Updated: May 14, 2022
by Chris Casey Logsdon
"A Crime to a Pentacle" is from Silver Webb's All Hallows' Eve: The Thinning Veil, an anthology of 13 wicked tales, now available in our bookstore and on Amazon.
Every 50 years or so, Evie Martin noticed that she’d put on a few pounds. It wasn’t something she thought much about until she was running for her life.
Wet Atlantic air slapped her face, pushing the smells of the city into her lungs, aromas of old fish and petroleum. The wraiths giving chase were close on her heels, their smell sickly sweet like dying jasmine.
She huffed and hurdled into space, eyes on the dark shadow of the ledge in front of her. Jumping roofs was a kids’ game, an urban trick she’d learned from Henri and made manifest through her magic. She’d thank him when she got home—if she got home—if her arts and his damned parkour saved her again.
Minutes flew by. The distance between her and the pack grew. Hope flickered that she might not die in Brooklyn.
Then she felt it, a tendril of violence that tore at the weave of her being like a rusty nail catches the fabric of a fine coat. It burned to the bone, slowed her in mid-flight, six stories above dirty asphalt and garbage bins between two buildings.
Her shins caught the next roof’s edge and she skidded across the gravel, rolled to her feet and back into a run, cursed the icy chill in her soul, the shredding of clothes and skin. That sick jasmine stench thickened, closer, any lead she’d gained lost in her fall. A drainpipe curved up over the roof ledge and she grabbed it, sliding down metal and brick to land hard on a rattling steel fire escape. She clambered five floors to its bottom and, ten feet above the pavement, jumped the railing.
Landing in a crouch on the asphalt, she glanced around to get her bearings: Cumberland Street ahead of her. A flash of yellow—she caught the cab at the intersection, banging her knuckles on the window.
The driver unlocked the door and she dropped to her well-padded bottom, glancing over her shoulder. “Move.”
He stared at the red-blinking traffic light. “Where to?”
She sucked in air and held it, tried to hear past her pounding heart and the noise of bustling humanity. Their preternatural breaths, fast and shallow like the panting of dogs, raised the hairs on her neck.
“Move!” she said, a potion born of desperation and magic, incanted in one English word. “Get across to Manhattan.”
Anger or outrage blazed in his eyes when he looked at her in the rearview mirror, but his gaze drifted past her, outside the cab. His mouth rounded, an “O” of horror. She slid down in the seat, grabbed the oily door handle and the handgrip on the back of the front seat as he floored the gas pedal, sped through the next light and swerved onto Flushing Avenue.
The cab merged onto the Expressway. She mouthed incantations for good fortune and the driver’s long life, and only breathed easy when they crossed the East River. Wraiths couldn’t follow what they couldn’t feel.
She’d grown complacent.
Every 50 years or so she did that too, and in the doing, broke something or lost someone or caused a piece of her world to forever lose its brilliance.
Those creatures had Christopher, entrusted to her by his grandmother, a nun and a true convert. Of all of her younglings, he was most her responsibility.
She examined her right hand, rubbed her thumb across her knuckles, remembered his grip so tight it had ground her bones together before they ripped him from her grasp. His scream echoed in her mind, and the way his body changed, his jaw unhinging and his mouth opening inhumanly wide, a maw into the other dimension. Forms of venomous spirits had flicked to the surface of that black void like tar bubbling, seeking a way into this world.
“Where in Manhattan?” the driver asked, befuddled. Wraiths were like the faces of mighty gods; outside his nightmares, this cabbie wouldn’t remember what he had seen.
Stars hid behind city lights and pollution; the moon was below the horizon and the satellites out of phase. She could do nothing for an hour, at least.
“Take FDR along the Battery.” Hugging the Hudson would help.
“How about showing you can pay.”
She pulled two crumpled hundreds from her pocket and shoved them through the tray. “You’ll get more when you drop me in Harlem.”
He glanced back again, measuring her. “I don’t go into Harlem for less than three hundred.”
“Don’t play me, jackass.”
He flipped the meter off.
She rolled the window down a few inches when they reached the Battery, breathing in ionized air and letting the river leach the last dark tendrils of those creatures from her spirit.
Christopher’s face, distorted by shock and then shifting into something barely recognizable, wouldn’t leave her. What had released those imprisoned things?
He didn’t have long. The wraiths could break him, absorb him so easily, if they found their way past the meat of him. She directed the driver northwest and took the Parkway past Sugar Hill. Only when she had to did she leave the river, turning north and east, toward home.
“Here,” she said to the cabbie, among old brownstones and thriving humanity. She conjured a fifty and slipped out of the cab, stared up at her building. Schwartz & Gross had constructed it for her early in the last century, and it shone a pale yellow-white aura that a human sensitive might consider a trick of the eye: two levels of commerce and humanity, a homogenizing floor, then two stories of longevity and magic that trickled like water into the street, giving its own life to the neighborhood.
Henri pushed open the door to the private stairwell, pursed his lips when he saw her. “What did you do?”
Left to his own devices, Henri tended to grow thin where she grew fat. His muscles were lean and wiry where hers were dense. He wore his beard unkempt, shaving his cheeks and lip smooth only for concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Garden. Hair a paler brown than his beard, eyes paler than either, his looks were starkly attractive or very ordinary, depending on the intensity of his focus.
Evie ushered him off the street and started the climb. The steps were steep-pitched and narrow, the stairwell comfortingly dark after the strobing all-night lights of the city. “I lost Christopher.”
“I know,” he sniped. “Any of us more than a few centuries old sensed it.”
At the first landing, she paused by the runes laid where a door might have been and looked for the glints of magic reflected in his eyes.
She raised a hand, entreating. “It wasn’t his fault. They surprised me too, and there were six of them. How could he have resisted?”
“It’s our ‘Y’ chromosomes,” Henri said. “Our absence of replicate genes makes men weaker.”
“That’s rich, coming from you. You’re the oldest magic-wielder I know. You’re so old you still spell magic with a ‘k’.”
He chuckled. “I am unusual. And French.”
“You’re worse than French,” she muttered, and tapped the fourth-floor door. “You’re a self-proclaimed Parisian.”
“Your coven is home. And I reached out to a few others. You have a strong conclave waiting.”
The stairwell opened onto the fifth-floor kitchen, an airy industrial affair where her kind mingled between the prep tables and the dining room. She grabbed a cup and took the last of the hot water from the kettle, counting as she opened a tin of green tea.
Twenty-seven had gathered. With her and Henri that made twenty-nine, a prime: a sum of three squares. Twenty-nine was a Germain and a Pell and a Lucas prime—all mathematicians and uncommon sorcerers who claimed France as Henri did.
The Bishnois followed twenty-nine principles. Twenty-nine chapters in the Q’uran began with muqatta’āt, the mysterious letters. Its multiples touched many veda.
Twenty-nine was the number of years Saturn required to orbit the sun.
This was a portent.
To see how it ends for Evie and Henri, consult Silver Webb's All Hallows' Eve: The Thinning Veil, an anthology of 13 wicked tales.