A mist was gathering when he left St. Halistan’s and stepped out onto the sidewalk. October had arrived, and the offshore flow was once again driving overnight fogs and damps off the surface of the unsleeping ocean and into the dusky streets of Santa Piedra. Already Iglesia Street was completely obscured in gray at its seaward end, and an aura of gauzy drizzle danced and shimmered within the glow of the lamp above the church’s double oak doors.
His mind fully occupied with thoughts of John Dee, Edward Kelly, and the first few letters of the Enochian alphabet, Morgan picked his way across the sidewalk to the curb, carefully avoiding the yawning cracks, gaps, and holes that remained from last May’s catastrophe. Clean-up and repair were well underway, but George said it would be at least a year before things got back to normal around St. Halistan’s. It could be tricky finding a path through the rubble, and the mist and darkness only made things worse.
Above the converging murk loomed the ruined stump of the tower, its misshapen bulk standing up black against the night sky like a headless stone giant. Glancing at it over his shoulder, Morgan felt again the heart-thumping panic of his desperate flight from the relentless Fomorian, Falor son of Balor. This awful memory quickly gave way to others, as images of the battle—that terrible, never-to-be-forgotten night of storm and earthquake—went flitting through his brain in rapid succession. He shivered as a picture of Simon Brach, hurtling down from a great height through the slanting rain, flashed across his mind’s eye. That’s when he heard a footstep.
Instantly he spun around. Except for scattered rocks and debris, the sidewalk was empty. Who could possibly be out here at this time of night? he wondered.
Tightly gripping his books under his arm, he backed slowly towards the street, narrowly scanning the thickening gloom and the dim shadows playing over the rough surface of the crumbled wall. Wisps of white mist curled around his head, damping the night sounds and imposing an eerie silence upon the scene. A puff of wind sent a few dead leaves skittering across the pavement. From behind him came a tiny noise like the snapping of a dry twig. He wheeled, banged his knee against a plastic barrier cone, got tangled in a strip of yellow caution-tape—and fell.
When he came to himself, he was lying on his back atop a pile of cold, damp earth and stones with a sharp piece of rock jabbing him painfully between the ribs. With a groan, he rolled over onto his side, yanked the rock out from under him, and flung it aside. Then, brushing the hair from his eyes, he raised himself on one elbow and looked up to where a fuzzy circle of light showed faintly above a wall of impenetrable blackness.
So that’s how it is, he thought. He was at the bottom of a deep pit, and from what he could see, its top margin stood about three or four feet above his head. Gathering his books, he struggled to his feet, raised himself on tiptoe, and stretched his right hand up towards the ledge. It lay just beyond his reach.
“Here—take my hand,” said a voice out of the mist.
Morgan started and turned with a jerk. Someone was looking down at him from above the ledge on the street side of the pit, nodding encouragingly and extending a hand in his direction. The light of the church lamp shone full on the face of this beckoning individual, and even through the rapidly congealing fog Morgan could see exactly who it was. Baxter Knowles.
“Come on, Izaak!” coaxed Baxter. “What are you waiting for? You want to spend the whole night down there?”
“Um—no,” Morgan stammered, scrambling awkwardly over the slag to the other side of the pit. “Here—you’ll have to take my books first.”
“Fine. Got ‘em. Okay, here’s my hand. You got it? All right. One—two—three—up we go!”
A moment later he was standing on the pavement, brushing sand and pebbles from his jeans and sweatshirt, stealing furtive glances at Baxter’s ruddy face out of the corner of his eye. “Thanks,” he muttered from behind his hand as he wiped a blob of wet dirt from his nose.
“No problem,” said Baxter, bowing slightly and standing aside to let Morgan pass. “And remember, one good turn deserves another.”
Morgan stopped and stared into his face. “I don’t get it,” he said.
“Don’t get what?” Baxter’s eyes opened wide with astonishment.
“What this is all about.”
“What what is all about?’
“Why are you being nice to me?”
Baxter shrugged. “I don’t see anything nice about it. Wouldn’t you have helped me if I was down there?”
“That’s not the point. You’ve always despised me. You’ve done everything you could to make my life miserable. Up till this week.”
“Look, Izaak, that’s all in the past, okay?”
“Not really. Not for me. What are you up to anyway? Why did you stop those guys from picking on me the other day?”
“I’ve changed my ways. I’ve turned over a new leaf.”
Morgan thought of the dark-haired boy on the football field. “I don’t believe you,” he said.
Baxter looked hurt. “That’s an unkind thing to say. I stood up for you. Is that a crime? I scratch your back, you scratch mine. That’s how I look at it.”
“But why? You still haven’t told me why.”
“Don’t you know?” Baxter glanced up at the ruined church tower with a significant nod. “I’ve seen what you can do, Izaak. My views have changed. I want to be on your team now. Is that such a bad thing?”
Morgan looked away. “That all depends.”
“Listen, I helped you out. Maybe you can help me one of these days. Could you deny that to a friend?”
“No,” murmured Morgan. “Not to a friend.”
There was a silence as the fog thickened around them. Morgan was the first to break it.
“It’s late,” he said—“really late. I gotta go. Thanks again.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Baxter. “So see you later, huh?”
“I suppose so.” Morgan hiked his books up under his arm and walked off across the street towards the duplex.
“At school,” Baxter called after him as he mounted the porch steps. “And at dinner next week.”
Morgan winced as he reached for the door.