By Dale Ivan Smith
I sat on the bus bench and watched Dori Little sing and play guitar, green eyes half closed, wind ruffling her short orange hair. Her voice soared along Fifth Avenue, honey and steel, making passersby stop and listen with wide eyes, as she sang about love lost, about regrets, and about redemption. My old bones ached a little less as she strummed her guitar, the chords an angel’s promise.
I used to be a wizard but my magic wasn’t worth a damn compared to Dori and her music. I still hung on to a couple of spells, but it wasn’t like the books or the games where you could keep using the same magic over and over again. You could only use a spell once.
Not like Dori’s songs.
The open guitar case brimmed with coins and money and it wasn’t even noon yet. It was shaping up to be a good day for Dori. As for me, any day spent listening to Dori was good.
I drew my worn leather coat closer. April and it still felt like winter. Getting old stinks. Being really old stinks even more. I couldn’t just snap my fingers and make a pattern that would send warmth through me. I’d done that already, once upon a time, helping Dori’s mother, now long dead, back when she’d been a girl.
A drawn out cough behind me interrupted my reverie.
“Mind if I sit and listen?” The voice rasped like a knife scraping against wood. It was Shadow.
I swallowed. “Still a free country.”
“Thanks.” Shadow sank down on the bench beside me, his ancient parka hooding his face. He still wore patched finger-less woolen gloves. “That voice transports me.”
“What are you doing here?” I should have killed Shadow when I had the chance.
“I want the same thing you do. Her.” He waggled at finger at Dori, her head bent as she played a long stretch, humming.
“I will help her.”
I grabbed his wrist. “She doesn’t need your kind of help.” Dori’s voice was low, filled with a building fire as she sang now of revenge.
“You call this a life?” He lazily pried my hand from his wrist. Like I said, being really old stinks.
“What do you know?”
His laughter sounded like crumpling paper. “I’ve been watching her, and you, you lovelorn old fool, for the past month. She can do so much more than busking at street corners for a few bucks.”
“I’ve saved a few spells, for just the right person. And I think I’ve found her.” I glimpsed a broken-toothed smile and was hit by a stale cigar smoke stink.
Dori had stopped singing. She looked over from where she played, a slight smile on her pixie face.
“I will ride her to fame and fortune.” Shadow chuckled. “And what a ride it will be.”
I fought to keep my face calm, and leaned in close to Shadow. “You don’t touch her,” I whispered. “If you do, you’ll regret it.”
I went to a nearby food cart and bought a bottle of diet peach ice tea, Dori’s favorite.
She smiled up at me as I brought the tea. “Thanks. Who is your friend?”
“He’s an old acquaintance. Just in town for the day.”
“I’ll have to meet him later on.” She took the tea bottle from my hands, slender fingers brushing against mine, and sang a little ditty about kindness, while her eyes shone at me.
I fought a blush and shuffled back to the bench.
Shadow chuckled. “You have it bad.”
“You could have her, you know.” More crumpled paper sounds came from his mouth. “Maybe I’ll let you once I’m done.”
Dori began another song, but the blood pounding in my ears drowned it out.
He ignored me and began twiddling his thumbs and fingers in a subtle motion, muttering a chant under his breath. Working magic is about finding a pattern and tracing it.
I recognized the pattern Shadow wove. A link. He would bind her to him, and with the binding, he could twist her thoughts and feelings, and perhaps even drain her.
My chest tightened and one hand clawed the air. The old ticker wasn’t going to last forever, but it couldn’t give out, not now.
“Calm yourself, old man.” Shadow spoke the words in between his chant, from the corner of his mouth. Ethereal strands stretched between Shadow and Dori.
I put a nitro tab under my tongue. My heart relaxed.
Shadow’s fingers blurred. Dori stiffened, and her playing slowed.
I bit down hard on my lip.
“Snatch. ” I spat blood. My hand grabbed the nearly invisible threads writhing in the air and yanked them into myself. I felt his will flow into me, like hot oil. I shuddered.
Shadow swore and then a grin broke across his face. “Even better. I’ll do her through you.”
He began another spell. His words whispered razor sharp in my ears. Dori suddenly felt close, as though she lay against my skin. Sweat dripped from her, she was hungry and tired but lost in her music.
He pushed my awareness into hers. Once the spell finished, she would feel what I felt, and when he broke my mind, he’d have her through me.
“I have a last spell, too,” I said, fighting to keep myself for a moment longer.
Dori strummed her guitar like a demon, her voice ringing out, in a song of releasing love.
I clapped my hands over my ears.
“Silence.” I bit down hard on my tongue.
And Silence broke over me. Shadow opened his mouth, eyes widening. Even though I couldn’t hear him I knew no words came out. He’d never complete that last spell.
Dori’s lips moved. Her fingers plucked her guitar’s strings. Passersby bobbed their heads, tapped their toes, and dropped money into the open guitar case beside her.
I heard only silence.