More than before. The tiny needles have been sitting on hot coals. I start grimacing, then moaning a little.
Then just like that they’re all gone. I’m pain free and walking normally again.
I guess I . . . Broke through?
I walk down the steps and make it to the door. A metal figurine of a woman with the lower half of a snake is nailed above the door, a small black felt bag hanging from her hands. The door is also ajar. Okay. Didn’t expect that.
I let my heart get closer to its usual beat, take a breath, and push open the door.
With my first step inside I hear a confident woman’s voice say:
KALILA: Hello Monica, I’ve been expecting you.
KALILA: February 16th. [TENTATIVELY 02/16/20] Moon is full. Sun is in Gemini.
The visitor’s name is Monica. I can’t really say client because she’s not one. Although she did offer to pay me for my services after we were done . . . Until she discovered she didn’t have any money. She was very apologetic about it. I didn’t give her a hard time . . . her arrival came under unusual circumstances. Last night I had a dream that today I would be visited by a stranger who would need my help. I know better than to ignore prophetic dreams. They come few and far inbetween, but it’s usually best practice to pay attention. The only word I heard in the dream was Monica. My day began auspiciously: the alarm failed to wake me up at the set time; the shower had lukewarm water; my breakfast tipped over onto the floor; and when I went to take my first sip of tea, the handle came off the mug. Fortunately, I didn’t get burned, but I did have to clean up and make a whole new cup of tea and a bowl of cereal. I should’ve been annoyed, but instead I recognized these signs for what they were: something big was disrupting the energy around me. I needed to be ready for it, or rather for this Monica person.
I felt the tension in the air when she arrived. I felt her making contact with the wards, then forcing her way through them. I have had those wards for a long time and each week I re-strengthen them, making sure they give me enough information about what or who comes in contact with them. She didn’t break them exactly, as anything attacking would; she was merely able to . . . Pass through without giving the required information. At least she didn’t seem dangerous. Okay, I was curious.
When she poked her head through the door I said . . .
KALILA: Hello Monica, I’ve been expecting you.
MONICA: You . . . Er . . . You have?
KALILA: Yup. Please come in.
MONICA: Thank you. I . . . Are you here to help me? Is that why I’m . . . In your lovely home.
KALILA: You don’t sound certain.
MONICA: Oh, I barely have a fucking clue.
KALILA: No problem. We’ll figure it out together; let’s get started. Please take a seat . . . Here. Would you like some tea?
MONICA: That sounds . . . Heavenly.
KALILA: I’ll be right back.
MONICA: This is fucking delicious. What is it?
MONICA: I’ve got to get me some. Sorry, do you mind the swearing.
KALILA: Nah, it’s fine. However you need to express yourself. Feel free.
MONICA: Thank you.
KALILA: Now: why are you here?
MONICA: I thought you were going to tell me that . . . With the tarot cards.
KALILA: If you think that’s why you’re here . . . Are you familiar with tarot? Have you had a reading before?
MONICA: No and no.
KALILA: Very well. Do you have any idea why you’ve shown up on my doorstep? What has brought you here?
MONICA: Well . . . I’ve been traveling through doors. Going from place to place and . . . Time to time. I’m searching for someone. [Breath] I’m looking for Jake Fisher. He’s lost. And I need to find him.
KALILA: A traveler, huh? Interesting. This is something I can work with. I’m going to do a three card reading . . .
MONICA: So . . . Where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going?
KALILA: If . . . If that’s what you want, it can be that yes. Do you want that?
MONICA [thinking for a moment]: Yes. That’s what I’d like. If that’s okay?
KALILA: Of course. So . . . First card is Six of Cups. You recently found something or someone you’ve spent a long time looking for. You were reunited with this person, and possibly others. Also a return to a familiar place. A home of sorts. Not necessarily your true home, but a place you are comfortable and familiar with.
MONICA: Yes. I found Steve. My boy. And Jake. And we were all back together in the Ostium Network. But then something happened. Something . . . Fucking bad. We had to stop someone . . . Something from attacking us. From attacking the place we were in. It was a hard fight. And at the end of it . . . After we’d won, we were all exhausted. This is why Jake didn’t arrive right behind me. He . . . Fuck, I don’t know. Let his mind wonder maybe? Lost his focus for a second. Succumbed to his tiredness. And he went through a door and it didn’t take him to where it should. Back to us. It took him somewhere else. Possibly . . . Probably very far away. In time and space. And now . . .
KALILA: Yes, the next card. The Chariot, reversed. You feel lost. Without direction. You know how to get from place to place. Through the doors. But you don’t know where you’re going. And you don’t know if it’s helping. Or if you’re just putting yourself in a deeper hole.
MONICA: Yes. I feel . . . Lost. Lost is the right word. Each time I go through another door there’s a part of me wishing Jake is going to be on the other side. But it’s only a small part of me. Most of me assumes he won’t be and I’m gonna be in some other strange and new place.
KALILA: I see. So let’s see where you believe you need to be then. The . . . uh. I . . . what the . . .
MONICA: What? What is it?
KALILA [concerned]: I’ve . . . I’ve never seen this card before.
MONICA: You never drawn it in a reading?
KALILA: No. I mean I’ve literally never seen this card before. It’s not part of my tarot deck, even though the style is the same. This . . . This doesn’t feel right.
MONICA: Can I see it?
KALILA: I don’t want to touch it.
[Chair moving sound]
MONICA: Goddamn. It’s . . . It’s a big black O. For Ostium. It’s gotta be. And inside is . . . Is that the map table? Yeah. Somehow it is. Why is it that?
KALILA [confused]: Don’t ask me.
MONICA: It’s Ostium. The reach of Ostium. It’s made it to here. In this time and place, somehow. [Shock] Unbelievable. But why the map table? Unless . . . Unless . . . I need to get the talismans. The little trinkets for the map table.
KALILA: I don’t know what you’re talking about . . .
MONICA: It’s gotta be that. That’s how I can get back on track. How I can find Jake, and how I can get us back to Ostium. Just like we did before. It would be fucking unbelievable if it didn’t all make sense.
KALILA [peeved]: Tell me about it.
MONICA: Thank you. Thank you . . . Gosh, I’m so sorry. I never asked for your name.
KALILA: Kalila Stormfire.
MONICA: That . . . is a fucking amazing name. Thank you Kalila, so much for your help. This is what you do, isn’t it? Helping others in this way.
KALILA: Yes. And sometimes it pays the rent and provides food.
MONICA: Fuck! You’re right. I need to pay you for your help. Let me . . . [rustling] Shit, I’m sorry. I haven’t got a dollar on me. I feel really bad.
KALILA: It’s . . . It’s okay, Monica. Honestly, this has been an . . . Educational experience, for both of us I’m sure. And one I’m not soon to forget.
MONICA: Can I . . . Can I ask one more favor?
KALILA: Certainly. If I can grant it.
MONICA: Can I take this card with me? I think . . . I think it’s the talisman to be taken from this place.
KALILA: Yes. Yes, please do. It clearly isn’t meant to be with me, in my deck.
MONICA: Thank you. And I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ll be leaving now.
KALILA: Be careful . . . I can see you love him. And sometimes love can easily cloud the mind and stray you from your path. Just: be careful.
MONICA: Thank you, Kalila. I’ll . . . I’ll never forget you.
KALILA: I wish you well, traveler.
[Footsteps, door opening, door closing]
KALILA: A very strange case, even for me. I’ve heard of interdimensional travelers before, but they are, like, super rare. This Ostium place…it’s probably not something to mess with. And that card . . . Never seen anything like it. The sheer power and ability it would take to manifest such a thing . . . that’s got some oomph behind it. And I truly hope it never happens to me again. I’m not qualified for this kind of magick, let’s be honest. Let’s stick to headaches and personal existential crises, right?
Well, I believe that’s enough fun for one day.