lb_lee: A happy little brain with a bandage on it, surrounded by a circle and the words LB Lee. (ward)
[personal profile] lb_lee
Hi everybody!  This is the next Reverend Alpert story guys, and like the Thing in the Drain before it, it's a microfunder--meaning, you can toss however much money you want, and I'll put up the corresponding number of words.  As always, you can hit our donate button on our profile here.

3000 of 3000 words sponsored!  Sponsors include Unimaginative of Mammoth, cloudiah of Mammoth, AnonSwede, and [ profile] rolodexaspirin!  Thanks and enjoy!

the Greenwitch

After the bathhouse, travel went smoothly for a while, and Alpert noted that Perfection seemed to be taking a great deal of interest in the world around her.  On the sunny days, she chased butterflies and crickets, catching and examining them closely within the cage of her claws.  She didn’t hurt them; she seemed fascinated by them—their colors, their chirps, their erratic movement.  As Alpert watched her, he realized he had absolutely no idea how much she knew or understood of the world.

When he asked her about it, she released her butterfly with a frown.

“I don’t really know either,” she admitted. “I mean, there’s what I see and learn through experience, that’s easy.  And then there’s your desires.  I know those, though not on the same level—they’re mostly just hunches, and I can misunderstand them.  But other things… it’s like I know what I need to.  When the Angel of Joy got you sick, I just knew how to take care of you… well, basically.  And I know human nature pretty good, I think.  It’s all the non-people stuff I don’t know.  History, science, math… I just know enough to get by, I guess.  I’m trying to teach myself,” she added.

“Can you read?”

“…A little?  I could read it when your bag caught fire.”

“Hmm.  Remind me to fetch you some books when we reach the central church.” It wouldn’t hurt to teach her, and it would give her a new way to educate and entertain herself.

Of course, it was too good to last.  A storm blew in the next day—brash and unpredictable as only spring could make them, and Alpert got caught unawares.  No convenient place to take shelter, either; there was nothing he could do but wrap himself firmly in his coat, pull his hat down low, and soldier through it.

Perfection seemed to relish the storms.  She could afford it, Alpert noted grumpily; it wasn’t as though she could catch cold.  While he trudged along in sullen silence, she dashed through puddles and climbed a tree to watch the clouds move, shrieking with delight as thunder and lightning raged around her.

“Alpert!  Alpert!” She shouted from her branch. “The clouds are purple!”

“That’s nice,” he said absently, pulling his collar up.  Rain was dripping down the back.

“No, no, I mean, like, really purple!  And the lightning is all yellow-white and this is so cool—”

Alpert sighed and almost made a cutting remark about her having never seen a storm before, until he remembered that she hadn’t.  Adult she may be, but this was her first spring, her first thunderstorm.  Why wouldn’t she be excited?

He looked up at her.  She was perched on a tree branch, staring raptly into the sky, laughing as the wind howled around them.  Her hair was plastered to her horns and forehead, water shone on her skin, and he was struck by the beauty of her smile.

Eventually, he was sure, she’d grow accustomed to things like spring and storms and become just as jaded about it as he was.  But until then, he could at least enjoy her enjoyment.

Alpert had hoped to come up on a good place to take shelter, but the storm only grew worse, until even Perfection lost her enthusiasm and had to come down to the ground.  The wind howled around them, cutting through their clothes like paper, and Alpert was on the verge of digging in and trying to set up camp right where they were, regardless of weather, when they heard a shout: “Ho, exorcist!”

They looked up and saw a wizened old woman coming through the trees, dressed in rough homespun and a scavenged sheet of plastic, cut and folded to keep off the rain. With her thin white hair, gnarled walking stick, and deeply lined face, she made Alpert look young, but she seemed to hardly notice the weather.

“You are an exorcist, aren’t you?” She asked, squinting at Alpert. “I heard they can perk the Other Folk up, not just put them down.  Hello, dearie,” she added to Perfection.

Perfection made as though to speak, but didn’t.  If the woman’s eyesight were too poor to note Perfection’s horns, tail, and claws, perhaps it’d be best not to correct her.

Alpert acknowledged that yes, he was an exorcist, and the old woman explained that she had a supernatural entity in her home who was ailing, a man she desperately wanted to be well again.  Alpert agreed to take a look and offer whatever services he could, in exchange for shelter from the storm.

Haggling finished, the old woman turned and went back into the trees, and Alpert and Perfection followed.  He noticed Perfection keeping a keen eye out, and he was glad.  He suspected the woman’s imperviousness to the weather wasn’t entirely natural; she seemed benign enough, but after the bath house…

The old woman led them deeper and deeper into the greenery.  The storm had already dimmed the sun, but as the trees grew closer and closer, it became almost like night and everything began to look the same.  The old woman kept a steady pace, never stumbling, but Alpert could barely keep his feet, and Perfection had to lend him her arm.

“Reverend,” she muttered, eyes glowing yellow in the darkness, “I smell something.”

Alpert frowned.  Surreptitiously, he paused to pull a stick of chalk from his belt, dug around in his clothes to find a dryish spot to draw a hasty circle and triangle.  They glowed faint for an instant, than promptly died in the damp.  Not strong, very subtle and very old.

“Greenwitch,” Alpert whispered to Perfection.

She looked blank.

“Nature work,” he explained. “Plants, animals, minerals.  Good weather witches, if you can find one, though she doesn’t seem that skilled…”

“I’m old, not deaf,” the old woman said pointedly. “Here we are.”

‘Here’ was a little stone cottage, dug into the hillside.  What little of it was visible in the dim light was covered in ivy.  In sunlight, it might’ve looked cozy and rustic, but in the raging storm, it looked dumpy.

The inside was surprisingly large, but so filled with clutter it made little difference.  All over the place, there were stones, animal parts, and various plants in various stages of growing, drying, or grinding.  There were jars of brine containing small animal corpses, a protective wolf skull mounted above the door, and even a plague zombie sprawled across one table, a metal tent stake driven between skull and spine.

“Found it wandering near my door,” the old woman said. “My wolf kept it from coming too close, but I decided not to take chances.”

Alpert frowned. “I didn’t know that they’d ventured this far north.  It’s early in the year for them.”

“Well, there’s only been the one so far, but…” She let it hang.  Everyone knew that plague zombies tended to come in groups. “Still, it’s not my specialty, and though I’ve been studying it for weeks, I haven’t dared get my stake back.  If you could…”

Alpert pulled out his chalk.  Then, realizing she might be unable to see it, he explained to her what he needed and she found him a thin, dry tablet of wood to draw on.  Keeping a safe distance from the plague zombie, Alpert scrawled a ward on the wood, and it didn’t flare.  The plague zombie had not only been properly laid to rest, but there were no works in the cottage that meant him or Perfection harm.  He relaxed a little.

“Oh good,” the old woman said, and came to wrench the stake out of the plague zombie with an unpleasant squelching noise. “Now, for the reason I called you.”

In the back of the cottage, lying on a bed covered in frayed old quilts, was a large wooden man.  Like his mistress, he wore rough homespun, now faded and much darned.  His skin was a glossy green so deep and dark it could’ve been mistaken for black, and he had no face, just a smooth, featureless head.

The bed was made for two, and Alpert stopped short so abruptly that Perfection bumped into his back.

The old woman didn’t notice; she was too busy adjusting the green man’s pillow. “Hello, sweetheart,” she crooned, and kissed the green man’s face. “I’ve brought visitors to make you well.”

“What is it?” Perfection said, and he couldn’t tell if she meant his face or the green man.

“That’s a shadow husband,” Alpert said.

His tone made the old woman drew herself up as tall as her crooked back allowed and gave Alpert a cold look. “He is my beloved,” she said, taking the green man’s hand in her own. “And he’s ill.  Is that a problem?”

Alpert was silent.  She was old and frail, and not particularly powerful, but he didn’t want to offend someone who could kick them out into the storm and possibly insure it followed them all the way to the central church.  For a moment, he searched for something appropriate to say.

Finally he settled on, “my denomination doesn’t look fondly on taking your Shadow as your lover.”

Perfection was giving him an odd look, but the old woman didn’t notice.  Though she smiled, her gaze was steely.

“How fortunate that I’m not from your denomination then,” she said. “Now, will you help or not?”

Alpert was silent.

“What’s a shadow husband?” Perfection asked.

The old woman looked at her, startled.  Then she leaned forward, squinted hard at Perfection, and her eyes went wide.

“Oh, you’re a demon.  I can’t believe I didn’t notice that before,” she said. Then she gave Alpert a chiding look. “Really, boy, you are in no position to judge me.”

What,” Perfection repeated, louder, “is a shadow husband?”

The old woman said nothing, and Alpert could feel Perfection’s aggravation mounting, so he sighed and said, “A shadow is a personification of neglected parts of the self.”

Perfection wasn’t impressed. “So?  Gestaltists think that about everything; why is taking one as your husband such a big—” Then he saw it in her face; she understood. “Wait.  Wait a minute… you’re saying I… is that why you won’t…”

Alpert said nothing.

Perfection’s face contorted with fury, and for a moment, Alpert thought she might explode in demonic wrath.  Then she took a very deep breath, let it out, and with an expression of icy calm, she stomped out the door and back out into the rain.

The old woman gave Alpert a benign look. “Well done, child.  Your denomination must be very proud.”

Alpert made as though to follow Perfection.

“I wouldn’t,” the old woman said, and at the same time, Alpert’s ward, still on the wood tablet in his hand, went off.  Biting his tongue, Alpert stayed where he was and took a moment to reassemble his composure.

“Fine,” he said finally. “You’re right; I’m in no position to judge you.  I will help your… beloved.”

The green man, who had gone frighteningly still during Perfection’s growing rage, turned to look at him.  With permission, Alpert pulled back the quilts and looked him over carefully, finding that the man’s legs were taking root into the bed, budding wilted leaves and flowers.  Alpert asked permission to touch him, and found that while the faceless man’s upper body was still firm and wooden to the touch, the part taking root was growing wilted and limp; the tips of some of his roots were even rotting.  The greenwitch told him how the man had been well for decades, never a day of ill health, and then had started to ail and grow weak over the past week or so, fading in spite of all her care, until finally reaching his current bedridden state.

As she spoke, Alpert suspected he already knew the problem, but even so, he drew a circumscribed dodecagon.  It immediately burst into brilliance… with both the faceless man and the old woman.

Alpert turned to the greenwitch. “When you laid the plague zombie to rest, did it bite you?”

The old woman blinked. “Oh, heavens no, I wrapped myself good and proper.  It managed to scratch my face, but it’s healed fine, much faster than I expected.”

“Was it then your beloved became ill?”

The woman was silent a moment. “Now that I think of it, yes, a few days later.  I didn’t think anything of it; he was away when the plague zombie came.”

Alpert sighed. “I don’t think you’ve caught the plague.  Which is unfortunate; I could do something about that.  No, I think you’ve gotten a perfectly ordinary infection, which your beloved has been trying to siphon off of you.  Plague zombies are filthy creatures; even if they don’t give the plague…”

“You don’t need to preach to me,” she said. “I’m a healer.  I know more about infections than you.”

“But you haven’t been able to cure it.”

“No.  I haven’t.” The old woman stood there for a moment. “You’re saying we’re dying, then.  Is that it?”

There was no way around it. “Yes.”

“I see.” She turned to the faceless man, cupped his smooth face in her hands. “Oh love, you didn’t need to do that.  You didn’t.” She turned back to Alpert. “There’s nothing to be done, then?”

“I’m sorry,” Alpert said, and he meant it.

She waved it off. “It was rhetorical.  I’ve lived long enough.  Thank you anyway; it’s good to know that we’re dying together.”

She and the green man hugged, and then the old woman said, “You might want to go talk to your demon.  My wolf wasn’t intended to hold off someone that powerful, and if she ends my beloved’s existence early, I’ll be quite cross.”

Perfection crouched in front of the door with her back to Alpert and rain pouring down her skin.  The only sign that she noticed him opening the door at all was a testy lash of her tail.

“That’s a lot of wards I smell,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” Alpert said to her.  He didn’t come out of the dry doorway.

“Go fuck yourself.” She leapt to her feet and began pacing like a wild animal.  The fury of her glare could’ve set a town to rioting, and Alpert’s wards burst into life at his feet. “But that’s what you think you’re doing, isn’t it?  That I’m some metaphysical ego wank-fodder?”

“I would never say that,” Alpert said, chagrined.

“But you think it, don’t you?  Is that why you haven’t touched me since?  You sorry, miserable goat-fucker, Alpert!”

The ward was almost blinding now.  Perfection lunged against it, bounced off, and pounded her fists on it, not seeming to notice as her skin blistered and burned.  Her voice was fire and brimstone and acid.

“All this time, here I am, trying to be a fucking person, and this whole time… no wonder Dorothy Ives looked at me like trash!  No wonder you’re dragging your ass to the church!  How cute, little shadow wifey demon sex doll thinks she’s a person!  Fuck this and fuck you too!” She hit the ward again and again. “I’m not your self-flagellation jack-off puppet!  How dare you—”

She smashed herself against the ward and screamed obscenities that would’ve burned a field, and Alpert let her.  He didn’t walk away, didn’t say anything, just stood  while she raged and cursed him.

Eventually, even Perfection’s strength ran out… though not until she’d burned out the first link of his chain of wards.  Shoulders heaving and soaking wet, hands and arms red and raw from the ward, she finally leaned against it in exhaustion.  She might have been crying.  In the rain, with her head ducked, it was impossible to tell.

“I don’t know why I ever wanted to be a person,” she said. “You’re not better than me.  You’re worse.”

“Yes.  And you have all the right in the world to be angry with me.”

“I don’t need your goddamn permission,” she snarled. “And I’m not done.  I could handle this bullshit, Alpert, but you never once said a thing.  Months, I’ve been following you around, and you didn’t tell me shit!  You could’ve told me after Dorothy Ives.  You could’ve told me at the bathhouse.  You could’ve told me a million different times, and instead, you just patted me on the head and brushed me off, like I was nothing.  Nobody.

That’s why I’m mad, Alpert.  You made me a goddamn doll, and you kept me in the dark like I’m some cute stupid little toy that’d never figure it out.  You insured I’d never challenge you, because you made sure I didn’t know what you thought of me.”

Alpert was silent.

“If I could leave you, I would.  But I can’t.  I’m still bound to you.” Her features twisted. “I guess I’m not that much a person yet.  But that doesn’t mean I have to be your toy.” She pulled away from the ward. “And don’t get me wrong, I’m still mad.  I want you to die, and I want it to hurt.  All it takes is a bucket of rainwater, and your wards are toast.”

Alpert said nothing.

“But I like being alive, and I’m pretty sure that killing you would end me too.  So: stop lying to me.  No more bullshit, no more fobbing me off.  I don’t care how upset or tired it you, you are telling me everything now.  Why you’re avoiding the church, exactly what you did to get that binding star on your chest, why you were willing to fuck me that one time and never since, everything.  As of now, I’m your equal, and damn it, you are going to treat me as such.  Get it?”

 Alpert took a deep breath. “That only seems fair.”

He sat down, and he began to tell her his story.

Date: 2014-08-10 08:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It is not often that someone manages to write something to bring me to tears.

But I had to wipe my eyes twice here.

Date: 2014-08-19 03:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Goooood. That is exactly the response I was hoping to instill.

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