display | more...

"Remind me again why we're sitting out here on 46th Street in late MARCH?"

"Because Mom told me that the people who stay outside all day wind up seeing things that us lucky people don't. I don't know, maybe fairies. That will be a good place to start. Can't you just magic some heat around us?"

"Can't you just sweet-talk the stones to heat us up?"

"You're the one with the super-special wizard powers that you apparently don't need a teacher for anymore."

"I never said I didn't need a teacher! I just wanted to get quit of a guy who would tyrannize an entire apartment block. He probably decorated his mansion with those profits. Yech. Anyway, if I give us heat, it's going to melt the snow around us."

"Jo, literally nobody is going to look at us for more than three seconds! We've got a sign that says 'homeless please help' and a cup!" Someone dropped a coin into the cup. "Thank you, have a blessed day. Look, Jo, we're making money while we're at it! Come on. Give us some warm pavement, eh?"

Jo grumbled, but she put her  bottle-cap Wizard Specs on and rubbed her hands together. The concrete began to get warm. "I don't understand why we're out here being homeless beggars when we could be walking around and keeping warm like that. Or sitting on a nice bench, or something."

"Good practice for when we leave the city, I guess. And I figure, if we stay in one place, maybe we'll see what we're looking for. Like being in the park and letting the squirells come to you. I heard that's how you get good wildlife shots out in the Wilderness. Just sit still and wait for the critters to think you're part of the landscape. Listen to the...I think they're called 'birds'. Marvel at the...brown things with the antlers."

"I'm not seeing anything," said Jo. "I'm not hearing any -- wait. You hear that?"

Above the din of the cars and the chatter of people, I heard a great groaning. It sounded like the bending of metal combined with low moans from many throats.

Nobody else on the street turned their heads or stopped their phone conversations.

"Dammit," I said, "I was hoping for fairies. Oh well. Let's wait to see what else we can percieve."

"I'd love to," said Jo, "but my butt is hot."

Come to think of it, so was mine. "It must be another sign!" I said. "But what could it mean?"

"It means I did the spell wrong," said Jo. "Come on, let's pick a different spot."

...

We sat beneath one of the trees on Amber Street, wrapped up in Jo's cloak together. It had a surprising amount of space.

"This is an odd place to beg for change," said Jo.

"Beg nothing," I said. "I just realized that posing as Homeless is a good way to get police officers to notice me. Whereas around HERE, it's all trees and potholes and five-foot-tall grass, so maybe they don't come around to a forgotten neighborhood. Slightly less noise here too. Except for that awful groaning."

"You hear groaning, I hear whispers," said Jo. "Voices of madness. 'Kill yourself. you're stupid. Jump in front of that car, go on, do it now.' Hard to ignore." She looked at her watch. "It's 3 PM. We've been out since mid-morning. When will -- " She looked up. "Oh, dear."

I followed her gaze. The sky looked...a lot closer than usual. Cumulus clouds that should have been up there were down here, almost.

But broken, when they drifted across certain strips of sky, strips that were blue, true blue, too Blue. Rapidly getting bluer. Whisps of black smoke were drifting out of them. "Time to put those Wizard Specs on again, Jo, I think we've found what we're looking for. Can you tell me if anything is looking back at us?" I turned to Jo. She had the glasses on already. She also had a horrified look on her face. "That bad, huh?"

Jo whipped off the glasses. "We're in serious trouble," she said. "And don't ask me to look at those crack again with my glasses on. I didn't see anything looking back, but I saw a mass of waving black ribbons and the voices in my head got super-loud."

"Is that it?" I said. "Just horrors pouring in from outside the universe? Mom told me the street people and the police always beat them back. What's different this time? What's got Coyote scared?"

"I don't know," said Jo. "But if there's any place I can find info, it's the New York Public Library. I'll go and persuade them to give me access to the Secret Stacks. You go and -- well, you're kind of on the outs with the police, aren't you? See if you can roust up the street people and put them on a line of defense. And if you start hearing voices, try to ignore them. I don't know when I'll be able to meet you again. I'll send a pigeon when I've got something useful, alright? Don't die before I get there. I should at least have the chance to hold you in my arms while you give a tearful, twenty-minute farewell."

"I can't do anything less than thirty minutes."

"Assuming whatever the black things are don't spear you through the head in an instant. Well. good luck." She gave me a peck on the cheek, then rose and spread her cloak. With a mighty gust of wind, she rose into the air, and flapped her way towards Manhattan. 

Oh, sure. Leave me to walk.