Chronicles of Love and War (chapter 10)
At four in the morning, the phone on Pauling’s bedside table began to ring.
Fumbling, half-asleep, she reached for the receiver with a groan and picked it up, pressing it to her ear. “Mmm, what?”
“Oh, this is your number!” Merasmus’ voice gasped, sounding almost relieved.
Pauling’s brow furrowed, and she rubbed her eyes. “Merasmus…huh? What’s going on? Why are you calling me?”
Merasmus went right into it. “I examined that powder – do you know what I discovered?”
“Powder?” Pauling’s mind cleared a bit, and she remembered the powder that Demo had given Merasmus to look at. “Oh…that powder. What’d you learn?”
“It’s from a curse!” Merasmus explained. “Certain witches place their curses in vessels that will burst and leave a powder behind, cursing their target. Whoever sent that vessel to your boss was trying to curse him!”
“Curse?” Pauling repeated, squinting. “Hang on – you’re telling me someone tried to curse Saxton Hale?”
“Essentially, yes,” Merasmus confirmed. “But they may have succeeded if there was powder left behind. Tell me – have you noticed him acting differently lately?”
Pauling’s eyes widened. “As a matter of fact, yeah! We had a meeting not long ago, and he acted strangely. Helen stated that she had sent him to a sleep clinic or something because he was having trouble sleeping.”
Merasmus clicked his tongue. “Hm, that sounds serious…if his condition worsens, call me and I’ll see if I can try and lift it from him.”
“All right…sure,” Pauling yawned, rubbing her eye again. “Thanks for calling, I’m gonna go back to sleep if that’s all right,”
“Oh…yes, of course,” Merasmus cleared his throat. “I forgot you mortals like to prioritize sleep…” with that, he hung up.
A few hours later, Pauling got back up and went to the nearby café to pick up breakfast for herself, Helen, and Olivia. The memory of Merasmus’ phone call came back to her, and when she arrived to Helen’s home, she had to bring it up.
“A curse?” Helen scoffed when she heard this. “That’s certainly a new one. Of course, Hale has been the target of attempted killings before, but all of those failed.”
“Well, yeah,” Pauling shrugged. “But a curse is something different. What if its slowly killing him and we can’t see it?”
Helen took a sip of coffee, leaning on her palm in thought. “Hm…well, when I spoke to him yesterday, he said that he was having terrible nightmares. That would be anything – poor diet, change of medications…but a curse? What sort of a curse simply causes someone to have nightmares?”
“What if they’re more than nightmares?” Pauling persisted. “Did he say what they were about?”
“Fighting, from what it sounds like,” Helen explained. “If it is a curse, did Merasmus say what to do?”
“He said to call him if Hale’s condition gets worse,” Pauling replied, taking a bite of her bagel.
Helen nodded, thinking this over. “All right, well…I’m going to call the sleep therapy clinic later to ask how everything went last night. It could just be nothing,”
Just then, Olivia stepped into the kitchen, still in her pajamas as she rubbed her eyes. “Did you bring bagels?” she asked, her eyes going straight to the bag sitting atop the counter.
“Sure did,” Pauling smiled, cutting one of the bagels in half and putting some cream cheese on it. “Here you go!”
Pleased, Olivia hopped up onto the chair and accepted the bagel, taking a bite of it. “Mm!”
Helen couldn’t help but smile a little, ruffling Olivia’s hair. “There we are…”
The phone rang in the living room, and Helen got up from her chair to go answer it. “Oh – I wonder who that is?”
As Olivia enjoyed the bagel, Pauling asked, “Do you want any juice?”
“Oh! Yeah,” Olivia gestured to the fridge. “There’s some orange juice in there,”
Pauling opened the fridge, pulling out the bottle of orange juice. At that same moment, Helen exclaimed from the next room, “What!? What do you mean he’s gotten worse?”
Pauling froze, looking towards the living room in bewilderment. Olivia tilted her head in confusion. “Huh?”
Moments later, Helen hung up and returned to the kitchen. She took a long sip of her coffee before speaking.
“He got worse,” she stated simply.
Pauling sucked her lips into her mouth, her shoulders tensing up. “…okay. Should I call Merasmus?”
Helen thought for a moment, and then sighed, crossing her arms and looking towards the window. “Yes…I suppose that’s our best option.”
That was it – Merasmus, Miss Pauling, and Helen were off to Raven Backwoods' sleep therapy clinic in the hopes of breaking Saxton Hale's curse. Meanwhile, they left Lucy and Olivia in the base, where the mercenaries could keep an eye on them for the time being.
Upon arrival to the clinic, Raven met the trio right at the entrance. She was a tall, middle-aged woman with curly black hair and a faint scar on her top lip.
“Thank you for coming,” Raven began breathlessly, before she spotted Merasmus. “Oh! Why, Merasmus I had no idea you and Helen knew each other!”
Surprised, Miss Pauling looked between Merasmus and Raven. “Wait – you two know each other?”
Merasmus just cleared his throat. “Erm, yes – I’ve crossed paths with Miss Backwoods before. Tell me, Raven – how, exactly, has this man’s condition gotten worse?”
Raven started to explain, but she just sighed, leading the group into the building. “Well…it’s better if I just show you.”
Raven led them down the long hallway and to a small room. The room appeared to be designed to be calm and tranquil, with lovely paintings on the walls and a comfy bed and sofa, but what was going on inside was everything but peaceful. Saxton Hale, dressed only in his underwear, paced the room feverishly while muttering to himself. Helen was surprised by how weary he appeared in comparison to the day before — his hair was unkempt, and his eyes had dark bags beneath them.
“What – what happened!?” Helen exclaimed, looking Hale up and down in alarm.
When Hale didn’t answer, Raven explained, “What happened is that nothing we tried on him worked! None of our herbs worked, none of our meditations worked, nothing. I even tried to put him in a coma – that did not work at all! He just keeps ranting about his nightmares…I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“It’s a sleep curse,” Merasmus sighed, shedding his coat and stepping close to Hale. “The only way to get him back to normal is to lift the curse from him.”
“How do we do that?” Pauling wanted to know, anxiously hovering beside Merasmus.
“He needs a bath of clay, salts, rosemary and thyme,” Merasmus clarified. “And then the curse has to be sealed somewhere once it’s been lifted – I would recommend a sturdy glass jar for that.”
Raven snapped her fingers, getting the attention of one of her assistants who was passing by. “Nellie! Fetch me one of those mason jars from the downstairs cabinet!”
Saxton Hale let out an agonized yell and slammed his fists against the bed when the assistant nodded and hurried away. “I’m a freak! A freak, a freak, a freak!” he chanted, ripping the sheets off the bed and tearing them in half. “If I fall asleep, I’ll see the truth! I don’t want to see!”
Merasmus approached him quickly, trying to take the sheets from his hands. “Now, now, you don’t want to do that, sit down.”
“No!” Hale ran to the corner of the room, beginning to sob loudly. “I can’t! I can’t…I can’t sleep but I can’t be awake!” his hands shook, and he gripped his head in his hands, letting out another anguished scream.
“Jesus,” Pauling muttered, her heart dropping. “I’ve never seen him like this before…”
“Well!? Help him!” Helen insisted, gesturing to Merasmus. “That’s why we brought you!”
“Patience!” Merasmus hollered at her, before turning to Raven. “Do you have a tub to mix the ingredients in?”
Raven nodded, quickly stepping out to go get it. “Yes! It’s a washtub, but it should work!”
Moments later, Raven dragged a large, metal washtub into the room. “All right – what do we use for water? There’s a hose outside, would that work?”
“Hm…yes, that should be fine – no, no,” Merasmus used a light beam to push Hale away from one of the pictures on the wall. “That looks expensive, don’t break that!”
Hale just shouted in frustration. “But its hideous!”
“I’ll help you get the hose,” Pauling offered, following Raven outside. They got the long hose from the back of the building, but it wasn't long enough to get through the corridor to Hale's room. However, per Helen’s suggestion, they went the other way and stuffed it through the window instead. Once the hose was inside, Pauling ran back outside to the lever to turn the water on.
As the water began to fill the tub, Raven pulled up her pack of supplies and rooted through it. “I have rosemary, I have thyme…oh, and my pink Himalayan salt!” she held it up for Merasmus to see. “Is the clay necessary? I’m not sure if I have any…”
"I might have some – hold on," Merasmus said, picking up his coat and fumbling through the pockets until he discovered a little container of clay. “Ah, this should be enough,”
Raven and Merasmus put the contents in the tub together, and when the tub was nearly full, Helen jumped up and called out the window for Pauling to turn off the water.
Soon, the tub was ready, and Merasmus cleared his throat. “All right! Mr. Hale? Get into this tub,”
Saxton stayed glued to the corner of the room, clutching the torn sheets in his hand like a lifeline. “It won’t work,” he insisted, his voice cracking. “It won’t work, it won’t work, I know it won’t!”
“Get up, Hale,” Helen instructed, marching towards him and sticking out her hand for him to grab. “The sooner you get in, the sooner you’ll feel better.”
Hale grunted, still glaring at the tub. Pauling stumbled back into the room, panting, her shirt soaked.
“Had a bit of an incident with that hose,” she explained. “Is it ready?”
“Yes, but he’s not going in,” Raven pursed her lips together, watching in frustration as Hale refused to budge.
Merasmus stared at Hale for a moment before sighing. “You know what? I did not want it to come to this, but…” he did a twirling motion with his hand and trilled, “Up! Get to your feet!”
Instantly, a force yanked Hale to his feet, causing him to yelp. “What are you doing to me!?”
“Get in this tub!” Merasmus commanded, pointing to the tub. Hale took a few steps forward and walked straight into the tub, diving head first into it and making a big splash. When Merasmus released him, Hale stuck his head back up, gasping.
“I got salt in my mouth!” he exclaimed, making a gagging sound and trying to spit it out.
Raven handed Merasmus the jar, and she asked, “What happens, now?”
“You will see!” Merasmus assured, unscrewing the jar lid. He cleared his throat, took a breath, and commanded, “Nightmare Curse, I command you leave this man’s body!”
Instantly, pale pink smoke began to billow out of Saxton’s eyes, nose and mouth. Merasmus merely held out the jar with one hand and made a whirling motion with the other as Saxton coughed and spluttered. Merasmus clamped the lid on as tightly as he could once all of the smoke had made its way inside the jar.
Pauling took a few steps towards the jar, staring in awe as the smoke seemed to twist around as if it had a mind of its own. “Whoa…that was inside Hale’s head!?”
“Indeed,” Merasmus sighed. “I’m quite glad we removed this from him when we did, this could have turned even worse if we let it go on too long! Raven? I’ll be taking this with me so I can properly dispose of it at my own residence,”
Raven gave a nod. “Fine by me, I have other jars.”
“Wait,” Helen cut in. “But we need to figure out who sent this curse!”
“Oh, yes. Of course,” Merasmus reached for his coat, slipping it back on. “I can do a spell that will lead us to the curse’s origin, so we can know who cast this originally. Would that be useful to you?”
Helen let out a relieved breath. “Yes, that’s perfect.”
Hale slowly stood up out of the water, dripping wet and smelling strongly of herbs and salt. Pauling took a few steps towards him, looking him over.
“Mr. Hale?” she began cautiously. “How do you feel?”
Hale took a long, deep breath, stepping out of the tub and trying to smooth his hair down. “I’m…fine. I feel better,” he fought to keep his eyes open, and he yawned. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to go to sleep, now…” he dropped directly onto the bed, going still. After a few seconds, he could be heard snoring.
Raven sighed with relief, pulling a towel from the towel rack and beginning to clean up the room. “Thank the gods you were here, Merasmus…I don’t know what I would have done!”
Merasmus waved her off. “No, it’s all right…”
Pauling took a moment to fix her hair. “So, what’s next?”
“Well,” Helen looked to Merasmus. “I assume we figure out where this came from.”
“Yes…” Merasmus picked up the jar to look at it again, watching as the smoke seemed to pulsate inside. “Hopefully that will not be terribly difficult.”
At the same time, Olivia and Lucy were having a good time at the base. Spy had brought the two girls a large box of extra costume pieces from various disguises he no longer used to keep them entertained. Overjoyed, they began to mix and match different costume pieces to make something new.
“Um…oh! How about this wig with this?” Olivia suggested, pulling out a large, bright red wig and pink overcoat.
“Yeah! Yeah, put it on!” Lucy urged, clapping her hands.
Olivia donned the wig and slid on the overcoat (which was several sizes too big for her, but she didn't mind) before checking herself in the pocket mirror. “Hmm…”
Lucy came to stand beside her, looking her up and down. “That wig’s like hair a real lady would have!”
“Yeah, but it’s itchy,” Olivia made a face, pulling the wig off and fluffing her hair up. She passed the wig to Lucy. “You can try it if you want.”
Excited, Lucy put the wig on her own head, running her hands through the fake red curls. “Ooh…it’s pretty!”
Olivia reached for the costume box, rooting through it. “Oh, there’s a scarf in here! Look,” she pulled out a long, teal and gold scarf, tossing it to Lucy. As Lucy caught the scarf and began to wrap it around herself, Olivia checked the box again and noticed something: a small, sleek black box.
Intrigued, Olivia pulled the little box out and popped it open. Olivia didn't know whether the watch was real gold or not, but she took a look at the scarf she'd given Lucy and knew the watch would fit great with it.
“Hey!” Olivia spoke up, getting Lucy’s attention. “I found something!”
“Huh?” Lucy took a few steps forward, peeking over Olivia’s shoulder.
Olivia held up the box so Lucy could get a good look at it. “It’s a watch! It matches the scarf, but I dunno if it’s too big for your –”
Lucy's eyes seemed to go blank before Olivia could finish, and she quickly reached into the box and yanked the watch out with such force that Olivia jumped. Olivia could only watch, puzzled and surprised, as Lucy dashed to the nearest window and held up the watch to the light.
Lucy growled in an abnormally deep tone, "It's not real gold," after a moment of befuddled quiet.
Olivia stared, unsure of what to even say. Finally, all she could manage was, “Why…why’d you do that?”
Lucy blinked a few times, and the strange, blank expression faded off. She looked around, confused, and then look at the watch in her hand. “I…I don’t know…”
Olivia stood up, walking over to Lucy and plucking the watch from her hand. “How’d you know this wasn’t real gold?”
“I don’t know,” Lucy repeated, and she suddenly looked very distraught. “I don’t know why I did that – why did I do that?”
“I don’t know,” Olivia said back. She carefully wrapped the watch around Lucy's wrist. “It’s okay – I get weird sometimes, too.”
Lucy sniffed, looking down at the watch. It was too big for her, as it was clearly designed with an adult’s wrist in mind, but it did match the scarf. “Okay…” she murmured, but right then, the wig tumbled off her head and landed on the floor. “Oh!”
Olivia bent down to retrieve the wig. “Oops – I got it!”
Right at that moment, the door to the room they were in swung open. “Hey, girls!” Scout announced, grinning and carrying something behind his back. “I stopped by a garage sale, and guess what I got!”
Lucy quickly dried her eyes and trotted up to Scout to try and get a good look at what he had. “What?”
Scout revealed a bulky yet child-sized karaoke machine, showing it off to the girls. “Karaoke machine! I’m gonna get Engie to hook it up in the living room, you wanna come try it?”
“Yeah!” Olivia agreed, shucking the overcoat and putting it back in the box. “Did you ever do karaoke, Lucy?”
“No, I haven’t,” Lucy replied, putting the other costume pieces into the box. “Is it fun?”
“Fun? Oh, it’s a bunch of fun!” Scout laughed, opening the door wider and letting the girls go to the living room first. “I think there’s Tom Jones songs on here…if there aren’t, I’ll put some in! Can’t be too hard,”
Olivia's thoughts returned to what had happened earlier, but she ignored them as Lucy seemed to cheer up at the prospect of getting to sing. Having playdates was more fun than she could have imagined, so Lucy's strange behavior was put aside for the time being. However, it wouldn’t be forgotten so easily.