Blood Makes Noise (Mound of Gaia Vol. 5)
Blood Makes Noise (Part 1)
A world that lies beside our own. A place where nature and magic are one and the goddesses and gods of old still stride down paths that were made when the world and time were new. Two earths bound together like the two sides of a coin. The mortal world has known it by many names: Avalon. Faerie. The Beyond. The name and the lore change like the seasons of the resurrection fern, starving and flourishing alongside human civilization, and yet not dependent on it for its own existence. Women and men find their way there from time to time and return with tales too fantastic to be believed, ensuring that its secrets remain shrouded in mystery. But if the passage allows mortals to travel into this other realm, so too must this same passage allow beings from the Beyond to slip into our mortal world.
The sky above Arcadia City was a flat grey with tatters of low-hanging clouds the color of charcoal and smoke skimming the tops of the buildings. Josephine McKissic watched people trudging up and down the street from her spot behind the counter of Out in Print. The storefront was small and close, the air inside redolent with the scent of aged paper and ink. Each passer-by tugged at their collars and snuggled deeper inside their coats.
It made for a slow day; a few customers had stopped in, but most of them were less interested in the rare books on offer and more concerned with ducking in from the cold for a few minutes. A cold front had been pounding the east coast from Cape May in New Jersey up through Bar Harbor, and into the Canadian Maritimes, and showed no sign of weakening. Weather reports were calling for heavy snow after the sunset.
The afternoon light was already fading. Jo hugged a cup of steaming coffee close to her chest, dreading the walk home from work. The bell above the door jangled and a surge of arctic air burst the warm bubble that Jo had been enjoying. She shivered and set her mug down.
“You’re brave to be out in this cold, what can I–” the greeting died on her lips. The stranger looked like every other person on the street, bundled up in a wool great coat and scarf, but his eyes shone out from behind a tangled mess of hair with the shrewdness of a fox sizing up a rabbit.
“I have business with Ms. Desailliers,” the stranger said. His accent was thick, the vowels stretched and breathy and the consonants tumbled in a dancing cadence from his mouth. He waved his right hand as he spoke, his index finger drawing circles in the air. Jo could not draw her gaze away. Her vision blurred and when she could focus again she was no longer in the bookshop, but on a rocky hill above a deep gorge. The thunder of rushing water rose up from below, blending with the sound of the wind in the pines.
Jo could still see the shop and had the presence of mind to wonder how she could exist in two places at once. A sliver of panicked consciousness burst through and Jo became aware of her own voice. She was speaking, but the language was not her own, and her mind began to buck beneath the stranger’s control.
The bell on the door and another gust of frigid air provided the shock needed to shake Jo from the trance she had fallen under. The stranger reached out to grab her hand, but stopped when the newcomer stepped up to the wrap desk, talking as he advanced, “Evy is going to kill me for being late, but everything takes twice as long in this cold.”
The voice was familiar, a gentle tenor that she knew. Jo struggled to remember to whom it belonged, but their face, all of her memories were obscured by the din of rushing water and the heavy scent of pine and cedar in a land which she had never visited.
“Everything okay here?” the newcomer asked.
The last of the vision faded and she felt her face flush with embarrassment.
“I’m so sorry,” she apologized, shaking her head to stop the room from spinning. Her tongue was thick and she had to force out the words, “Ms. Desailliers, isn’t in today, but Mr. Moreau is in his office, I can get him for you.”
The stranger turned on his heel and left without a word. Jo watched him go, ignoring the sudden, overwhelming relief that flooded her limbs as soon as the door closed.
She turned her attention back to the other man, his name finally surfacing on her tongue, “Quinn, right?” he nodded and stalked over to the door, looking out onto the sidewalk like he needed to confirm for himself that the stranger had gone.
“Sorry about that, you want me to let Evy know you’re here?” Jo leaned against the counter, a dull ache throbbed behind her right eye.
Quinn returned to the counter, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“Quinn,” Evander, one of the shop’s owners, strolled out from the back room. His expression shifted to one of concern when he saw Jo slumped against the counter holding her head, “Hey now, what’s going on here?”
His solid presence at her side reassured Jo and she waved him off, her equilibrium returning a little at a time. “It’s nothing. Some guy came in asking for Vera, I didn’t get his name,” she rubbed her forehead, “Anyway, I got a little dizzy and I think it scared him away.”
Evander placed a hand on her shoulder and Quinn spoke up, “I came in and he was just looming.”
“He didn’t touch you, did he?”
Jo had recovered enough to roll her eyes, “Yes, Evy. But first he offered me a piece of candy and asked if I wanted to look at the puppy he had in the back of his van.”
“There’s my girl,” Evander said and looped his arm around Jo’s shoulder giving her a protective squeeze, “He sounds like a creep. If he comes in again, get one of us to deal with him. I don’t like guys who loom.”
Jo smiled. She had been on her own since she was seventeen. Ten years of moving place to place, looking for somewhere to settle and call home. Arcadia City had seemed as good a place as any when she had grown tired of her last haunt. A few days after she had blown into town, Jo had been cruising through Market Town looking at apartments and saw the help wanted sign in Out in Print’s window.
That was how she met Vera, Sam, and Evander. She had walked in to ask for an application and left with a job and a lead on an apartment. Before she left, Vera had laid one of her fine-boned hands over Jo’s and said I’ve got a good feeling about this. Welcome to the family, little sister.
“I’m not five. I can handle one looming creeper.” Jo struggled to keep her tongue in check. Ever since Vera had dubbed her little sister, that was how Evander and Sam treated her. Evander being, by far, the most protective of the three.
“True, but being family means you don’t have to.”
She softened and landed a light punch on Evander’s shoulder. It had been novel to find people who cared for her in the ways that mattered most, like Sam making chicken corn chowder when she was sick and all three hunting down a signed, first edition of Little Birds for her birthday. It was more family than Jo had known growing up and, even though she piqued at the idea of being protected, she loved knowing someone was looking out for her.
The sun set and night blew in with the snow as Evander, Jo, and Quinn talked. The wind had died down and fat, white flakes fell to the earth in silence. The grey sky that had persisted through the afternoon reflected the orange glow of the city lights.
Jo started a circuit around the store, turning off the lights in the display cases, while Evander and Quinn continued to chat by the counter. Evander caught her attention when she came back to the wrap desk.
“Join us for dinner tonight. Quinn is coming over and Sam has been cooking all day and once I tell Vera and Sam about your weirdo they’re going to want to make sure you’re alright.”
She sighed, Sam’s cooking was not something to be missed, but her head still felt a little fuzzy.
“Thanks, but no. I don’t want you to have to make an extra trip to drive me home in the snow.”
“I could take you home,” Quinn chimed in and his cheeks lit up a lovely shade of pink, “I mean, it’s not like I’m planning to stay the night at theirs, it would be no problem to take you home when I leave.”
Jo chewed on her lip for a moment, then shook her head, “That’s really sweet, and don’t tell Sam this, but I think I need a nap more than I need his cooking right now. Another time?”
Evander shrugged, “When Vera and Sam start blowing up your phone, just know you have no one to blame but yourself.” Jo laughed. “How about you let Quinn drive you home while I close up here?”
“I had one not-confrontation with a marginally irritating jerk, I’m pretty sure I can brave the ten-minute walk back to my apartment on my own.”
Quinn countered, “If Vera finds out I let you walk home in a snow storm after a not-confrontation, she’ll turn me inside out.” Jo arched an eyebrow. “Okay, she’ll yell at me. Vera is scary.”
Jo accepted Quinn’s offer. His friendship with Vera, Sam, and Evander was enough to convince Jo that Quinn was a decent guy. Vera had a knack for seeing through people and she did not suffer fools. He had visited the shop a few times and Jo had not failed to notice the sharp line of his jaw and thick cut of his thighs and his shoulders. Any other day she would have been excited to have a few moments alone with him, but she was worn down. She wanted to curl up beneath her down comforter with a book and a cup of cocoa, if some Irish liquor happened to find its way into her mug, all the better. Flirting would have to wait for a time when her head was not still buzzing from whatever had happened that afternoon.
The walk to Quinn’s car was enough to convince Jo that she had made the right choice. Wind kicked the snow into a swirling dervish around her and she sputtered with surprise. They laughed as they slipped and skidded. Once she clicked her seat belt and caught her breath she thanked him again.
“Vera and the guys think a lot of you, it wouldn’t do to have you freezing to death on my watch,” Quinn said as he started his car. It was a simple, Swedish sedan, not flashy, but sturdy. A vehicle for a rough climate. The car was quiet, save for their breath as they waited for the engine to warm.
“Have you known them a long time?” Jo asked. She thought she saw something flash in Quinn’s expression, a tightening around his mouth, and a flush to his already rosy cheeks. He looked like a person preparing to lie and Jo wondered what he could possibly have to lie about.
Oh, that, she thought.
“I know they’re a thruple,” she added, “You don’t have to worry. I won’t freak out if you’re with them or anything,” she hoped the emphasis would save her from having to elaborate further.
Quinn’s laugh was genuine and resonated in the small space, “Oh, no. Nope. No. I mean, I love all three of them, we grew up together, but we don’t…that’s…they’re pretty special and I’m…I have enough trouble with two-person relationships.”
“Way to make it awkward, Jo,” She said, trying for self-deprecating and ending up sounding pinched, verging on hysterical. After a few moments of silence, Quinn laid his gloved hand over hers.
“Hey, no worries, alright? It means a lot that you’re so accepting.”
Jo cast around for something to say to ease her own embarrassment and settled on the obvious, “It’s nice that you’re all still friends. I’ve moved around a lot. Not many folks want to get close to someone who’s always on the go.”
“Their loss,” Quinn said and his sincerity made her smile.
The streets were already blanketed. She watched the storm as they inched forward into traffic and wondered, to herself, at the way silence always followed snow. They were forced to go slow, sticking to the tire tracks left by other cars. It turned a five-minute drive into twenty minutes, but the conversation came easy between them. She was relaxed and warm, finding that the more they talked, the more she was enjoying Quinn’s company. So much so, that she was disappointed when Quinn pulled up in front of her duplex.
Jo felt a little thrill when he flipped on his hazard blinkers and unbuckled his seat belt, but she chided him anyway, “You’re worse than Sam and Evander put together; I think I can make it to the door unscathed.”
“I offer door-to-door service to all the beautiful women I escort home through blizzards.”
“Alright, Mr. Smooth.”
“That sounded awful, didn’t it? I swear I’m not a smarmy asshole. How about this,” Quinn scrubbed at the stubble on his chin, “I’d like to see you to your door, if that’s okay with you.”
Jo shrugged, “All right, but if you slip and break something, don’t come crying to me.”
“Pssh. I’m as sturdy as a mountain goat.”
They walked up her front steps to her door, the easy chatter dying away as she pulled out her keys.
“Thanks again for the ride,” she said, shifting from one foot to the other, “Be careful on your way back to the store.”
“Always,” Quinn said and his eyes dropped down to her lips. They were close enough that their breaths, clouding in the cold, mingled together before dissipating. The hush of the frigid night closed in around them like the petals of a poppy when the sun falls below the horizon. They stood together, eyes locked, each watching for the other to move and break the stalemate.
A dog howled somewhere close by and Jo jumped. She giggled at her own fright and when she found Quinn’s eyes again, whatever moment they had shared, had passed. There was a hint of disappointment in his eyes when he offered her a salute, before trotting down the stairs, and back toward his car. He was half-way down the walk when he skidded to a stop and called back, “Do you like food? I mean India? Indian food?”
“Yup, I’m a fan of all three,” She left her key in the door and walked a few steps toward Quinn. Excitement was churning in her stomach, “I’ve never been to India, though, are you offering me a trip?”
“I’m an idiot. Let me start again, would you like to get some Indian food with me sometime.”
Jo had opened her mouth to speak when a snarling growl ripped through the quiet night. She whipped her head toward the sound and saw the hulking shape of a gigantic wolf prowling toward her. Its head was lowered and its teeth bared. The impossibility of the animal’s presence was the last clear thought she had before it lunged forward, its crushing weight knocking her off her feet. She saw the sky and earth spin, trading places as her body hurtled through the air.