Rivers of the Dead: Book One

1~2 ~ A Simple Spell

The first hint of magic in a tragic world.

The next few hours passed in relative boredom, though Caleb's thoughts kept him occupied. The soothing sound of the falling rain served as a meditative cadence as he thought over his conversation with Ethan. Ethan wanted to talk about something serious, and he'd be coming over to talk about it, whatever 'it' was.

Caleb could relate and was starting to realize he had little reason not to do the same, to make his secret known. He lay back on his bed, repeatedly tossing a baseball up in the air and catching it, letting his mind wander to the possibilities ahead of him. It wasn't that he didn't trust Ethan—no, he trusted Ethan more than he trusted anyone—he just didn't want to jeopardize ruining the friendship over some silly crush.

Crush. Yeah, that's what it was, just a crush. He didn't love his best friend, certainly not! No, it was just . . . Caleb sighed as he caught the ball and held it, rolling it through his fingers. It was love, he knew it, he knew it in the depths of his soul, and it was time to come clean about it all. If it ended up ruining his friendship with Ethan, at least they wouldn't have to see each other after the summer was over. It would hurt, but at least the truth would finally be out in the open.

A knock at the front door downstairs drew Caleb from his preoccupation, and he hopped off his bed to answer it. Glancing at the clock to see it was a quarter to five, he realized it must be Liz, stopping by for the spell she wanted to perform before going to work. Elizabeth Zagorsky was always punctual, often showing up early. The perfect attendance helped balance the scales somewhat, since she also had a habit of not doing her work. Her personal appointments were no different, and she'd said she'd arrive at five. The difference in the case of her magic was that she cared about her spell work and went to great lengths to perform her incantations with expertise and precision. In such a case, punctuality wasn't just a habit, but a requirement.

Caleb opened the door and smiled at the short girl standing on the porch, a canvas bag in one petite hand and her cell phone in the other, standing close to the door in the shelter of the porch to avoid the rain. She was muttering to herself, but the mutterings had a certain rhythm to them as if she were chanting. She didn't appear to notice the door had opened, and Caleb took a moment to study her in his amusement. If he weren't gay he'd be completely into Liz, especially since her style meshed well with his worldview.

She had long, dyed-black hair, with a single streak of red down one side and a narrow streak of purple next to that. Both of her ears were pierced multiple times, with a series of eccentrically different studs and hoops riding all the way up her lobes. She wore dark eye shadow and special designer contacts that made her eyes appear yellow and cat-like. It wasn't the specifics of her style that Caleb enjoyed, but Liz was her own person, a fact reflected in everything she wore and everything she did. They'd been friends since kindergarten, and even then, she'd never been afraid to be herself. Caleb loved her for her uniqueness and couldn't imagine life without her.

"Hey, Liz," Caleb said at last.

"Caleb," Liz said without looking up from her phone. She stepped over the threshold and into the house. Caleb closed the door after her as she added, "Glad you're here."

Caleb laughed. "Where else would I be?"

"Well," Liz said distractedly, "you could be anywhere else, and I wouldn't be glad. I need you here."

"As weird as ever, I see," Caleb said.

This got Liz to glance up at last. "You're terrible," she said before slipping her phone into her pocket. There wasn't any anger behind the statement; she meant it as a simple, undebatable fact.

And Caleb saw no reason to argue. He shrugged and said, "I try. How was the storm?"

"Wet." Liz smirked and moved toward the stairs that would take her up to Caleb's bedroom. Knowing he was right behind her, she asked, "Your parents aren't home, right?"

"Have you ever even met my parents?" Caleb asked. This earned him a hard look from Liz and he added, "Okay, so yeah, of course you have, but come on . . . they're never home."

"Hey, I just have to be sure," Liz said rolling her eyes. "I know they're a little more open-minded than Ethan's parents, but that doesn't mean that I want them around when I'm channeling the dark arts."

"No worries," Caleb replied. "We're clear, I promise."

Liz nodded and took the stairs two at a time. Caleb followed right behind until they entered his room and Liz kicked a pile of clothes off to the side, clearing a spot for her to sit on his floor. "All right," she said. "Let's get this started then."

After moving another pile of clothes, Caleb sat down across from the area Liz had cleared. She opened the canvas bag and pulled out a rolled-up mat, then set it on the floor directly in front of Caleb. He recognized it for what it was, her spiritual meditation mat, complete with a painted circle and a pentagram lined with Norse runes circling the edge. Liz sat down on the mat and pulled several more items from the bag while Caleb watched, always amazed by the way Liz moved when she was focused. She had a certain undeniable grace to her in everything she did, making her almost cat-like.

"What do I have to do?" Caleb asked when he felt silence had stretched on for too long.

"Mostly just remain focused," Liz said absently, pulling a small leather pouch and a quartz crystal from her bag. She set the crystal on the mat at the point of the pentagram facing Caleb, but the pouch she kept in her left hand; she looked up to meet his inquisitive eyes at last and said, "I just need a tiny bit of your energy."

"Okay. And that means?"

Liz gave him a little half-smile and said, "All right, so here's the deal. I'm trying to do a prosperity spell, sort of a 'get rich quick' type of thing. I need more than just my power to pull it off, and it's not like we're drowning in covens in this town. I'm pretty certain I'm still the only real witch around."

"What about Jackie and Tavish?" Caleb asked. He knew Liz occasionally traded spell knowledge with the two girls, who were rumored to be the only lesbian couple the town had ever seen. They were a year older than he and Liz, and he'd rarely seen them since they graduated, but he knew Liz kept in contact.

Despite this, Liz seemed more amused than anything else by the notion of working with the two girls, and she chuckled dryly, her feline eyes dancing. "It's not that they aren't sweet girls, but they're at the tail end of the post-Buffy lesbian Wicca fad. They care a lot more about sex and a lot less about magic, while I'm the opposite."

"What you're saying is you're not willing to trade a little sex for a little prosperity?" Caleb joked, smirking.

Liz rolled her eyes. "No. I'm saying they don't have much power, because they're in it for alternative reasons. You, on the other hand, just want to help me out because you're a kind friend, and that gives you power of a sort. At least your intentions are pure. I can totally use that."

"So, I'm like your substitute coven?" Caleb clarified. "Don't you want more people then? I mean, if all you need are people who are willing to help . . ."

Liz shook her head and explained, "Ethan's the only other one I'd trust, and before I could ask him he complained about having to go home and clean his room. Plus, there can be side effects, and the last thing I want to do is give magical side effects to the kid with Christian parents."

Side effects. That wasn't something Caleb wanted to hear, but he had already promised to help, and he wasn't going to back out, and certainly not from a promise he made to Liz. But he still had an urge to be extra helpful, and so he suggested, "Couldn't we do it later? Wait for Ethan, maybe? I'm sure he wouldn't care about the side effects."

But Liz was already answering as the words left Caleb's mouth. "Nope. I've got work tonight and I can't really do it after. I need this done as soon as possible."

This gave Caleb pause. "You're in trouble, aren't you?"

Liz wasn't prepared for that question, but she recovered quickly, and, to Caleb's surprise, answered honestly. "I gotta pay off my weed dealer. What can I say? If I don't, well . . ." She shrugged. "No more magic for me if I'm in a coma."

"Shit. Okay, then let's do this thing," Caleb said, clapping his hands together loudly then moving them to his knees. Even if he didn't fully approve of Liz's life choices, he didn't want to see her get hurt, either. With much greater urgency, he asked, "What do you need?"

"Just watch and wait. At the end, I'll have to kiss you. You okay with that?" Liz asked cautiously, knowing he'd be a little uncomfortable with this revelation.

But Caleb was fine with this, because he knew it didn't mean anything other than the sharing of energy. If Liz had any interest in jumping his bones, she would've told him a long time ago. Plus, she was the only one who knew about his sexuality, a point he made clear as he shrugged and said, "Sure. I mean, you're not my first choice. That'd be . . ." He thought about Ethan and his sad eyes from earlier, suddenly feeling a wave of emotion. Choking back his words, he looked away, not wanting Liz to see his eyes watering.

Liz reached out and took his hand, squeezing it gently. "Yeah. I know. You poor guy," she said quietly, stroking his hand with her thumb. "Maybe someday?"

Caleb shrugged noncommittally. "Yeah. Maybe. Maybe when he gets a chance to leave. Maybe when . . ." He shrugged again, this time involuntarily. Thinking about Ethan returning his feelings was one thing. Voicing those thoughts was quite another.

Liz, ever one to try to be the unlikely voice of reason, said, "You don't even know if he's gay."

"No, I don't," Caleb said in almost a whisper, "but I want to believe he is."

"You'll meet some nice guy at college," Liz offered.

Caleb pulled his hand away. "You're not really helping."

"Sorry," Liz said, pulling back. "Let's just do the spell. Then maybe I can help you with some spell of discernment? Never thought of doing that, huh . . ."

Caleb looked up, his eyes filled with hope. "You mean, you'll be able to tell me if he is?"

"Maybe," Liz said. "I'll have to work something out."

Caleb nodded. "Okay. In that case, let's get to work."

After one more shared look of determination, Liz closed her eyes and started to chant. The language wasn't English, though Liz spoke only smatterings of a few other tongues, and those not very well. Caleb realized that this was likely the set of words she'd been reading from her phone earlier, practicing her pronunciation in her own head, and he was sure it had paid off. She didn't stumble over the words at all, and they came out sharp and clear, ringing with power.

He focused on the sound, the rhythmic quality of the language, letting it lead him into a focused trance. The patter of the rain on the roof and windows offered a natural drumbeat for the words to dance along to and it drew him even deeper into the moment. A part of him knew Liz was doing other things, though he kept his gaze locked on her concerted expression. She held the pouch in her hands, rubbing it between her fingers in time to her chant. Every so often she'd reach down and touch the large quartz crystal. Whenever she did, Caleb felt a tingle travel through him, connecting him to the energies surging through the room.

A flash of lightning brightened the room further for an instant, and as if in response the crystal began radiating a soft, white light. Caleb could sense it more than see it, knowing it was illuminating the space between them. Wherever the light touched his skin, it filled him with a gentle warmth, though it also made his skin crawl. He started to lose focus, started to get jittery, but this was when Liz's chanting reached a crescendo.

Liz leaned forward, her hand reaching for Caleb's chest. When her fingertips brushed the bit of skin above his shirt collar, he shuddered at the wave of energy that washed over him. The feeling of magic was almost orgasmic, touching his soul in places where his deepest fantasies had only been able to scratch the surface. As his mind reeled from the pleasure, Liz leaned even further, bringing her face within an inch of his, the expulsion of air from her chants tantalizing Caleb's lips with the promise of the kiss to come. As the final syllable of the chant left Liz's tongue in a shout of magical ecstasy, she closed the last bit of distance between them, bringing their lips together in a conclusion of blissful release.

A loud clap of thunder sounded over the house. Somewhere between the shout of the final word and the storm's answer the front door to the house opened and closed below them, unheard by their ears. The final waves of orgasmic energy left them as they moaned between their kisses, masking the sound of footfalls on the steps leading up to Caleb's room. They were so lost in the throes of the magic that they didn't even end the kiss when the door opened, and Ethan stood paralyzed in the doorway, his hand frozen on the knob as his eyes locked on Caleb and Liz's connected flesh.

Ethan gasped, and Caleb was certain the whole world had stopped moving in that moment, and his heart had decided to do the same out of respect. Even the sound of the storm seemed subdued, as if the weather had taken notice of this irreversible instant in time. Caleb paused, looking at Ethan in stunned silence as the last traces of his magical high faded leaving him unable to move.

Ethan was the first to find the ability to move, though his eyes remained frozen on Caleb's face. Sad, stricken eyes, eyes which bore to the depths of Caleb's soul and cut even deeper than the magic had. But there was no ecstasy here, no bliss, merely the utter despair of a broken heart.

"Hey, um . . . uh . . . sorry, for . . . f-for i-int-terrupt-ting . . . I-I'll just . . ." Ethan stuttered, and then he was gone, running down the stairs at twice the speed he'd ascended them, slamming the front door as he left the house. The sound of his mother's borrowed car started outside, his tires splashing along the wet road as he drove away before Caleb fully regained his senses.

But the sound of Ethan driving away slowly brought Caleb back to reality. Whatever high had been there before was now completely gone, faded in the crushing realization that he might have just blown his relationship with his best friend to pieces. "Ethan!" he shouted, staggering to his feet. "Shit!" He said as he keeled over, knees weak from the use of so much energy. He caught himself against his bed and caught his breath, trying to stand again.

"Caleb . . ." Liz said, shaking her head as she tried to clear her senses.

Caleb punched his mattress as hard as he could. His whole body was shaking. "Fuck!"

"Caleb, I think . . ." Liz said, rising slowly. She stumbled a step, but managed to stay standing. "I think we have our answer."

"To what?" Caleb asked, unable to grasp the importance of anything other than what had just happened. The look in Ethan's eyes stayed with him, pulled on his soul, urging him to run after him as fast as he could.

"If Ethan's gay," Liz said plainly. "I think it's pretty clear we just broke his heart."

"I need to . . ." Caleb shook his head, not in denial of her words, but denial of the crashing reality. "I need to go after him." He straightened and took a determined step toward the door. "I need to explain."

Liz caught his arm gently. "Don't you think you should give him space? Some time?" She reasoned.

"Maybe, but . . ." He was shaking his head as soon as he said the words. The pit in his stomach deepened, becoming a chasm as deep as Tartarus.


"I'm just. I'm worried . . ." Caleb said, turning his horrified expression on Liz, "his eyes . . ."

"I thought it was just me," Liz said, all feigned reason and logic fading from her face. She was just as horrified as he was. "I'll give you a ride."


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And to the haunted.

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