Chapter 51

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"How do you know it's Gene? Lots of people eat mints," Herman says over a peanut butter sandwich back at Zandra's condo above Sneak Peek. It's lunchtime.

You could use one yourself, Herman. Did you brush your teeth with a corpse? Do you even have teeth anymore?

"It was one of those peppermint wheels, the kind you can't buy unless you're 100 years old, like Gene," Zandra says as she washes down her sandwich with a cup of milk. There's no time for a proper meal, and showing up in a restaurant has always been a bad idea. Peanut butter will have to do.

"He's 100?"

"Did you lose your sense of sarcasm out in the woods, too?" Zandra says.

Herman still looks confused. "I don't get it."

"Then get this. I'm not willing to bet against a coincidence like that. Fred was with an appointment before he met with me. Remember? That was probably Gene Carey, the bastards," Zandra says. She points her sandwich at the large window in the living room overlooking the street outside. "Here, I can prove it."

They go to the window and look out. A squad car from the Stevens Point Police Department is parked outside the entrance to Sneak Peek.

"Fred promised extra patrols after I first told him about the severed fingers, but this is the first time one showed up," Zandra says.

Herman squints. Too much time in the sun affected his vision. He says, "Could be a coincidence."

"A coincidence? This from the man who goes on tangents about symbols that warp reality. When did you get so skeptical?" Zandra says.

"Sigils, Zandra. They're called sigils," Herman says and sighs as he steps away from the window.

Zandra paces in front of the window. "Fine. They're sigils. What sigil would you draw up for distracting the police while I slip off back to Dvorak's house?"

Let's see if your magic tricks really work.

Herman looks up from his peanut butter sandwich. "Seriously? You want me to make one?"

"If it catches the attention of the police, sure, unless you have a better idea. There's only one way in or out of this place, and it's through the front door of Sneak Peek. It's not up to code, but no one cares," Zandra says. She digs a pencil and a piece of paper out from a drawer in the kitchen and places it in front of Herman. "Do your thing."

Herman hesitates before he picks up the pencil. His face turns serious, contrasted by the bits of peanut butter sandwich glued to his unruly beard. "A sigil will manifest an intention into reality. It's not known for its quick turnaround, but we can try. So, first, state your intention."

Zandra plays along, feeling amused by Herman's sincerity yet intrigued at the same time. The eerie accuracy of the ghost box session with Diana shook her up. Maybe there's something to the woo-woo bullshit she's been peddling all these years. Part of her always wanted it to be true, that one day she'd call up the dead and David would answer. Skepticism, in an unexpected way, protected that last flicker of hope from extinguishing. Of course she couldn't channel David, Zandra would think, because she wasn't actually trying to reach him or any other spirit. There is great risk in the kind of sincerity Herman expresses now, and perhaps that's why she acts so condescending toward his beliefs.

Maybe I don't want to know whether this works.

"Aren't you being a little ridiculous, Herman? Why do we need a sigil to figure this out? Why can't we have a conversation like adults?" Zandra says.

"You brought it up," Herman says and sets the pencil down.

Then again, maybe I do.

Zandra relents and gives Herman an intention. "It is my intention for the police outside to become distracted long enough for me to go down the street and grab that taxi again."

Writing with an intensity that nearly breaks the pencil in half, Herman transcribes the intention verbatim on the sheet of paper in all caps. Then he crosses out the vowels and the repeating consonants so that only "P W X" remains. Then he shapes those letters into a single image, drawing and re-drawing it several times until it looks cryptic and mysterious, like something a caveman would put on a rock wall to worship a long forgotten god.

"Normally, the process involves setting the intention, charging it and forgetting about the whole thing. The intention will manifest without anything further," Herman says. "However, since we're crunched for time, we'll have to settle for charging it."

"Meaning?" Zandra says, glancing out the window again. The squad car hasn't moved.

"Meaning we need to do something dramatic to bring it into existence," Herman says. His intense eyes scan the condo. "Back home, the one they bulldozed, I'd perform a certain act on myself."


"I'm not suggesting I do that here, but we do need a burst of energy," Herman says. "Any ideas?"

Actually, yes.

Zandra walks to a closet and reaches for a high shelf. She brings back a hammer and a permanent marker.

"Write that sigil onto this hammer and follow me," Zandra says.

A minute later, Herman strolls onto the sidewalk outside Sneak Peek, hammer in hand. Following Zandra's instructions, he walks down the middle of the street, ill-fitting silk bathrobe and all, toward some imaginary point in the distance with a look on his face like, "he's fixing to kill someone."

It's not illegal in Stevens Point to walk on the downtown streets looking the way Herman does. If it were, half the student body at the nearby university would be tossed in jail. However, it is suspicious. Just as Zandra predicted, or perhaps the sigil manifested, the squad car follows behind Herman. The police might question him. They may even take the hammer. It's unlikely they'll arrest him. At least, that's what she told Herman.

With her path clear, Zandra hustles down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. She finds the taxi she used before and is dropped off at Dvorak's house a few minutes later. Chris's van is still in the driveway. The usual cadre of miscreants is missing from the porch, but surprisingly Chris is not. In fact, he answers the front door after Zandra barges up and knocks.

"What the hell happened?" Zandra says, her face red as the blood she's itching to spill.

Chris looks upset, but it's not for the reasons Zandra supposes. She gazes past him into the house. Dvorak and his cronies sit cross-legged on the floor surrounded by stacks of paperwork.

My files.

"It's time you and I had an honest conversation, Zandra," Chris says.

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