2022, March 14th
Collapse – 27 years
“How about them?” asked Alexander.
Anton craned to look down the airport terminal in the direction Alexander indicated. Two women were seated together, chatting and giggling as they simultaneously listened to a song by sharing a pair of earbuds.
Anton’s face scrunched. “Why you always point out child women.”
“You’d rather have someone your own age?”
Anton shrugged. “I’d rather have real woman, older is wiser. She’s a woman who knows her way around the bed.”
“A prostitute knows her way around the bed. If you want, I know just the girl for you in California. Real old. Plenty of experience.” He grinned at Anton, which didn’t stop until Anton finally acknowledged him with a grunt.
Josephine overheard their conversation. She’d grown adept at tuning them out over the past hundred years, but never quite adept enough that her skin didn’t crawl. Wherever they all went, whether to seedy back alley bars, or a consulate dinner at parliament, those two would sit together and play “Who’d you rather” while leering down woman, and they frequently took their game too far.
The coven had passed through Saudi Arabia about seventy years ago. At the time. Anton had a body nearly identical to the one he had now, a Ukrainian man to match his Ukrainian accent, with a body straight out of an action movie. Alexander had been middle eastern to fit their surroundings.
The coven were guests in the house of Raheem Al-Nader, an oil baron. Josephine and Sibyl were kept separate from the men most of the trip, but afterward, Sibyl discovered something Alex and Anton had done. They’d gotten close with some burka-covered servants who were distant nieces of the host, and had slept with them later that night. Anton had to use his Authority to break through the usual barrier of Middle eastern modesty.
“It was a like a bet,” Sibyl had heard them boast. “What would you see once you lifted the veil?”
“Not really a gamble for you,” Anton had said. “You see their minds.”
“There is a world of difference between what a woman thinks they look like, and what they actually do.”
The coven moved on days later. Josephine checked back to see what became of those women. They were publicly flogged. Alexander must have known. He showed no reaction when Josephine accused him later.
“Now there are women you should be looking for.” Anton pointed Alexander toward a group of four thirty-somethings gathered at a restaurant table inside the airport.
“Cougars. I can see their wrinkled asses from here.”
Anton sighed. “So? Who cares? The fruit has spoiled a little. It is when the sugar is sweetest. And they work harder for you. They know they must earn your attention.”
Josephine had heard enough of their drivel. She collected her suitcase and headed off in search of Sibyl.
“Are we offending your sensibilities?” asked Alexander.
“Oh by all means,” she muttered. “don’t let me intrude.” She didn’t look at Alex when she spoke. Even accidental eye contact was enough for him.
“I would welcome the intrusion,” he said. “In fact, why don’t you share your thoughts on the matter.” His gaze was steady, daring her to look.
Responding further would just be rising to his goading. “Ignore them,” Sibyl would say, “He wants you to react. I see it in his glow.”
Anton ignored them both as his gaze prowled the terminal. Unlike Alexander, he at least had the decency not to include fellow witches in their juvenile games. Josephine glanced toward Sakhr and Christof. As the two oldest witches of the coven, and the ones who’d brought them all together, they sometimes acted as parents, but both were absorbed in books without a thought to spare for squabbling children.
Josephine strolled away without another word. Alexander chuckled in her wake.
Sibyl was in line at a magazine shop. She had an armload of gossip magazines and a horseshoe-shaped pillow to help her get through the coming flight. Hidden between the magazines and her bosom were several boxes of chocolate and candy she’d pilfered from the stand beside the cash register. She’d long ago internalized that the bodies she occupied were disposable. Every ten years or so, she’d take the body of a thin, attractive woman, and she’d indulge. Thighs would thicken. Breasts would grow. She’d turn a sculpted work of art into cellulite and loose jowls. Then Sakhr would get her a new body. Of all the members in the coven, her bodies had the quickest turnover rate. Josephine kept her opinions about that to herself. Sibyl was the closest thing she had to a friend in the coven.
As Josephine approached, Sibyl glanced at her and smiled sympathetically. Josephine’s aura would be spelling out her argument with Alexander.
“Tell me we have separate seats on the plane,” Josephine said. She meant separate from Alex and Anton.
“I think so.” Sibyl juggled all her items to one arm and fetched the plane tickets from her purse. “We’re in the other aisle, by the windows.”
Josephine’s mood did not lift. The entire coven was in first class. They never flew anything else, but that would put Josephine close enough to hear the idiots harassing the flight attendants. It was a five hour flight across the country. Neither Alexander nor Anton could behave themselves that long. Would they actually convince a stewardess into a Bathroom Trip using their wit and guile? Or would they cheat? Alex might read minds for hints on how to seduce the women. Anton might convince them to stay and talk, or even tell the girls that they found Anton attractive. The flight attendants weren’t witches. That made them fair game.
It was how most of the coven saw other people. Even Josephine was guilty of that. When you’re immortal, it’s hard to see others as equals. Their transient lives are only there to supplement your own.
Sibyl might actually be the best of them, probably because of her empathy. Even though she wrecked other people’s carefully toned bodies, she always targeted selfish sorority types. It least it was some kind of morality.
“You know what would be crazy, Sib? What if we changed our flight?”
“What do you mean?” Sibyl asked. “You want to stay in Boston?”
“No no, I mean go somewhere else. Look.” She pointed to a nearby gate. “Detroit. …okay, that’s a bad example, but there. Look. Dallas. What if we went to Dallas? It’s warmer there.”
“But Sakhr doesn’t want to go to Dallas.”
“So why would he go there?”
Josephine waited for Sibyl to figure it out.
And she did. “No, Jose. Please, don’t.” Sibyl looked at her with dismay. “We can’t leave them. Don’t talk about that. Alex will find out.”
“Alex already knows. I think he’d prefer we left.”
“But we can’t. You know we can’t.”
“But let’s do it anyway. You know how long it would take them to find us? When he does, you know he’d let us right back in.”
“He doesn’t want us to leave.”
“We don’t need his permission.”
“Please stop, Jose. I don’t want to talk about this.”
“It’s fine if you don’t want to go…”
This caused Sibyl to nearly drop her items as she grabbed Josephine’s arm. “You promised me you wouldn’t leave me with them.”
“I’m only joking.”
“You’re half joking. I can see it. If Sakhr finds out you’ve been talking about this…”
“Why would he?”
“Alex might tell him.”
“Alex thinks about leaving all the time himself.”
“But he doesn’t tell Sakhr that, but he would tell him if you were.”
“Honestly, what’s Sakhr going to do about it? Hold us at gunpoint?”
“You know what he’d do.”
“It’s an empty threat. We’re too important to him.”
Sibyl started to respond, then caught herself. “Stop talking,” she said.
Josephine glanced over Sibyl’s shoulder.
Alex was approaching. “Ladies.”
“What do you want?” Josephine kept her eyes down.
Alexander grinned. “Relax. Sakhr wants us.”
“We’ll be there in a minute.”
“He wants us now.”
“Then he can—”
“Christof found one.”
Her brain stumbled. Even Sibyl dropped her guard and turned.
“Come and find out.”
When they got back, Sakhr and Christof were standing together by an airport pillar. Their reading books were away, and they stared across the terminal at a pair sitting by a full length window wall—a small man and a girl. The man looked worn and tired. Beneath a denim jacket, his potbelly pushed his undershirt over his belt, but the rest of him was scrawny, as though his fat had drained from his limbs and pooled in his abdomen. He was talking with Anton.
The girl was slouched in a chair beside the man. Probably his daughter. She paid no attention, just listened to whatever noise her massive headphones were pumping into her ears. They must close out the world for her
“Which one is it?” Josephine asked.
Sakhr nodded toward them. “The girl.”
“She walked right past me,” Christof added. “I almost missed her.”
Alexander grunted in disinterest. It annoyed Josephine, but she understood why he had. The girl was plain. She had thick plastic lenses and black hair pulled back in an unkempt pony tail. She wore a hoodie that hid her body well, but she’d obviously inherited her father’s dumpiness.
Josephine didn’t care. Looks lasted only as long as your current body, and the idea of having another girl in the coven was too enticing.
“Not much to look at,” said Alexander. “What’s her power?”
“I’m not sure,” said Christof.
Startled, everyone turned to him.
He sensed it. “I can read her just fine. I just don’t know what I’m seeing. She’s…” He winced as though staring into a sunset. “…Nothing? No. That’s not right. There’s something there, it just doesn’t look like it does anything.” He shook his head.
“Maybe she’s a dud,” Alex said. “A useless power. You two have seen them before, right?”
“Not for a long time,” said Sakhr.
“She’s got something,” Christof added. “If she’s got a dud, it’s a strange dud.”
Sibyl turned to the others. “What is Anton saying to them?”
Sakhr answered. “I told him to find out where they live.”
“He’s making them nervous.”
“He’s pretending to be security,” Alex replied. “Security makes everyone nervous.”
Anton finished and returned to the others. The girl glanced at him as he left.
“They’re from a town near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” He handed over a sheet of paper with an address written on it. “Father had dental conference in Florida.”
Alex grinned. “He took his kid to a dentistry conference?”
“Orthodontics, yes. No mother. He couldn’t leave daughter home alone. Man is Allen Faulk. Daughter is Katherine Faulk. I know nothing else on her. She did not want to talk. I did not push.”
“Wise.” Sakhr nodded. “Anton. Alex. Get our flights changed.” He faced everyone else. “It looks like we’re not done with cold weather yet.”