|It smelled of forest. Scientists claimed that the sense of smell
created the strongest memories, and Morena could find no room to argue.
She had spent much of her childhood wandering forested, rolling hills,
and their scent was embedded in memory. It was that same scent that
crept out of the twilit world that pushed its outlines through the mist
of the spell around her: a smell of decaying leaves and growing wildflowers;
a smell of wet bark and spreading fiddler ferns.
The woodland stretched to her right, a long, dark wall in the dim light of a three-quarter moon. Branches of the trees on its border waved gently in the soft breeze that brushed away the last traces of the spell that had carried her here. Beyond the overgrown slope to her left the lights of a city glowed, casting up a light that faded the midnight blue of the sky to iron grey. Even in the half-light, Morena recognised the weather-beaten shapes of the buildings and the distant heartbeat of struggling subwoofers: Bordertown.
She closed her eyes and breathed in a deep breath of the night air, mentally savouring the green smells and storing them away for later. Opening her eyes, she took one last, longing look at the dark line of forest, and turned toward the road that stretched away toward the city. She turned, and there, in front of her, glinting dimly in the half-light, sat a ghost.
He wore black pants of some shiny material, the glints of light standing out strangely against the smoky outline of the rock upon which he was perched. Long dark hair spilled over his face as he bent over something in his hands.
Stepping cautiously, Morena advanced a foot or two toward the spectral figure.
“Evening.” The figure did not look up from the object in its hands.
Giving a small mental shrug, Morena edged her way onto the worn track that traced its way toward the city between weeds and abandoned beer cans. She was almost fifty feet down the road when a southern drawl stopped her,
“Why did you tote a coffee mug through a spell to the middle of nowhere?”
Morena looked helplessly down at the white ceramic she still clutched in her hand, “I don’t know. I guess I just forgot to put it down, I’ve had a bit of an interesting night.”
The ghost looked up, lifting one hand to push dark hair back from an aquiline face, “looks funny – not quite like a coffee mug. Where’d you get it anyway?”
“I found it--” Morena suddenly felt belligerent, “why should I tell you?”
The ghost regarded her laconically, “that a question or a challenge?”
“A question,” Morena felt suddenly embarrased, “just a question.”
The ghost nodded, and returned its attention to the object in its hands. “Just wondered. That spell you came in on smelled like Farren Youngblood, and I reckoned since he was always one for a challenge, you might be too.”
“It was Farren’s spell, and Farren and I are…”
“That’s what it is.” The ghost peered intently at the object in Morena’s hand, “I’ll be damned, where’d you get one of those?”
“One of what?”
“A Glitch” the ghost spoke slowly, sounding out the syllables as if addressing an idiot child. “You know, one of the cute little things that screws everything up.”
“Then why does it look like a coffee mug to me?” Morena glanced uncertainly at the mug, “And how do you know what Farren smells like anyway?”
“It looks like a coffee mug,” the ghost leisurely slid to its feet, “because glitches are shy and hide by looking like anything they reckon fits in. And,” he stepped toward her, “I know what Farren’s spells smell like because he used to be my neighbor. It was one of his spells that got me the job of being a ghost.”
Morena cocked her head in confusion, “one of his spells that…??”
“He was trying to cook up a steam engine that would really work – all the time – here on the Border. He just about had it, when ‘poof.’ It went up in smoke and so did we. Never did figure how he got out of it, just damn lucky I guess.” He stuck one hand in a ghostly pocket and stretched his shoulders back. “Hell, I can’t complain, scenery’s better out here anyways.”
There was a moment of silence, and Morena shifted uncomfortably, unsure what to say. Finally, the ghost spoke again, his voice soft between the chirping of crickets and the hiss of the breeze,
“You be careful with that Glitch, young lady. Glitches mostly mean well, but they’re more trouble than they’re worth. And, well,” he sidled closer, looking almost hesitant as he extended a pale arm toward Morena, “this might help you out.”
Tentatively, Morena reached out and plucked the pale object from his translucent fingers. Turning it between her fingers, she discovered it to be a delicate wand, elaborately carved with patterns too tiny and complex to make out.
“It’s a divination wand. Made it from the bone of some fey creature. Group of workmen were making a bunch of the bones into boxes, and I picked this one up. Carved it myself. It can be real useful in finding out where something is, and it’ll help keep you safe.”
“Thanks,” Morena smiled through the darkness. “Thanks a lot. Wish I could do something for you.”
The ghost shrugged and turned, slouching back toward his rock. “Reckon you already have. Don’t get to talk to folks much, and it’s always nice to have someone appreciate your work.”
Morena stood for a moment, watching him go, running her fingers over the ripples of carving that covered the bone’s surface. Sighing, she slipped the bone into her pocket. And, turning her back on the pale figure, headed down toward Bordertown.
The smells greeted her a half mile away from the first building or slip of pavement: the sharply sweet tang of the Mad River, and the dusty, half-conscious smell of magic. She shook her head. She didn’t know why she was here or where she was headed, but she did know where her first stop-off was going to be in Bordertown, she needed caffeine.
Threading her way around the patches of darkness where the streetlight spell boxes had given up (or never been installed), Morena wove her way through the dark streets, heading toward the almost visceral pounding of subwoofers and Soho. A few blocks away from the Dancing Ferret, she spied a sign boldly proclaiming “Coffee” and immediately turned her steps in that direction.
The coffeeshop was small and dimly lit. An odd clientele slouched across the battered cushions of its booths and wire-rimmed chairs, but a quick glance indicated that most of its patrons were humans. Sliding into a booth beside the door, Morena waited for the thin, pale-haired girl serving tables to notice her. She ordered a cup of coffee, partially because of her limited coinage, and partially because her other choices seemed more or less non-existent. When the waitress returned to her table, bearing a small carafe, Morena thanked her and, eyeing the condition of the cup the girl had brought, decided to put her own coffee mug to use.
Holding the lid with one finger, she tilted the carafe toward the coffee cup. To her amazement, the cup squeaked softly and scooted away from the first drop of steaming liquid.
“What the hell?” Morena poked at the cup with a cautious finger, “Hello,” she dropped her chin to table level, “do you talk, Mr. Cup?”
The cup shimmered a moment, swirling like a lava lamp, and resolved itself into a salt shaker.
“Come on, talk to me. If what everyone has been telling me about you is true and you are a Glitch, I’m betting you just screwed up two spells and landed me in the middle of nowhere. The least you can do is introduce yourself.”
The salt shaker wobbled uncertainly a minute, then dissolved into an uncertain swirl that gave way to a small creature resembling nothing more than the collision of a hedgehog and a purple koosh ball. It regarded Morena for a moment with black eyes and then wiggled its pale pink nose.
“I’m Berfert.” It declared in a small, husky voice. “And I’m sorry I messed up the spell. But you picked me up. I was just hiding.”
“I used to live in the kitchen, but when Farren started using kitchen things to attack those penguins, I was afraid, and I went away. But I got lost. And then you arrived. And now I am here.” Berfert curled into a soft purple ball and shivered.
Sighing, Morena pulled the cup provided by the waitress over in front of her and poured the coffee into the smooth white interior of the cup. She took a sip, savouring the bitter taste of the coffee.
“You should find a diviner.”
Morena swallowed, almost choking on the coffee, and coughed.
“You should find a diviner.” Berfert repeated, poking his nose out of his spiky fur. “This Bordertown is supposed to be a magical place, perhaps a diviner could tell you where your doorbell went.”
“How,” Morena bent her head down to table level, “how do YOU know about the doorbell?”
Berfert walked in a small circle on the table, emitting offended whuffling noises, “You were the one holding on to ME the whole time you were explaining about the doorbell to that Alex fellow.”
“Of course.” Morena nodded. “Well then, shall we go find a diviner and get this over with?”
“At this time of night?” Berfert’s head poked around the spiky curve that served as his shoulder.
“This is Bordertown,” Morena smiled, “’Ho never closes.”
Standing, she proffered a pocket, and Berfert obligingly climbed in. “Well then,” Morena dropped the proper amount of change on the table, “shall we?”