The next day at lunch, Scarlett sat by herself waiting for her sister to come join her. She twisted the cap off her water bottle and took a swig--the water flooded down her throat, quenching her satisfyingly.
He's here, the angel said.
The voice startled Scarlett, ripping her out of her blissful trance and making her strangle on the liquid. She coughed, doubling over on the outdoor bench and spitting water out on the sidewalk. "You're supposed to drink it," a familiar voice said. Scarlett knew who it was before she even looked up, mostly because the angels were repeating his name over and over in a feverish haste.
"Uh, hi," she said, clearing her throat once the hacking coughs ceased. Phoenix sat down across from her with just a notebook and a visible pack of cigarettes in his hand. He slipped the carton into his pocket once he noticed her looking at it.
"My only vice," he said, one side of his mouth turned up.
"I'm sure." Scarlett twisted the cap back on the water bottle and shifted her weight.
This time Phoenix was the one to clear his throat. "So, uh, have you ever heard of a store called Shaman Sense?" he asked, his eyes on the bench.
Scarlett furrowed her brows. "No-no, I don't think so."
His eyes flicked back up to her's and searched--for what, Scarlett didn't know, but she wanted to. "Why?"
"I just saw an ad for it the other day and I was trying to decide whether it was worth the trip," he said quickly--too quickly.
He's lying, the angel said. Tell him who he is. Tell him, Scarlett.
"I don't believe you," she said, toying with the plastic wrapping around her water bottle. Phoenix chewed on his bottom lip, bending the metal spiral that ran through his notebook.
"Did you really kill a guy?"
Scarlett's heart sank. He knew. He knew. This was surely the end of their short lived civil relationship. Heat rushed to her cheeks. "Well--"
"You don't have to say it. I already read the articles," he said. "I...googled you last night."
"You googled me?"
He gave a throaty laugh. "Maybe I shouldn't have said anything..."
It was silent then. Scarlett sat there, basking in the awkwardness and noticing the stares they were getting from all around, when a strange tension started coming from Phoenix. "Um," he started. "It said in the article that-that you said the man was a demon--"
"I was eleven," Scarlett said, cutting him off abruptly.
Tell him the truth, Scarlett.
"I know, it's just... I read another article...about you going into that hospital..."
Tell him, Scarlett.
"I don't really feel comfortable talking about this," Scarlett said in a clipped voice.
Just then, Violet approached the table with Rick, her 'stalker'. She eyed Phoenix hopefully. "Sorry to interrupt." They both sat down on Scarlett's side of the bench, leaving Phoenix by himself.
Violet nudged Scarlett with her elbow, giving her a wink as Rick opened his mouth. "Woah, cool scar. Where'd you get it?" Today he had opted for a shirt with a large cat printed on it along with his omnipresent non-prescription glasses.
"Bank heist. I was in line and a guy tried to rob the place with a knife. I tried to wrestle it away from him but he sliced me up before I could," he explained, his face light with mockery.
"No way. That is insane," Rick said with awe. He believed every word. "And totally awesome. Did you get it on video?"
Phoenix raised one eyebrow. "No..." He turned to Scarlett then. "I'll see you later, Scarlett. I need to go, uh, exercise my vice," he said, giving her a crooked smile and leaving the bench, not acknowledging the conversation that had been interrupted.
"Oh, what's his vice?" Violet said, nudging her yet again, this time harder.
"Geez, Violet. Will you calm down? He's going to smoke a cigarette. That's all," she said, but as she watched him go, she got the strangest urge to get up and follow him.
Go, Scarlett. He believes you.
Despite the gnawing feeling that they were wrong, Scarlett followed him, abandoning her half-full water bottle on the bench. "Hey, Phoenix," she called. He stopped and turned around.
"Hey. Interested in picking up a new vice, then?" He grinned.
Scarlett laughed and the tension that had been balled up in the pit of her stomach eased. "Not quite. I just wanted to apologize for earlier. It's just...I don't like to talk about it because, well--people think I'm crazy," she admitted.
"It's fine. You didn't have to apologize. And for the record, I don't think you're crazy," he said. The clouds in the sky shifted to cover the sun then, making Phoenix's scar look chilling and ominous, framing his stormy blue eyes.
"Well, you're the only one."
That night, Scarlett did some googling of her own and what she found wasn't anything like she'd expected. Shaman Sense was a witchcraft store. What kind of strange stuff was Phoenix into? He definitely didn't look like one of those people who huddles over scribbles on the floor, mumbling nonsense to the devil, or whatever it was that witches did.
You must go with him to Shaman Sense, Scarlett.
Why? she thought.
Because, it is your destiny.
Scarlett groaned in annoyance. Of course it is. She knew the angels were always right, but what she didn't understand is why their solutions were always so embarrassing. What would she say? Hey, Phoenix, I barely know you but can I tag along on your trip to the witchcraft store? I'm in need of a new wand.
Just then, her door creaked open. She turned to see a cat, the color of night, slink into her bedroom. "Hey, Kettle," she said to him, sitting on her bed and motioning for him to join her. He jumped onto the bed and looked at her with a human-like recognition, meowing as if he were greeting her.
That was the thing with Kettle. Everyone was always unnerved by him because he didn't seem to have the consciousness of an animal. He was very aware and tentative towards Scarlett--but only towards Scarlett. He didn't have patience for anyone else. In fact, he frequently swiped at her parents.
Scarlett stretched out on her bed with a sigh. Another day had passed and still, no solution to her 'problem'. She took her medication just like she was supposed to--in fact, she'd tried dozens of different medications and none of them worked. She still heard the angels. She tried to keep positive--it was easier because the angels always seemed to be right about things. But no matter what, there was always a part inside of her that truly believed that she was crazy. And she didn't know if that would ever go away.
Lily's aunt lived outside of New York. She hated the hustle and bustle of the city and preferred to be around nature--obviously NYC wasn't a part of that equation. And though Lily loved the city, it was a welcomed break to sit outside under the trees that were shedding their red and orange leaves instead of sitting behind the counter of the shop, thinking about her mother's missing presence.
The breeze caressed her face softly and a thought crossed her mind. Since her mother could connect to the angelic realm through meditation to receive information about whatever it was that the government was trying to keep secret, why couldn't she?
Lily shut her eyes and the world around her melted away. She focused on pushing the breaths in and out of her lungs. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale... When she tried to inhale again, she couldn't. It felt as if there were a barrier in her windpipe--like some external source was constricting her breathing. A feeling of forboding washed over her.
Her eyes flew open in terror, and there, swinging from a branch on the tree in front of her, was her mother with a noose around her neck. Lily heard the scream come out of her mouth, but she didn't feel it. "Mom!" She got up from where she was sitting and ran to her, but as she neared, her mother lost her opacity and vanished.
Lily's throat felt raw as she fell to her knees. She attempted to catch her breath as she struggled to determine what was real and what was not. That couldn't have been real. She vanished. Just like that.
"Lily? I heard you scream, what's wrong?" her aunt said, running to her. The dragon claw amulet that hung around her neck swung across the expanse of her chest as she closed the distance between them.
"I-I saw my mom...h-hanging from that tree," Lily stammered. Her hands found tendrils of plant growth that she gripped to ground herself--she was feeling dizzy.
"Oh Goddess... I'm so sorry, Lily," she said, her mouth turned down at the sides.
"What was it? What was I seeing?" Lily said hysterically, the tears still escaping her tear ducts.
She heard her aunt clear her throat. "I don't know how to tell you this...but-but it sounds as if you've had a vision. And that can only mean--"
"That I was seeing the future? No-no, that can't be right. I mean, I can change it, right? I can do something about it."
"I suppose it's possible...but...very unlikely, I'm afraid. Again, I'm sorry dear. I'll do anything you wish. Anything at all to help."
Lily looked at her aunt. Her eyeliner was smudged and there was red lipstick on her teeth--but those things didn't grab her attention. What really set off an alarm in Lily's head was the look in her aunt's emerald eyes. There was something there-something that was off putting. And it looked a lot like...pleasure. But as soon as Lily blinked, it was gone and she was left believing she imagined it.
"Well...I--" But what could her aunt do? What could anyone do to make this better? Who could rectify a situation like this? Lily scoured her brain for something--anything. One thing came to mind. "You can take me to WarLOCK. I need to talk to my mom."