Nieves backed the truck up to the loading dock and killed the engine. He and Fuentes had driven the beast straight through to Rochester the long way from Detroit, south of Lake Erie to avoid having to go through Canada, and they were both dead tired. He just hoped this was the right address.
The loading dock door opened and Martin Caldwell appeared in the doorway. “Took your time,” he said.
Randy Nieves stepped down from the cab and walked over to his boss. “Somethin’ Jimmy ate at the truck stop outside Eire didn’t agree with him. I swear we stopped at every rest area on the Thruway, and a couple of gas stations besides.”
By this time James Fuentes had appeared from around the front of the truck. “This place better have a working bathroom,” he said.
“I don’t know,” replied Caldwell. “It wasn’t one of the things I discussed with the rental agent. Go find out.” Fuentes darted into the building, while Caldwell and Nieves followed.
Inside was a lot of emptiness, dimly lit by a couple of mercury vapor lamps high up in the ceiling. They could see Jimmy heading to a door on one side that was marked as a restroom. Past it in the corner was a room with windows opening into the dock area, evidently a dispatch office or something. There was another garage door, closed, on the back wall. A couple of other ordinary doors led God knows where.
“Do you think it’s gonna be big enough?” asked Nieves.
“If not, there’s more space available in the building. I’m gonna be looking at an office in the morning, so it don’t matter if this ain’t the fanciest of digs.”
“I guess. You want me to start unloading now?”
“No, let’s head over to the airport and get you guys a car. After that we can get down to business.”
An eerie glow permeated the room, pulling Patton awake from a sound sleep. He opened his eyes, but they would not focus until he heard the sound of puppies yapping in play. What the hell? He forced his eyes to focus and looked around his bedroom.
The computer on his desk was alive with a Youtube video of dachshund puppies playing in a playpen. Three, no four of them, making that whiny noise that really young dogs make before they learn to bark. It was driving him nuts.
Before his eyes the scene changed. A different video started, this one with six puppies. As he watched something slowly opened the gate, setting the puppies free. A couple spilled out (they were leaning on the gate at the time it opened) but the rest just sat there, trying to figure out what to do with this opportunity. Eventually all but one flopped their way to freedom, but no matter what God did (Patton assumed that the hand in the video was God’s and not some human’s) the puppy stayed where it was, protected by the bars of its cage and provided with food, water, and a soft blanket to chew.
The video then switched to one of puppies playing in a yard. Several were wrestling and nipping each other in the grass, a couple were worrying opposite sides of a ball, and one was rolling around with a strange looking chew toy of some sort. Then, while Patton was still trying to make sense of all this, the computer shut down with that annoying Windows shut-down chime.
Why did the computer decide to turn itself on and show me that, of all things? thought Patton. Is someone trying to tell me we’re all dachshunds in God’s playpen? His temples started to throb, and he fell back asleep rubbing his head and trying to make sense of the madness that was overtaking his life.
When he woke again there was daylight streaming in his windows and a migraine splitting his skull. Patton checked his magic crystal and saw that it had turned red overnight. He wondered if the witches were up to helping him in the morning of if he’d have to wait for evening once again. Before he could talk himself out of it he gave them a call, and Margaret said to come right on over.
On his way to the Coven House (as he was beginning to think of it) Patton braced himself for their teaching method. Why does it always involve nudity? he wondered. Sure, they’re hot! But what do they see in me? Every time he was around women he was conscious of how flabby and out of shape his middle-aged body was. Why would they be at all attracted to me?
Yvonne answered his knock.
“Welcome! Come on in!”
“Yvonne?” Patton knew it was her, but she looked different somehow. “I know it’s you, but you’re different!”
“Yes, thanks to you. Do you like?”
Patton took a good look at her, seeing her for the first time. She was still of average height, with very Irish red hair and vivid green eyes, but her skin looked firmer and more youthful, and an inner glow seemed to suffuse her entire being. She was younger. Had she found a fountain of youth or something?
“Uh, what do you mean, thanks to me? What did I do?”
“A side benefit of being a Life Witch is that our relationships affect our appearance. Being with you has helped rejuvenate me, in body as well as spirit, and I want to thank you for that.” She reached up and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Uh, you’re welcome, I guess. I gather you want me to do the same for one of your sisters now?”
“Yes, please. Merging your aura with Elaine’s will help rejuvenate her, and the experience will give you a wider range so you can evaluate differences between auras. Our auras are different, and Margaret’s is even more so.”
“Okay, I guess I’m ready.”
“Come with me.” Yvonne led him down the hall to the door at the end. It opened on another small bedroom, this one with geometric wallpaper and hanging plants around the window. The curtains were already closed, and Elaine was in the process of lighting a candle as he entered.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Elaine said, and turned towards him. Her long blond hair was covering her bare breasts, serving only to emphasize her nakedness. Patton still wasn’t ready for this, but he started removing his clothes anyway. She reached up to kiss him, and as with Yvonne his senses were overwhelmed.
Patton found himself standing in a sunny garden, full of life, but very neat and orderly. He was standing on a narrow path paved with bricks and moss and worn from use. On one side of the path was row upon row of vegetables arranged by height so as to make best use of the sun. Tomatoes, beans, and other viny creepers were staked out or contained by screen cages so that they didn’t wander onto the path or interfere with neighboring plants. Little side paths extended into the plants to make harvesting the bounty easier. It was all very neat and tidy and under control.
The other side of the path was plots of flowers, with the lowest bloomers close to the path, ranked by height to sunflowers and other tall blooms in the back. He could see stakes supporting the irises, and other colors and textures were coordinated, too, in a complicated pattern that was clearly not natural, but at the same time very harmonious and beautiful. Bees, butterflies and assorted insects could be seen scattered among the blooms, stirring the sweet air into a natural potpourri.
The path led over a small hill to a boxwood hedge pierced by an archway through which the path led. The archway was covered by wisteria, their fragrant blooms of pink, purple and white attracting flights of hummingbirds to lap up their nectar before it dripped on any passing visitor.
As Patton passed through the archway he felt the temperature drop. At the far end was a garden gate covered with frost. The cold bit his hand as he lifted the latch and continued on the path and into a snow covered forest. Here the sunlight was transformed by pine trees and drifts of snow into bands of dark and light, with very little gray in between. It was a forest of cold logic that surrounded Elaine’s orderly garden, and Patton was afraid to discover what lay beyond the woods.
He returned to the real world to find himself lying on Elaine’s bed completely entwined in Elaine. All he could see was her eyes looking into his like a pair of deep tropical lagoons aching for his soul to dive into them once again and swim deep in the clear warm water. As she pulled herself away from him her hair raised the curtain on the rest of the darkened room, only to brush across his chest and end demurely covering her pert breasts. “So? What do you think?” she asked.
“Well, I, uh …” he sputtered.
“About our auras, silly!” she said with a smile, then shifted he hips slightly to remind him how she was straddling him. “We’ll get to that other part in a minute.” Her smug, canary-eating look came back to her face.
Patton made an effort to concentrate on the question. “Uh, you and Yvonne are quite different. Your auras, that is. Hers was mostly expansive, while yours is … orderly, I guess. Does that sound right?”
“Oh, my! You are learning quickly!” She squirmed her seat once again, overloading any rational thought processes that might be occurring in Patton’s brain. “Of course mine is more orderly.” She lowered herself back down and murmured in his ear. “I’ve had a hundred more years to work on it!”