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Old 03-28-2016, 03:15 PM   #1
Marlow
 
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Default The Case of the Perilous Potluck - by Marlow

~BBW, ~~WG, Intrigue, Magic - The forgotten first case of the midwest's most famous hard-boiled, hard-drinking, and soft-bellied occult detective—and her appetite


Author's note: There's just something about the highway towns in Indiana.



The Case of the Perilous Potluck

from the Ashling Files

by Marlow





Chapter 1


Rain trickled down the windows of the all-night diner. Outside, a pair of headlights turned onto the old highway and swept away into the night. The diner’s lone customer craned her neck, frowning at the storm.

Turning back to her coffee mug, she shifted in her seat and tugged at her belt with a wincing grunt. Her gun holster was digging into the roll of pudge around her midsection.

“Everything alright, deputy?” asked the old woman behind the counter.

“All good,” the young police officer replied, forcing a smile. “Just getting used to the uniform again. I think I, uh, put on a few pounds while I was on leave.”

“Wouldn’t be a vacation if you couldn’t indulge a little, dear.”

“Injury leave, not vacation. I spent most of it in a cast.”

The server sucked her teeth. “Oh, that’s right. And now they’ve got you on the graveyard shift again your first week back…you make somebody angry?”

The deputy sipped at her coffee. “Nah, I’m just the youngest and newest.”

“Well, I for one don’t mind some company here in the witching hour.” The old woman folded her arms across her apron. “You want some doughnuts for the road? Best in the state.”

Roxie looked down at the bakery case and took a deep breath. “I really shouldn’t. They do look amazing…maybe next time.” She tore her eyes away and tried to ignore how her mouth watered. “Definitely need a caffeine refill, though.”

The drizzle had grown to a full-on shower by the time the deputy shuffled out of the diner. She tugged on her wide-brimmed hat with a sigh and played a little more with her uniform top. The grey-brown fabric refused to cooperate with the muffin-top she’d developed. To be fair, it was dealing with more than the few pounds she’d added on leave. Half a year sitting idle in a patrol car had not been kind to her once athletic figure.

Half an hour later, she was sitting idle in her patrol car once again, staring through the rain at a roadside billboard. It showed the skyline of a big city, full of light and activity. A couple of tourists were superimposed over one side, laughing and enjoying the magic of cosmopolitan nightlife. Behind the billboard there was nothing but farmland and highway.

Roxie adjusted her mirrors and rapped her fingers on the steering wheel, pushing herself back from it and blowing out a long breath. She came back to the billboard every night, and every night the city on the billboard seemed further away.

She sipped at her coffee and scolded herself for even considering the doughnuts. The tourists on the billboard continued laughing at her.

Across the county, a parcel of bar patrons laughed at their bartender’s joke. They slapped their knees and tipped their trucker hats to him. Most of the remaining customers had gathered around him at the bar; it seemed they’d rather be there than anywhere near the strange woman who sat at the corner table.

She was a petite woman and hauntingly gorgeous, but she had a grim countenance and her lithe little body was scantily wrapped in forbidding black leather. Heavy eyeshadow, black lipstick, and black fingernails hadn’t made her any more inviting in a bar full of good-old boys and all but the waitress had steered clear. A menacing snake tattoo guarded her left hip, watching them.

It was clear, too, that she wasn’t there to make friends. She’d only ordered club soda and had spent the past hour ignoring it, instead digging through the bulky tote bag she carried. The patrons eventually elected to ignore her, until just after midnight she took a call on her cell phone, nodded solemnly, and hurried out the door.

They watched her go, paying particular attention to her tight butt in that short leather skirt. They only made out a little of her phone conversation: “Renaeville?” she asked. “The same symbol? I’m on my way.”

She disappeared into the driver’s seat of an old cargo van and trundled away. The bar patrons stared, frowned, and turned back to their beers.

Roxie’s radio crackled. Dispatch was calling. She set her coffee down and picked up the receiver. “Deputy Page here; go ahead.”

“Heya, Roxie,” the voice buzzed. “Got a call from a trucker stopped over in Renaeville. Possible robbery at Bill’s Fuel Stop.”

Roxie grimaced. “That the travel plaza just over the bridge?”

“That’s the one. Don’t have much else to give you, though. Trucker mentioned some graffiti at the scene but hasn’t seen anyone. We tried to call up the owner, but no luck yet.”

“Got it. On my way.”

“Roger. And be careful out there. Rain’s only gonna get worse.”

“Great.”

“At least you get something interesting on your first week back, huh?”

Roxie squinted through the rain. “I suppose. But why Renaeville? Place creeps me out.”

The orange glow of the half-lit billboard faded away behind her. The highway curved through the woods and down into the darkness of the valley. Normally Roxie could look out and see the hills of Kentucky across the river, but through the midnight rain she could barely see the road before her.

Renaeville was tucked away at the edge of the county, as though other area towns didn’t want to be associated with it. It nestled up against a thickly forested hill, bounded on one side by the Ohio River and by a tributary stream on the other. The town center was accessible only by an old bridge that connected up to the highway.

Its only real offerings were a pair of truck stops, a roadside motel, a quaint shop-lined ‘main street,’ and a food-mart that seemed far too large to serve what had to be a tiny population. The residents, from what Roxie had seen in previous visits, mostly lived scattered along the creek or up the slope of the hill, their homes hidden in the trees.


The highway was empty the whole way there, uncomfortably dark until she reached the trio of streetlights that marked Renaeville’s exit. Roxie eased onto the offramp and around the loop toward the bridge. The patrol car lurched as it rumbled across and she grunted as her plush midsection bounced against the seatbelt.

“That is it,” she decided. “Roxie, you are not allowed to get any bigger.” She shook her head and glanced out the window, over the side of the bridge. “Wow. Speaking of swollen…”

The creek was much higher than she remembered, churning above its usual banks and beginning to lap up against the bottom of the bridge.

“Didn’t realize we’d had that much rain. Better, uh, make this quick.”

The bridge let her out at a cross-street. Off to the left side waited the travel plaza, a lone semi-truck in its parking lot. Roxie flicked on her flashing lights and coasted toward the front door.

She stared at the shop from inside her car for a minute, wringing her hands. Eventually she pulled on her hat, wrapped a poncho over her shoulders, and stepped out into the rain.

“Hey,” came a gruff voice behind her.

She turned, hand feeling under the poncho for her weapon. The man froze mid-step.

He was a tall, broad figure with a barrel for a chest and a keg for a stomach. He wore a denim vest over a flannel shirt, a pointy black beard, and a nervous smile. “Hi, there. I’m Dag...the, uh, the guy who called.”

Roxie deflated. “Yeah, hi. Right.” She reached out to shake his hand and cringed as he crushed hers. “Deputy Page. But just call me Roxie. So…er, walk me through it, Dag.”

He nodded and stepped under the shop’s awning. “Well, hm, I rolled in about forty minutes ago or so. Sign at the exit said they were open all night—hard to find down here. I get here and all the lights are on, but when I go inside to give ‘em my number…” He scratched his beard. “Nobody’s there, of course, and then I see the, um, the mess.”

Roxie nodded, looking away. Seeing his huge gut made hers tighten. “Nobody else in the lot when you got here?”

“Mm, nope,” he said, furrowing his brow. “All empty. That’s my truck, there.” He jerked a thumb at the semi. A mural along the trailer read ‘Amluth Frozen Foods’ in an attempt at classy Italian lettering.

“Okay. Let’s have a look inside, then.” She pulled open the shop door and shuffled inside.

It hadn’t been the most modern of travel plazas, its décor a dingy yellow and its signs mostly faded, but it had been well-stocked. Four separate aisles stretched toward a row of refrigerators at the back. Much of what had been on the shelves, however, could now be found on the floor: each aisle was cluttered with opened packages, ripped wrappers, and popped lids. The floor before the refrigerators was littered with empty bottles, speckled with shards of shattered glass, and sticky with a mixture of spilled beverages.

Roxie checked down each aisle, toured the similarly ransacked stockroom, and kicked open the doors of both restrooms. Nobody was home. Footprints in the various powders and liquids suggested more than one person, but they were overlapped with one another and at bizarre angles to any actual walking paths.

Making her way toward the counter, she slipped on a pile of candy wrappers. Dag’s large hands caught her before she hit the floor and hefted her back onto her feet.

“Thanks, sorry,” she coughed, straightening her uniform. Her muffin-top was trying to peek out the side.

The trucker nodded. “Figure I gotta help out somehow.”

“You called it in.” Stepping more carefully, she slunk around behind the counter. She flipped through a notebook next to the register, frowned, and then punched open the register itself. The drawer shot out into her stomach. “I’d say you’ve already…hrmm.”

Dag raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”

She adjusted her hat, staring at the register drawer. “It’s full of money.”

“What?”

“Yeah. And it’s not like our burglars couldn’t figure out how to open it…I hit one button.” She glared around the shop. “You know…it looks like they left all the actual valuables. The electronics are all there, the tools are all there, the medicine’s all there, and the money’s all here.”

“So they only took…food?”

“Seems that way. And I’d say they took as much as they could.”

Dag folded his thick arms. “Must have been hungry.”

A rumble in Roxie’s stomach agreed. Shushing it, she bent down to look under the counter. An alarm switch hung below the register. It hadn’t been triggered.

“I wonder if they’ve got a camera.” She looked up and froze, staring at the ceiling. “Ah. Well, that’s new.”

“Yeah, I mentioned that to the dispatcher,” the trucker grunted, following her gaze. “I don’t know much about paint, but that looks pretty fresh to me.”

The ceiling was decorated from wall to wall with a giant seven-pointed star, painted in bright, glistening orange. Between each point of the heptagram was an elaborate sigil, each a different arrangement of circles and interwoven strands, seemingly at different stages of entanglement. At the center of the star a jeweled knife had been stabbed into the ceiling tile.

Lightning flashed outside. Roxie glanced out the shop window. Silhouetted under the streetlamps, a hooded figure stared back at her.

“I should’ve stayed on leave,” she murmured.
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Old 03-28-2016, 03:45 PM   #2
JimBob
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Yaaaaasssssss!

So good to see you back writing again...
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Old 03-28-2016, 07:54 PM   #3
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Ooh another marlow story! I loved the last one..i am excited!
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Old 03-29-2016, 03:28 PM   #4
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The master returns!
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Old 03-29-2016, 06:08 PM   #5
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Thanks all! Excited to get things rolling again. Back to our stranger in the rain:


Chapter 2

Roxie pushed the shop door open and poked her head out. “Station’s closed, sorry,” she shouted over the storm. “There’s been a break-in.”

“I know,” replied the stranger. “And I hear somebody left you some artwork.”

Roxie raised an eyebrow. “How’s that?”

“Somebody’s been leaving little paintings all over the Ohio valley, making their way west along the river. I’ve been following them since Louisville.” It was a woman’s voice, husky but firm, with a muted Kentucky twang. “Got a tip that mentioned some weird graffiti here and reckoned I’d make the drive over. Mind if I take a look?”

“I’m afraid it’s a closed crime scene. If you want, you can give me your number and I’ll let you know when we disclose any public—”

“Is it a seven-pointed star?” the stranger called.

Roxie hesitated, pursing her lips.

A gloved hand traced a circle in the air. “Ugly-looking sigils between each point? Orange paint?” She spread her palms. “Look, officer, I’m on your side. Here to help. Let me in out of this rain and I’ll explain what I can.”

Thunder rumbled overhead. Roxie cocked her head and held the door open. The stranger hurried inside.

The hood proved to part of a full-on cloak, streaming with rain. The woman ripped it off and slung it over the nearby counter with a relieved huff.

She was a petite woman about Roxie’s age, with blue eyes, faint freckles, and a great deal of curly, uncooperative strawberry-blonde hair. There her colorfulness ended, however. Her lipstick was black, her leather jacket was black, her skirt was black, her fishnet tights were black, her fingerless gloves were black, and her knee-high boots were black. A handful of faded black tattoos spread across her chest and midriff, uncovered by a short grey tube-top. Silver charms jangled from a necklace and a pair of bracelets.

It was, on the whole, an ensemble Roxie had not yet seen in rural Indiana. The trucker, leaning against a shelf, gave the lithe newcomer a fascinated stare.

The woman craned her head up and gaped at the ceiling. “I’ll be damned,” she laughed, tugging a notepad from her pocket. “Y’all got the full course meal.”

Roxie cleared her throat. The woman turned with a grin.

“Right. Sorry,” she coughed, closing the notepad. “I’m Hesper Ashling. I, well, I study the occult.”

“Sweet,” grunted Dag.

“Occult? You think this robbery is...cult-related?” Roxie sighed, removing her hat. “I suppose they did steal the kool-aid.”

Hesper frowned. “Well, sort of. But not the kind of cult you’re thinking of. These folks here would be more into three-headed goat demons and blood curses and that sort of horseshit.”

“Sweet,” grunted Dag.

Roxie took a deep breath. “And you know something about that sort of horseshit, I take it?”

“I’ve been practicing magic since I was seven,” Hesper replied with a flourish, her charms jingling. “I’m a detective, actually, on assignment from the Arcane Council.”

“Wow. Well, alright, then. Go ahead and take a look, I guess. Just...try not to touch anything.” She gestured vaguely at the cluttered aisles. “Evidence.”

Hesper cracked her knuckles. “Got it. I’m just gonna get my tools from the car.”

“Magic,” Roxie muttered under her breath. “I’ll see if I can get in touch with anybody involved here. Dag, thank you for calling this in…I’m sure you have to get back on the road.”

The trucker shrugged. “Was hoping to stick around for some excitement, though,” he chuckled.

“Hate to disappoint, but I’m willing to bet this is just some idiot pranksters who watch too many scary movies.” She slid back behind the counter and began opening cabinets. “We don’t really do ‘excitement’ around here. Although this 'magic detective'...that's definitely a new one."


"You sound a little skeptical."


She nodded. "I'm a lot skeptical. But if she can give us any info on the graffiti or the group behind it, I suppose that might help."


“Gotcha. Well, there's a truckload of frozen pizzas outside that probably isn’t going to deliver itself. Take care, deputy.”

“Drive safe.”

The door chimed. Dag and Hesper mumbled polite greetings as they shuffled past each other. Another peal of thunder, much louder and closer, rattled the building.

Finding nothing in the cabinets, Roxie headed into the stockroom. She had to kick her way through the layer of detritus to cross the room, but against the far wall she found a desk with a duty roster and an employee logbook.

“That’s more like it,” she whispered, leafing through. “So, who's our lucky clerk tonight and why weren’t you at the counter to hit the alarm?”

The graveyard shift belonged to a ‘Leila Jones’, who had clocked in on time. She had marked off the first few items on her nightly checklist, but the rest of the log was blank. Roxie flipped to the duty roster and pulled out a page of contact information.

Tucking this under her arm, she stepped carefully out of the stockroom and headed back toward the counter. In the center aisle of the shop, Hesper was bent over a small wooden stool, butt swaying, humming to herself and opening a package of plastic cups. Roxie paused for a moment.

“So, magic?” she asked, trying not to sound too patronizing. “Like, for real?”

“Mm-hmm,” Hesper replied. “Don’t tell anyone, though. The council likes to keep this sort of business pretty quiet.”

Roxie nodded and turned away. “Yeah, I’ll probably keep it out of the report.”

A row of photographs was tacked behind the register, showing the friendly faces of the shop’s half-dozen employees. Roxie found Leila Jones’ picture at the end of the row: she was a sallow, boney girl of about twenty with a flat curtain of dark hair. The oversized orange polo she wore in the photo made her look inhumanly slender.

“Hey, officer,” Hesper called from her aisle, “y’all mind if I turn out the lights for a minute or two?”

Roxie rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Uh, maybe not right this second. Sorry...still looking around.”

“No problem. I can wait.” Her head popped up behind a shelf. “Find anything?”

“Phone numbers. I need to get in touch with the owner and then try to track down our absentee clerk.” She pulled the picture from the wall. “Is that graffiti gonna tell me anything useful?”

“It’ll tell us something, I reckon. This here is a new design…never seen one quite like it.”

Roxie located an old telephone and grabbed the receiver. “That a bad thing?”

“Not sure yet.” Hesper turned and gestured up at the sigils. “The sigils are usually partly iconic. Most of the time they’re talking about power, or killing, or immortality, or sometimes sex and stuff.”

“And these?”

“Something about…consumption. Hunger?” Her hands waved vaguely. “Ravenous hunger.”

Roxie’s stomach gurgled. She tugged at her belt and began dialing the first number on her list. “This town always finds a way to creep me out.”

She clamped the phone between her ear and her shoulder and fumbled for a pen. She paused for a moment, set the pen down, and dialed again.

Hesper stepped out from behind the shelf. “What is it?”

“Think the line’s dead,” she muttered. “Maybe they cut it.” She pulled out her cellphone and dialed the owner’s number again. “I’m gonna check the lines out back. These folks may—”

The cellphone gave her an apologetic bleep. There was no service. Roxie turned to Hesper, who promptly pulled out her own phone; it had no service either.

“Must be the storm,” Roxie wondered. She shoved her hat onto her head and bustled outside.

The radio in her patrol car gave her nothing. She called out on every available channel, but got only static in reply.

She slammed the door shut and stood a moment in the rain. It seemed darker now; looking around, she realized that the lights in the store were out.

“I can’t believe you invited a civilian into a crime scene, Roxie,” she murmured, shivering. “Now she's turned off the lights. Why would she need the lights out to cross-reference graffiti?”

Something caught her eye across the parking lot. Behind the fuel pumps, barely discernable against the treeline, a shape shifted in the shadows.

Roxie squinted through the rain. It might have been something loose, flapping in the wind, or it might have been a figure, hunched over and staring back at her. She studied the shape, opening and closing her mouth a few times, trying to decide whether she should call out. After half a minute she became aware of a painful tightness in her stomach; it was an emptiness, as though she’d eaten nothing all day.

An engine roared behind her and she whirled around. Dag’s truck grumbled its way back into the parking lot, the giant pizza advertisement on its trailer looking greasy and delicious.

Catching her breath, Roxie glanced back toward the woods. Whatever she’d been looking at was gone, if it had been anything more than a shadow in the branches. The emptiness in her gut remained, though, and she pressed a shaking hand to her side.

Dag rolled down his window. “There another way out of here?” he shouted.

Roxie pulled her poncho tighter and shuffled over. “What’s that?”

“That bridge to the highway is underwater. Can barely see the railings. Is there another road out of town?”

She rubbed her temples. "Aw, hell..."
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Old 03-30-2016, 02:24 PM   #6
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The pic sums up my feelings about this
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Old 03-30-2016, 03:30 PM   #7
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This is definately going in the right direction, but it could certain use some more stomach description, stomach focus, and maybe even the main character thinking about her own weight, it's not just a number
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Old 03-31-2016, 07:03 PM   #8
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Chapter 3

Hesper peeked out from the shelves as Roxie and Dag trudged back in. “Back already?” she asked the trucker.

Roxie shook off her poncho and hung it on a nearby rack. The motion untucked part of her shirt and she hurried to replace it before anyone could see her doughy midsection.

Dag merely folded his arms, as though it hadn’t occurred to him that he’d gotten wet.

“Creek flooded over the bridge,” he grumbled. “And apparently that road’s the only way out of town.”

The deputy rifled through papers on the counter. “The only through road, at least. I’m still learning this part of the county. There might be an old farm road or something up from the hill…just need to find a map.” She sighed and looked up. “Hesper, can we get the lights—is…is that thing glowing?”

“Yep,” she replied. Overhead, the heptagram and the surrounding scribbles glowed faintly against the dark ceiling tiles.

Roxie furrowed her brow. “What kind of vandals use glow-in-the-dark paint?”

“Deputy, I know y’all are looking for a map, but if you’ll indulge me for thirty more seconds, my test is almost ready.” She turned back into her aisles.

“Test?” Roxie echoed, following her. “Are you gonna trace the paint or something?”

Hesper crouched down under the center of the star. Next to her stood the stool she’d brought in.

“I don’t think that’s a chemistry set,” said Dag, appearing behind Roxie.

Atop the stool Hesper had arranged a henge of dominoes. The little white monoliths all faced inward, circled around a small drinking glass. Varying lengths of ribbon, weighted in place by the dominoes, draped down over the edge of the seat. A twenty-sided die was tied to each hanging end.

Hesper reached into her tote bag and extracted a long black bottle. She twisted off the cap and solemnly filled the glass. “And now,” she mused, “we see if it’s got anything to say.”

Roxie’s face fell. "Wonderful." She turned to the trucker. “Your CB working?”

“Not a peep,” he grunted, shaking his head.

“Same here. No cell service, either, and the store’s landline is dead.”

Dag frowned and checked his own phone. It had nothing to offer, either.

“It’s probably an aura of isolation,” Hesper suggested, returning the bottle to her bag. “Somebody’s casting spells tonight and doesn’t want outside interference.”

Roxie blew out a long breath. “…or it’s the storm.”

Hesper looked at Dag, who shrugged. She craned her head to the ceiling and whispered, “Reveal the name.”

Lightning flashed outside, startlingly close. The roll of thunder shook the building, rattling the thin walls and knocking several of the dominoes from the stool. The ribbons they held fell with them and the dice clattered across the floor.

“See?” she scoffed, reaching out and picking up the shot glass. “Something’s in the air tonight.”

“Yep,” Roxie replied, turning. “It’s called a storm. I’m turning on the lights now.”

Hesper threw her head back and drained the glass. She coughed violently for a moment, wagged her head around, and then knelt down over the fallen dice and dominoes. Her notepad reappeared, ready to record the results.

As soon as the lights had flickered back on, Roxie located the town map taped to the countertop. “Hey, Dag, here you go,” she called, waving him over.

The bridge was the only direct route back to the highway, but to the west, where the grid gave way to the green blob of the forest, a few thin scribbles stretched out away from town.

“There’s an old park road here,” she said, tracing it. “You can get there off the square…looks like it heads straight up the hill past that motel and then off towards the north. Meets up with County Road 7 on the other side…and that should find the interstate around the county line.”

The trucker stared at it for a few moments, scratching his beard, then nodded. “Suppose I’ll give it a shot. Thanks, deputy.”

She tipped the brim of her hat. “My pleasure, sir.”

“Let me know if you ever want some heat-and-eat pizza,” he mumbled, pushing the door open. “I got plenty.”

Roxie nodded. “Drive safe, now.” Their eyes locked for a long moment. They exchanged awkward smiles, then turned away from one another.

Once the semi-truck had lurched its way out of the parking lot, she turned back to the counter. She folded up the contact list and tucked it into her pocket with the photo of Leila Jones.

She tried the phone one more time. Meeting only silence, she slumped down and banged her head against the counter.

“Officer,” coughed a voice behind her. Hesper had emerged from the aisle, her stuffed tote bag in one hand and the stool in the other.

“You can just call me Roxie,” she sighed, keeping her head down. It occurred to her that her hands were shaking.

“Alright. Well, Roxie, I’m about done here. What’s your plan?”

Roxie spread her palms. “I…I’m not sure. I think I need a few minutes to just sit down and think about the situation.”

“Always a good idea. And good timing—I’ll need to sit somewhere a while and decode my, uh, dominoes and such.” She looked out the window and nodded. “Look, I don’t know about you…it might just be all the empty wrappers and whatnot here, but I’m starving.”

Roxie lifted her head. “Yeah, me too.” She folded her arms. “…somehow. Uh, well, there’s a fast food place on Main Street, across from the motel. Drive-thru’s usually open all night for the truckers.”

Hesper grabbed her cloak. “So let’s grab a bite. You look like you could use a bite.” The tube top rode up as she stretched the cloak over her shoulders, showing off a flat, smooth abdomen. The snake tattoo slithered around her left hip, above a loose-fitting belt.

The pudge sagging over Roxie’s much tighter belt made her hesitate, but the pang of hunger beneath that pudge won out. “Yeah, I could use a bite.” She straightened up and reached for her keys. “Here, just ride with me. No sense taking two cars.”

The drive-thru attendant was a grouchy, impatient man. He seemed offended by the idea that he should be called upon to do any work at all and became especially annoyed when his indecisive customers asked for multiples of items with extra sauces and toppings and accouterments. At length he produced four grease-soaked paper bags with two supersized cups and slammed his little window shut.

Roxie parked the patrol car just off the main square. Unbuckling, she twisted in her seat to help Hesper open the bags and distribute their burgers, fries, onion rings, nuggets, and beverages.

“Sorry for the confusion,” Hesper droned. “As soon as we pulled up to the window I realized I had no idea what I wanted. But I wanted a lot of it. Which is weird…I try to avoid junk food at all costs. I’ve cut almost all the unnecessary sugar out of my diet.” She unwrapped her burger on the dashboard, taking care not to spill the fry carton in her lap. “Just had some cravings tonight, I guess.”

“I had the same feeling,” sighed Roxie, who hadn’t been able to cut much of anything from her diet. “I got way too much, though…these night shifts really mess with my appetite.”

Hesper chomped into the burger. “You been on ‘em a while?”

“Not really,” Roxie laughed, reaching for her pop. “I’ve only been in the department maybe four months. And I spent most of this last month on injury leave…had an accident.”

“Sorry to hear. I take it you’re not from down here originally?”

She took a moment to swallow before answering. “Up north. This is my first assignment, actually. Thought I’d be a badass city detective, you know: chase down bad guys, kick open doors, whatever. I was in the best shape of my life and ready to beat the shit out of some crime.” She shook her head. “But then I got posted down here. Now I’m a hundred and seventy pounds and just sit on my ass all night in Indiana’s least interesting county.”

Hesper stifled a burp. “Oof, I inhaled that burger…hungrier than I thought. Least interesting county, huh?”

“Without question. I’ll bet you anything this burglary is just bored kids playing a prank on the shopkeeper. Wouldn’t even be surprised if this ‘Leila’ girl was in on it.” She crumpled up the wrapper. “Sorry for rambling. I don’t usually have someone to talk to out here. And this is all giving me the creeps.”

“Hey, not a problem. Chatting’s a nice change of pace. Most of the time people just turn me away when I tell them about my work.” Hesper chuckled and dug into her fries. “I know you don’t believe in what I’m working with, but I appreciate you letting me try. I get that ‘magic’ ain’t standard police methodology.”

“Well, I figure you’ve probably been doing what you do a lot longer than I’ve been doing what I do.” She gazed out through the rain. “And hell, until the phones start working or the bridge opens, I’m the only cop on this side of the creek…so if you’re willing to help, consider yourself deputized.”

“Ooh, fancy. You probably shouldn’t have let the trucker leave, then…we could have deputized his big ol’ muscles.”

Roxie blushed. She moved to change the subject, but belched instead.


“Dammit, I knew I shoulda just waited it out,” Dag muttered, shifting gears.

The truck groaned in reply. The road up the wooded hill had become very steep very quickly and from the crunching sound under the tires it seemed that the pavement had given way to gravel. One of the wheels spun for a moment but soon caught just enough traction to carry on.

“Ooh, and it’s muddy gravel, too,” he growled. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel. “This was…not a good idea.”

After a few grinding minutes he checked his mirrors and swore. The lights of the motel were still clear and bright and the sign was close enough to read—he’d barely made it half a mile up the hill. Gritting his teeth, Dag shifted down to second gear.

Something dashed across the road in front of him. He slammed on the brakes and slid to a halt.

Dag squinted around, cursing whatever stupid animal or stupider person had jumped in front of a moving semi-truck. But his headlights, weak in the torrential downpour, showed nothing. He took a deep breath and shifted back into first.

The truck lurched and shuddered, but made no more headway. Below him he could hear the wheels spinning in the mud.

“Dammit, Dag.” Defeated, he dropped into reverse. But there was no traction there either.

He leaned over to peer out the side window, but his gut caught on the seatbelt. Swearing a little more, he unbuckled it and threw open the door.

The road below was barely gravel now. It was mostly thick black mud, with an entire storm worth of rainfall cascading downhill. Both sides of the truck’s cab were splattered with mud from the spinning wheels.

“Shoulda stayed with the cop,” he sighed, stepping down. “I mighta helped somehow.”

His foot found something slippery on the way down. He tumbled bodily from the cab, his head smacked into the wheel well, and his vision went black.
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Old 03-31-2016, 07:35 PM   #9
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This is definately going in the right direction, but it could certain use some more stomach description, stomach focus, and maybe even the main character thinking about her own weight, it's not just a number
Fear not! We burn slowly at first, but soon the acquisition of additional adipose and our attention to it shall accelerate appropriately!
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Old 04-04-2016, 07:46 AM   #10
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Chapter 4

Roxie slumped back against the carseat and belched. “Ugh, excuse me.”

On the other side of a pile of empty cartons, bags, and wrappers, Hesper’s head lolled as she pressed a hand to her midsection. “Ow ow oh, food baby. Ow.” Fit and trimmed as she was, it must have been an unusual sensation for her.

“Yeah, that might have been too much,” Roxie agreed, but tilted her head back to drain her large pop anyway. At least the eerie, deep hunger she’d been feeling had faded. Blowing out a long breath, she discreetly reached down to unfasten her belt, unbutton her trousers, and pull her waistband down a few inches. Everything she wore was feeling snug, fitting even tighter than when she’d put them on earlier that night.

She stared at the ceiling. Next to her, the half-dozing Hesper bounced with a tiny hiccup.

Roxie wrung her hands on a napkin. “So, magic,” she asked. “You’re telling me it’s real?”

“Sometimes,” Hesper murmured, eyes closed. “Sometimes it’s real but pretends it isn’t…and sometimes it isn’t real and pretends it is.” She shifted in her seat with a wince. “Magic is…kind of an asshole.”

“Uh huh. So how do you know?”

“Lots of trial and error, I reckon. But most of the time I just don’t bother to find out.” She paused for another hiccup. “No reason not to think everything in the world isn’t magic, you know? That way it’s a lot less scary when something finally is.”

Roxie looked sidelong at her, eyebrow raised. Hesper opened an eye.

“But you don’t believe, I assume,” she lilted, “as much as you’re trying to humor me.”

“Uh, no, I don’t. Yeah. Never had much to reason to believe in it, or much desire. My grandma used to tell us stories about all the places she went in her dreams…but I always felt better knowing they were just dreams. It’s nice to be able to wake up from things.”

Hesper eyed her. Roxie shrugged and turned back to the windshield. A silhouetted figure stared back at her, standing in the shadows across the street.

“Shit,” she hissed, straightening.

“What? Something out there?”

“I thought I saw someone back at the travel plaza. And now I’m definitely seeing someone here…”

She flicked on the headlights. The figure contorted and turned away, ducking her head under a long overcoat. She shuffled a few steps, knocking over a garbage can, and then scampered up the street.

Roxie started the car. “Did you see that?”

“Yep,” Hesper breathed, hurriedly buckling up. “Definitely suspicious. Those were some long arms…maybe she isn’t even human.”

The patrol car roared into motion, lights flashing. Roxie raced down the block, slowed at a cross-street, and turned on her spotlight. The hunched figure sprinted past the beam and hurled itself between a couple of houses.

Roxie looked ahead. There was another cross street at the end of the block. Beyond that lay a grassy clearing beneath the rise of the hill, where the woods closed in. She punched the gas and accelerated to the end of the road, screeching around the corner just as the figure emerged from between the houses and made her break for the trees.

“She’s pretty quick,” said Hesper, gripping the handle above her door.

The car bounced over the curb and lurched onto the grass. Fast food boxes fell everywhere as it rollicked back and forth over the uneven terrain. Roxie gritted her teeth as she felt her shirt untuck itself and her midriff jump free. They were getting dangerously close to the trees, but they were closing in on the fleeing woman. Roxie reached for her bullhorn.

The front of the car dropped a foot, diving into a deep rut. The car twisted sideways, wheels spinning in the muck, but slid to a pathetic stop.

Roxie picked her head up, blinking, and slammed her hand on the steering wheel.

Something moved in the shadows ahead. The fugitive hadn’t missed the rut, either, and was gingerly picking herself up out of the mud. Roxie threw off her hat, kicked open her door, and launched herself out of the car.

Her seatbelt caught her and yanked her back down by the gut. She unbuckled it and tried again.

“Stop right there!” she howled.

Her belt and waistband were still unfastened, however. Within a few steps her trousers were around her ankles and she went sprawling facefirst—and belly-first—into the mud. The strange woman scrambled off into the woods.

Groaning, Roxie flopped herself over and pulled her pants back up. “Hesper! Hesper, how about—”

“I’m on it!” she shouted. She didn’t move from her seat, but began digging in her tote bag.

Roxie stumbled to her feet and clamped her belt back together. Her uniform top was untucked and she could feel the night air on her exposed lovehandles, but there was no time. “Wh…what?”

“I’ll cast a quick spell and see if I can impede her somehow.” She began gesturing wildly. “Obstacle in path, turn her back,” she sang in a low voice. “Obstacle in path…”

Roxie shook her head. She pulled the belt tight and pounded her way toward the woods.

Dag’s eyes fluttered open. He sputtered and groaned, wondering why the world was sideways and sliding past him.

As his head collected itself, he sat up. The world was sliding away because the rain hadn’t lessened and the downhill runoff had grown into several trickling streams. The water wound its way back and forth down the hill, washing away mud and gravel where they’d piled up.

Something metallic moaned behind him. He turned over and bolted up. His truck was sliding, too: scraping ponderously back down the hill.

“No no no no no no,” he panted, hurrying over. “Come back, come back…”

“Come back here!” Roxie shouted. She clambered loudly up through the thicket, gasping for air. Months of sitting in a patrol car had not kept her in shape for a foot chase and her injury was not helping.

The hill began with a short rise. Up ahead, she could see a break in the slope where one of the local roads cut into the hill and right at its edge she could see the silhouetted woman.

She was writhing strangely, no longer running, and Roxie realized the woman's coat must have caught on something in the underbrush. She renewed her climb with a snarl. A pair of wide yellow eyes glanced back at her.

With a flurry, the fugitive extracted herself from the coat and scurried over the guardrail. Even in the shadows, it was clear that she was a slender, long-limbed woman.

Swearing and panting, Roxie flopped out onto the road just in time to see her disappear around a curve in the road.

Hands on her knees, Roxie doubled over and sucked wind. She gaped around stupidly, trying to get her bearings. Up ahead the road curved to head straight uphill; behind her it flattened out for a stretch next to the motel. The motel’s sign lit up the woods where she stood.

She straightened up and started to tuck in her shirt. Her pudge had to be repositioned as well after so much jostling and her overfull stomach reported its displeasure at the sudden strenuous activity. It added that it might forgive her though, if she would only give it a little more food.

"Shut up," she scolded it.

Quick footsteps made her look back up the road. The woman sprinted back into view, screeching in terror. Out of her coat and in the light, for a short moment, Roxie could see her more clearly. Glowing eyes flashed about. She was naked and her skin seemed to be a pale shade of red, somehow, with greenish splotches. She was in view just long enough for Roxie to see a small metal object fall from her hand.

“Stop,” Roxie wheezed. But the woman leapt into the bushes. Roxie pushed hair out of her eyes. “Now, why would you come…oh, shit.”

Dag’s semi-truck came sliding down the hill, twisting around as it went. Dag was halfway into his cab, hanging desperately from the steering wheel and trying to reach a foot to his pedals. The horn blared.

Roxie backed up a step, hands trembling. She tried to decide which way would be best to jump. At its sideways angle, the truck took up the width of the road.

Dag got a hand on the emergency brake and hauled up. The wheels skidded on the wet gravel and the truck turned further around, cab pointing into the trees. He released the brake, shifted into reverse, and ground the wheels back.

The truck slowed and veered around. It skidded past Roxie, bounced off the guardrail, and finally stopped. The halt was punctuated by the sound of breaking glass.

Roxie limped over. A low-hanging tree limb had poked its way into the cab, shattering the windshield.

Dag’s hand reached out through the broken glass and gave a little wave. “I’m alright,” his voice grunted.

She pulled his door open. He was slouched back in his seat, gut rising and falling with exhausted breaths. He gave her a half-hearted thumbs-up.

“So, deputy, I think I’ll just wait for the bridge to open again.” He scratched his beard. “Since I’ll be around…just, uh, let me know if I can help at all with the investigation.”

Roxie sighed and looked back up the road. In the red glow of the truck’s tail lights, she caught sight of whatever metal object the fugitive had dropped in the mud.

“Did y’all see those eyes?” Hesper shouted, running up. “Didn’t I tell you she…she…hoo, wow, I shouldn’t have had that last burger…”
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Old 04-04-2016, 08:26 AM   #11
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Question - since this is apparently a supernatural adventure, will we see our old friends from Minnesota making a consulting appearance?
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Old 04-05-2016, 07:23 AM   #12
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Question - since this is apparently a supernatural adventure, will we see our old friends from Minnesota making a consulting appearance?
The stories do seem to take place in the same universe, but Raleigh and company probably won't be making an appearance here. This is an early spring storm, so I'd say our friends up north still have their own mystery to solve at this point.



Chapter 5

They had to wake up the motel’s manager. The haggard old woman’s jaw dropped when she saw the muddy and bedraggled trio, but dutifully opened a room for them.

“Our laundry machine is at the end of the hall,” she offered. “I’ve got detergent if you need it.”

Dag gave her a polite smile. “Thanks, ma’am.”

“Anything else y’all need?”

“Any chance your phone’s working?” Roxie asked. Her hands were shaking again, but she tucked them out of sight.

“Mm, no, they’re down for us, too. Been down over an hour, now. I’m surprised we haven’t lost power.”

“Aura of isolation,” whispered Hesper.

Once the room was open, they set about removing Dag’s belongings from the cab of his truck. Rain was pouring in through the broken window and soaking his baggage. Behind the baggage he had some small furnishings, giving the cab a homey feel.

“Is that a scale?” Hesper scoffed, pulling out a square of plexiglass.

Dag nodded and gestured for her to pile it atop everything else he was carrying. “Yeah, been trying to eat healthier lately. I’ve put on a lot of weight since I started trucking.”

Roxie adjusted her waistband. “I know the feeling.” She no longer felt quite as bloated from her fast food binge, but the uniform still felt tighter than usual. And she was feeling hungry again.

They fell over each other getting into the hotel room, eager to be out of the eternal rain. They dumped Dag’s things in a corner and set about drying off.

Roxie stood silent for a moment before hurling her hat across the room and clutching her temples. She lowered herself onto the edge of one of the beds, taking deep, slow, but shaky breaths.

Dag slumped down next to her. “You alright?”

She took a deep breath. “I…I am so not ready for this.”

“What? Sure you are,” he stammered. He reached a hand up to pat her on the back, but retracted it. “I mean, you seem like a good cop to me.”

Hesper watched them from the small table in the corner. She had removed her jacket and boots and was unzipping her skirt.

“I let myself get too fat to run down a fleeing suspect,” Roxie murmured.

“She didn’t get away because you were fat,” Hesper chimed in, “she got away because she wasn’t human. Didn’t you see her skin was red? We could be dealing with something underworldly…netherworldly, even…"

Roxie grimaced.

“She was running from my tail lights,” Dag countered. He stood up and pulled off his jacket. “They’d turn anything red. Don’t let it bug you, deputy. This town isn’t that big. You’ll find this person.”

“Not sure I want to,” she admitted. “Just wish I could call this in. Get some backup.”

Hesper shook her head. “Not with this aura up. No one in; no one out.”

Dag slapped his jacket to the ground and spread his arms. “But you’ve got us.” He gave Roxie a big grin. “Come on, let’s get dried off and warmed up. You’ll feel better.”

Roxie nodded and started plucking at the buttons on her uniform. A pile of wet, muddy clothing gradually accumulated in the center of the room as the three of them stripped down to their underwear.

Dag was every bit as large as his outward countenance suggested. His broad torso was imposing even without the flannel armor protecting it, borne on a pair of tree-trunk legs whose width filled out his shorts. He must have been nearly three bills, but it seemed he was as muscular as he was fat. Every footfall was a floor-shaking stomp as he made his way around the room.

The only big thing about Hesper, however, was her hair. Wet as it was, it continued to bounce and flail around in bright curls as she bustled about in her corner. She had a petite, nubile frame and seemed more than comfortable flaunting it. A black thong outlined her tightly curved butt and a little black bra struggled to convince the world that she had cleavage. She hadn’t been kidding about the food baby, though—a freckled, distended gut poked out from her otherwise smooth, slender body.

Roxie gave it a furtive glance. Her own sense of post-feast fullness had dissipated so completely it seemed strange that Hesper should still be so bloated. Perhaps it was simply Hesper’s smaller frame, or perhaps it wasn’t a temporary food-baby, but some more permanent baby fat.

Roxie had plenty of that herself, though her body spread it around more evenly. In the mirror it sometimes looked just like her old academy body, only viewed in a bad, wider angled aspect ratio. There was also the utter lack of muscular definition, of course, and there was no missing the saggy triangle of flesh that wobbled mischievously where she’d once had abs.

She regretted becoming so lazy in so short a time. Every morning she toyed with starting up a conditioning routine, but it never happened. Her miserable attempt at a footchase tonight had not been an encouraging step, either. It seemed more certain than ever that she’d spend her days like Dag, sitting in a car and sucking down fast food, until she no longer fit in behind the wheel.

It occurred to her that she was staring at the trucker. He was staring back, too. Roxie blushed and turned away, heading to the bathroom for a towel. Dag coughed and bent down to open his suitcase.

“Looks like most of this is still dry,” he announced, tossing things onto the bed. “Feel free to grab a shirt or whatever.”

Hesper shrugged. She grabbed for her tote bag instead and cleared off a space at the table.

Dag pulled on a new shirt and headed for the door. “Alrighty. So, uh, I’ll go start the laundry. Then I think I’ll head down and find something to take over for my windshield, ha. Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Dag,” said Roxie, reappearing with a pile of towels.

He gestured toward the kitchenette. “Oh, and I brought up a couple of pizzas from the back of the truck. Thought maybe you’d want something in your stomach after all the excitement…usually settles my nerves. Anyway, uh, see you in a bit.”

Roxie and Hesper gave each other a look, aware of how much had already gone into their stomachs. Dag shuffled his massive form out the door.

Hesper slapped her notepad on the table. “So it sounds like my spell worked back there.”

“Was your spell a ‘pull an out of control semi down a slick incline’ spell?” Roxie sighed, pulling on one of Dag’s enormous tee shirts. It hung well below her waist and billowed around her quaggy thighs.

“You heard the evocation. Your fugitive was obstructed and turned around. Can’t get picky on the how.”

Roxie held a pair of khakhis up to her waist, but tossed them aside. “And then she got away. So I nearly wrecked my cruiser failing to chase down a stupid vandal.”

“But she dropped a clue for us,” Hesper reminded her.

They looked at the object they’d recovered: a long knife with a shining orange jewel at the hilt. It sat gleaming on the table.

Slumping into the other chair, Roxie poked at the knife’s hilt. It spun slowly, wobbling. “I’d say it’s the same as the one in the gas station’s ceiling.”

“So did they go back and get it out of the ceiling, or are they planning to murder more than one ceiling? Maybe she was on her way somewhere.”

“I think I’ll wait till the uniform’s dry before we go check.” The knife spun gradually to a stop, pointing toward the pizza boxes across the room. Roxie blew a raspberry and picked up a soggy, crumpled scrap of paper: the contact sheet from the travel plaza. “For now, I think we might have more luck with this. Phones may not be working, but if there’s a white pages here I should be able to find some addresses and make some visits…”

Hesper tapped her notepad. “Good thinking. You work on your numbers and I’ll work on mine.”

“The dominoes?” Roxie asked, standing.

“Uh-huh. Pretty basic augury. We’ll see if it gave me a name.” She reached into her bag. “First, though, an offering and gesture of reverence to the spirit world…”

She pulled out her glass and black bottle. Roxie cracked a tired smile.

“Want any?”

“I’m on duty.”

Hesper nodded, pouring. She capped the bottle and tucked it away. “It’s an offering, basically. A gesture. Spirits are all about courtesy. Protocol is everything…like the police, I suppose.”

“But do they have all the paperwork?” Roxie laughed. She lifted a phonebook from the bedside table. “Hey, um, I know we just had a pretty…substantial meal and all, but I’m kind feeling some of this pizza. Would you eat any if I heat one up?”

Hesper tapped her pencil to her lips, thinking. “Uh, yeah,” she admitted after a moment. “Could use something warm, definitely. Speaking of which…” She drained her glass, wincing.

“Cool. I’ll see if I can figure out this microwave. So is that supposed to be some kind of magic elixir of wisdom, then?”

Hesper dropped the glass back into the bag. “You could call it that. Back in Kentucky, though, we just call it bourbon.”

“Man, I could use a drink after this,” Dag grunted, wiping rain from his eyes.

He ripped off another strip of duct tape. Several black trash bags now covered what had once been his windshield, flapping in the wind and not keeping out as much rain as he had hoped. The tape didn’t stick well on the wet surfaces and Dag had used most of the roll already.

“Knew I shouldn’t have stopped here,” he grumbled.

He turned away from the windshield and stared out at the town for a moment.

The motel sat on a rise overlooking the main square, a small collection of shops and businesses huddled together in against the rain. Their windows were shuttered and their signs dark, but, squinting, Dag saw that one building’s back door was cracked open. Orange light streamed out.

Dag tiptoed to the edge of the parking lot and peered down the hill. As he watched, the cracked door swung open and a pair of cloaked figures slipped inside.
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Old 04-07-2016, 05:54 PM   #13
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Chapter 6

“I...L...T...A...Ilta,” Hesper mumbled through a mouthful of pizza. “I’ve seen that name. Where have I seen that name?” Holding the rest of the pizza slice between her teeth, she leaned over to rummage through her bag.

“What’s that?” asked Roxie. She was slouched against the headboard of one of the beds, half-asleep. The phone book lay open on her stomach.

Hesper pulled a heavy, leather-bound grimoire from her bag and opened it on the table. “Well, I finished translating my numbers and they gave me a name. It’s familiar, but I can’t…place it.”

Roxie stifled a belch. “You sound a little worried.”

“Idiot kids with too much curiosity only know the popular, media-friendly names. A hidden name like this, though…that’s a name that ain’t easy to know.” She finished her slice. “That worries me.”

“Are you sure your numbers were right? I mean, ‘Ilta’ just sounds like some random letters to me.”

Hesper shot her a look. “Numbers don’t lie. Especially when they’re pointing to demons.”

“Demons? You’re kidding me.”

“I wish. But the star, the sigils, the name, your naked red runaway friend…those are signs that all point straight down.” She poked a finger at the huge book. “Fortunately, I have the compendium. It’ll just take some time to pin down the domain…there isn’t really an index or anything in here.”

Roxie watched her flip through a few pages. “Right, then,” she grunted, sitting up, “I think I’ll check on the laundry. As soon as my uniform’s dry, I’m finding this ‘Leila Jones’ girl. Time to do some actual police work.” She slid off the bed and stood a moment, rubbing her gut. “Can’t let the case get cold…hm, can’t let the pizza get cold, eith…oh crap.”

Hesper glanced up from her book. “Oh crap what?”

“The pizza’s gone. We ate it.”

“Huh. Well, throw the other one in the oven for Dag. He’ll probably want some.”

“Hesper, we ate both of them.”

Hesper stiffened. A loud gurgle resounded from her stomach.

“On top of everything we already…ugh, how is that even possible?” Roxie gasped. “I get that I’m, you know, kinda chubby, but it’s not like my stomach’s big enough to—” She froze. Hesper was staring at her, eyebrow cocked. Roxie looked down at herself with dread.

The oversized tee shirt no longer billowed freely about her waist. Instead the bulge of a fat stomach poked against it from within. She had to play with the back of the shirt to get it to fall past her butt again, as though her waist and thighs had suddenly widened.

“Wow,” she breathed. “Really bloated.”

Hesper nodded toward Dag’s pile of stuff. “Try the scale.”

"What? It's not like--"

"Just...humor me."

Trembling, Roxie set the scale on the floor and stepped up. Hesper stood up from her chair to watch and, still clad only in her minimal undergarments, looked more than bloated herself. The food baby had a little heft to it now, swelling out to the sides as well as forward, and there was a new puffiness in her freckled cheeks. She adjusted her bra as she watched.

“One eighty-four?” Roxie yelped, incredulous. She backed off the scale and kicked at it. “There’s no way. Has to be off.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I’m one-seventy.” She looked at her thickened profile in the mirror and lifted the shirt over her undeniably larger belly. “I checked it yesterday.”

Hesper appeared in the mirror next to her, examining her own figure. She traced the snake tattoo above her hip; it definitely had a little more coil to it than before.

She hopped onto the scale. “One forty-four,” she announced, amazed. “Up from around one thirty.”

Roxie rubbed her eyes. “So it’s the scale. It’s just off by, like, ten or fifteen pounds.”

“Or we’ve both put on, like, ten or fifteen pounds.”

“In one night?”

Hesper gestured to the empty pizza boxes. “Between the pizza and the fast food and the dinner I had on the way into town, I’ve eaten more in the past couple hours than I ever have in a given day.”

Roxie turned back to the mirror. “But…fifteen pounds?”

“Numbers don’t lie. And look, I'm no happier about this than you are. I work hard for this figure."

“Oh, so this is magic weight gain, you’re saying.”

“Well, it has to be.” Hesper belched, then hurried back to the table. “We already agreed there’s an aura of isolation up over the town…”

“We did not agree on that.”

“…so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think whoever managed one aura could manage another one. Some kind of…I don’t know…eating aura?”

“Aura of bloating?” Roxie scoffed, shaking her head.

“This ain’t a joke, deputy,” Hesper sighed, pooching her belly out. “Maybe you’ve let yourself go, but I take my fitness very seriously.” She drummed her fingers on the table. “I don’t binge. I don’t bloat. Something is going on. Someone’s up to something.”

Roxie squeezed her eyes shut and tried to shrug off Hesper’s comment. “But why? What could someone possibly gain from…okay, bad phrasing there…”

Eyes wide, Hesper hauled her book across the table and cracked it open to a new section, deep into the tome. “Wait. It can’t be,” she muttered. “There’s no way.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” murmured Roxie. She rocked with a long belch and massaged her overfull stomach. “Damn. Alright, I’m gonna go check on the laundry. At this rate, if I sit around any longer I’ll probably end up eating the furniture…”

Hesper didn’t respond, her nose buried in the book. Roxie closed the door behind her and padded down the hall, groaning at how her flesh bounced with each step. She had to tug the shirt back down over her butt a few times and after trouncing down the stairs she was looking forward to having a bra on again.

“Just great,” she grumbled. “Now it’s demons. I’m gonna come back upstairs and she’ll be telling me about aliens…”

She did what she could to compose herself before crossing the lobby, conscious that there was no real way to make her ensemble look professional. Fortunately the clerk wasn’t there to raise an eyebrow at her.

“Probably went back to bed,” Roxie reminded herself. But the light in the office was still on and the door hung wide open. The front desk just didn’t look as closed as it had when they’d first showed up.

The laundry room was at the end of the hall, as promised. The dryer was finishing up as she shuffled in, shaking and banging as only the oldest dryers can. Roxie rocked back and forth her feet, glancing around and trying to make something manageable out of her rain-mussed hair.

Across the hall from the laundry room, a glass door let out to the dark end of the parking lot. Rivulets of water streamed down, slithering and streaking through Roxie’s reflection.

The machine buzzed. She choked and started, half-turning in panic. But silence followed; she shook her head and took a deep breath, letting her heart rate settle. The flash of adrenaline faded quickly and she realized, in angry confusion, that her stomach no longer felt full.

She glared down at it—the fat little thing almost felt hungry again. The feeling grew and soon she couldn’t deny that despite her indulgent coffee break, her fast food feast, and her pizza binge, her stomach somehow wanted more.

Turning back to the glass door, she lifted the shirt and stared at her belly’s reflection. The bloating had receded, but the heaviness of the new flesh remained. She blinked and sputtered, incredulous, but there was unquestionably more to her midsection than there had been when she’d put on her uniform the evening before. She pulled at it, pinched it, grabbed it, lifted it, dropped it, and cradled it. It was big and plump and it was there.

The door swung open. Dag stomped in out of the rain and froze, staring at her as she stood there, equally frozen, gut in her hands. The door creaked closed behind him.

Roxie cleared her throat and delicately pulled the shirt back down. Her belly insisted, however, in swelling out against it.

“You okay?” the trucker asked.

She pursed her lips. “Do you believe in magic?”

“Uh, I don’t…uh, I dunno…” He wiped rain from his eyes. “Deputy, I saw…out there…I think there’s something going on at the little market, uh, down the hill. People in robes.”
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Old 04-12-2016, 03:48 AM   #14
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This is incredibly good. Please continue when you can
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Old 04-12-2016, 07:03 AM   #15
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This is incredibly good. Please continue when you can
As you wish!

Chapter 7

Roxie and Dag, clutching ponchos tight, splashed from awning to awning along the square. The road ran with almost a half inch of water, cascading down toward the creek.

“Where’s Hesper?” Dag shouted over the rain.

“She wanted to finish her séance or whatever. I figured we didn’t have time to wait,” Roxie replied, breathing hard. She’d dressed as quickly as possible, leaving her shirt untucked and unevenly buttoned. It was uncomfortably snug and she could feel the undershirt riding up, but she was technically in uniform and ready to interrupt a robbery.

Unfortunately, they’d missed the action. Reaching the market, they found its windows as dark as the rest.

“They went in the back door,” Dag pointed out, heading around the building.

The delivery door was shut, but unlocked. “They must have left in a hurry,” Roxie huffed. She looked around, biting her lip, and then stormed inside.

Her foot kicked something as soon as she was in. A second footstep crushed something; it crackled underfoot. Roxie pulled the flashlight from her belt and its beam confirmed her suspicions.

“Ransacked.” She shook her head. “Just like the travel plaza.”

Dag hunted down a light switch, illuminating the extent of the raid. They were standing in the market’s stockroom, a deep, cold hallway stretching the length of the building. The shelves were all but bare and the floor was covered with torn-open cardboard boxes, empty crates, and cast-off cellophane.

“Somebody’s got an appetite,” the trucker remarked.

A gurgle echoed off the concrete walls as Roxie’s own appetite flared up. “Shit,” she muttered, pushing her hat up. “This has to be a group. A big group, in a coordinated effort. I mean…this is basically a whole grocery store.”

She shoved her way through a pair of swinging doors into the store. The shelves there were equally barren and the aisles equally cluttered. Above them, the enormous seven-pointed star glowed faintly on the ceiling. The fresh paint was still dripping. Another jeweled knife was stabbed into the center.

Dag poked his head around a shelf on the far wall. “The hardware aisle hasn’t been touched. They really only took the food.”

“So we have a mob with the munchies on the loose,” Roxie agreed. Near the front of the store, a long counter offered beverages, ready-made snacks, and quick desserts. What hadn’t been emptied was still running and had clearly been used: toppled cups surrounded the soda fountain and the ice cream machine dripped chocolate and vanilla.

Roxie filled a cup with pop—it probably was time for some caffeine, after all—and wandered around the cash registers.

Dag pondered the selection of tools. He lifted a sledgehammer from the shelf and turned it over thoughtfully. Bouncing it in his hands, he looked over a community bulletin board. A bright orange flyer caught his eye.

“Howdy, neighbors!” it proclaimed, alongside some home-improvement clipart. “Bring your toolbelts and help us update the old town chapel. Snacks provided!”

Printed below was a monochrome photo of the local chapel. Dag studied it, frowning; it looked like a typical small-town church, but there were no crosses to be seen anywhere on the building.

“Not much to go on,” Roxie lamented from the manager’s office. “Place was closed and the duty logs are all in order. No damage to either of the doors…nothing missing but the food. No cameras.” She kicked a crate. “I don’t get it. What is this?”

“It’s a ritual,” said Hesper, appearing behind her, “and a dangerous one. These people are breaking some very serious laws.”

Roxie folded her arms. “At this point it’s really just unlawful entry, theft, and some…minor vandalism,” she added, glancing up at the sigils.

“Not your laws. It’s dark art, deputy. We’re talking fire and brimstone. We’re talking blood sacrifices. We’re talking the kind of old names that wise folks don’t say no more.”

“No, you’re talking those things.”

Hesper rummaged through her bag. “Ilta…that name I got from the augury? She’s a demon. A big time demon, too. Commands her own cohort of succubi and a small army of rhyming minions and she exists outside the usual nether-hierarchies. Bad news.”

“Whoa,” said Dag.

“She specializes in mortals who want more than they’re supposed to have.” Hesper looked up from her bag, brow furrowed, apparently unable to find what she wanted. She stomped back into one of the aisles.

Roxie sipped at her pop. “So our hungry horde here is tagging ceilings with the name of their favorite demon. Why?”

“They’re imprinting,” Hesper’s voice called over the shelves. “Dedicating these places to her, filling them with the, uh, idea of her.”

Dag scratched his beard. “Like shrines or something? Why?”

Hesper returned, clutching a small pink hand mirror. “To get noticed. I reckon they’re trying to, well, make contact.” She set the mirror flat on the counter, facing up at the heptagram.

Roxie glanced at Dag, but he was staring at the mirror, intrigued. She reached to refill her pop. “Just so I’m clear, Hesper…somebody’s robbing these stores of all their food in order to get the attention of a big bad demon?”

“Yes. I’m still trying to work out why the food’s involved, but I know demon-calling when I see it.”

“You’ve seen it?” gasped Dag. Roxie rubbed her temples.

“Sort of. I haven’t seen it…work. But I know the steps and I know the terror.” She looked at her feet. “I tried it once.”

She plopped her bag on the counter and hauled out the bottle of bourbon. Roxie took a long gulp of pop and realized, to her consternation, that her cup was empty again.

“When I was a kid, back when I first got into magic, it came really naturally to me. I felt like I could do anything…got it into my head I was some kind of prodigy, destined to change the world and all that. Probably like how you thought you were gonna rid the big city of crime or whatever.”

Roxie turned away to refill her cup.

Hesper sucked her teeth. “Well, turned out I was just better than average for my age. Then my age caught up and I wasn’t special anymore. I never worked hard at it or made any sacrifices, so I never achieved anything. Spent most of my time looking for ways to cut corners, get ahead, whatever.

“When I was seventeen and it looked like I was going nowhere, I decided to reach out to the underworld for a leg up.” She ran her hand through her wild hair. “The ritual took everything I had. I ruined my career for it, lost all my friends. But I went through with it; called out to the underworld and offered my service and favor to whatever entity would give me the most power.”

“Holy shit,” said Dag.

“Unholy shit, actually. But I got no response. The spirits were…silent.”

“Hell doesn’t have a voicemail?” Roxie scoffed. “And you still believe in all this?”

“More than ever. The demons tricked me into giving up everything before I got anywhere near them. They didn’t have to even respond to me to destroy my life. That’s why I’ve spent the last decade tracking down other idiots who think they can command the underworld…can’t let them repeat my mistake.” She grabbed Roxie’s uniform. “We’ve got a cult on our hands, deputy, planning to literally raise hell. We have to find them.”

Roxie gently pushed her off. “I plan to. Can’t have people just robbing stores all the time.”

“The robberies are the least of your worries! Even if they don’t get their ritual going, we still have these enchantments to deal with…” She spread her hands. “Who knows how long we’ll be stuck here. And judging by the rate you’ve been sucking down that there coke, we’ll all be certifiably obese by the time this rain lets up.”

“What—I—hey now—” Roxie stammered, setting down her cup. It fell over, emptied again. “I was really thirsty.”

Hesper set her hands on her hips. Her fingers pressed into the soft flesh there. “Look, Roxie, I get that when you’re already, uh, kinda big, you maybe don’t notice changes as much. But at my size fifteen pounds makes a difference and you can’t just pretend that I had this muffin-top when I met you two hours ago.”

“I didn’t memorize your waistline, sorry. And I thought we agreed that Dag’s scale is messed up.”

“What’s wrong with my scale?”

“Nothing,” Hesper shot. “There’s an enchantment over this town that’s making us scarf down everything in sight. And the longer you stand there denying it, deputy, the longer it’s gonna be before I can reverse the spell.” She filled her glass with bourbon and set it on the mirror. “Maybe you’re used to carrying extra weight, but I ain’t interested.”

Roxie stiffened. She looked at Dag. “You don’t believe this crap, do you?”

“Demons sound pretty bad,” he admitted.

“Fucking hell,” she sighed, heading for the door.

Hesper looked up. “Where are you going? We have to get answers!”

Roxie pulled her poncho tighter. “There was no forced entry here. Somebody let our friends inside. And Leila Jones was on duty at the travel plaza when everything went missing. This isn't that big a town...somebody has to know something.” She tugged on her hat. “I’m going to get answers.”
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Old 04-13-2016, 02:47 AM   #16
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Promising to be another great one from you. Can't wait for the next instalment.
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Old 04-17-2016, 03:48 PM   #17
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Chapter 8

Roxie paused on the motel’s doorstep and looked back at the town below. The lights were still on in the market, the sole glowing windows in the dark, rain-soaked town square. On the far side of town she caught sight of a church steeple, silhouetted by a pair of lightning strikes.

She pulled open the door and sulked into the motel lobby. Behind the front desk, to Roxie’s surprise, lurked the withered old clerk. The woman looked up and gave her a gentle smile.

“Still out and about?” she croaked.

Roxie shook the rain from her hat. “No rest for the wicked.”

The woman grunted and turned back to wiping down her counter. Roxie swallowed and shuffled over.

“Seems like a real nice community here,” the deputy ventured. She spoke slowly, trying to cover her northern accent with the local drawl. “You lived here long?”

The clerk nodded. “All my life. And never seen rain like this in all those years, mm-mm.”

“It sure is a wet one.” Roxie leaned an elbow on the desk. “So I bet you know most of the folks around here, then? You know a Leila Jones, works down at the travel plaza?”

“Leila? Of course, sure. Lovely girl. We all just adore her, mm hmm.”

Roxie held up the photograph. “This her?”

“Yes indeed. Black hair, bright eyes, skinny as a whip. Just rail thin…sometimes I wonder if that girl eats at all. Gets it from her momma—all bones.”

“She ever in trouble?”

“Heavens, no. Leila Jones is pure innocence. Always polite, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, mm mm. And she dresses proper in public, too. None of this sweat pants and ripped-up tee shirt nonsense you see on all those iniquitous types.” She shook her head, straightening up. “She’s the opposite of trouble, our Leila. She’s the one that turned our church around.”

Roxie tucked the photo away. “That right?”

“We’re lucky to have her, what with the pastor leaving town and all. She organizes all sorts of get-togethers for the community…got a big potluck planned for tomorrow, no less.” She scratched her wrinkled chin and glanced at a nearby grandfather clock. “Well, suppose it’s today, now.”

“I suppose so,” Roxie sighed, rubbing her eyes. “Look, I need to ask her a couple questions. Any chance you could point me toward her house?”

“You’re gonna ask her questions at three in the morning? No need to wake the poor girl, officer. Why don’t you come to the potluck tomorrow and just ask her then?” She raised an eyebrow. “You look like someone who enjoys some good home cooking.”

Roxie flushed.

Lightning flashed outside the corner store. Hesper sneaked a swig from her bottle before tucking it back into her bag. The full glass still sat untouched atop the surface of the mirror.

She looked over at Dag, who stood staring out the window. “Hey, you’re a big guy,” she coughed.

The trucker turned. “What?”

“Tall,” she continued. “Think you could give me a boost, maybe? Gotta get up to that there knife.”

He followed her gaze to the ceiling, where the heptagram glowed faintly. “Uh, sure, I can probably get you up there. I think there was a ladder in the hardware aisle, if you want that.”

She opened a matchbook and clamped a match between her teeth. “I don’t trust ladders. Bad experiences. Reckon you’re stronger and sturdier, anyway.”

“I’ll do my best,” he grunted, stomping over. “Then I can say I actually did something to help.”

Hesper reached up and prepared to climb him, but he simply lifted her off the ground and set her effortlessly on his shoulders.

“You’re even lighter than you look,” he remarked, ducking his head while she got situated.

She shimmied and straightened up, pressing her food baby against the back of his skull. “Why, thank you. I work hard at it. And hopefully we can get to the bottom of this enchantment before I start to look any less light.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“Sure I do,” she smirked, reaching up a hand. They were right under the knife and with a good stretch she was able to wrap a couple of fingers around the hilt. “There seem to be several layers of enchantments over this town, drawing power from a major storm and paving the way for a demon. I’m plenty worried…already wishing I hadn’t come here.”

Dag grimaced. “Yep.”

“Never stopped here before?”

“It’s my first time on this route. Hell, it’s my first time coming through this area at all.” He grabbed her ankles to steady her. “Got the creeps, just rolling in. Should have listened to my gut and kept driving.”

She fiddled with the knife, jostling him. “Yeah, Renaeville ain’t making me feel too welcome either. Even our cop friend bailed just when I thought we were getting close.”

“Roxie’s just trying to stick to her job. I don’t think she meant any offense.”

“I know. I can’t expect folks to just buy into magic being a thing. But she’s being a little thick.” Hesper chuckled and lit the match. “Don’t get me wrong, though—I like her. You like her?”

Dag watched as she held the match at arm’s length. “Sure. She seems very kind…has her heart in the right place.”

“Mm hmm.” With her other hand, Hesper slowly began to twist the knife in the ceiling tile. “Hope she comes back. Wouldn’t mind getting to know her more. She’s a little too chunky for my usual, uh, taste, but that face is just too adorable. And she has this sort of bedraggled earnestness that just rubs me the right way.”

Hesper shifted her weight. Her tummy rubbed the back of Dag’s head, her snake tattoo whispering in his ear.

“Ah,” she said. “Hold still.”

The match flared and died. Thunder rolled outside and suddenly the bourbon glass caught fire.

Dag’s head grew light and he steadied himself on a nearby shelf. Hesper had to claw at his face to keep from falling.

“Easy, cowboy. We just cracked open a very old window. Disorientation is normal. Go ahead and set me down.”

He sloughed her off and placed her back on the floor. She tossed the match away and scampered off to shut off the store’s lights.

As the fluorescents faded, the darkness was broken only by the glowing heptagram and the flickering flame from the glass below it.

The light of the fire was reflected by the mirror underneath it and refracted by the stylized glass. A kaleidoscope of angular lights appeared and danced frenetically across the ceiling, more light than should have been possible.

“Wow,” breathed Dag, staring.

“Pretty, huh? Sometimes the dark arts ain't all that dark.”

“What are they?”

She pushed her hair back and gazed at it. “Data. Interactions. Patterns.” She glanced at him and smirked. “Answers.”

Dag folded his arms.

“There has to be a reason for all these layered enchantments," Hesper continued. "Whoever laid them has some emergent structure in mind. They have to be building toward someth…” She stopped, her mouth opening and closing uselessly.

“You alright? What is it?”

“Corporeal quintessence. Is it..? They’ve…they’ve cracked it.”

“Cor…what? Hesper?”

She tore her gaze away, blinking. “If they’ve…I have to know. Oh, shit. Damn. Damn. Dag…" She rounded on him. "Ice cream.”

“Ice cream?”

“Ice cream. The soft-serve machine there. I’ll need ice cream.” She took a long, deep breath. “I’m also gonna need another drink.”

Roxie stood under the motel's awning and looked out over the town. She checked the notepad in her hand, where the old clerk had scrawled directions to Leila's house.

It wasn't far, apparently. Roxie could see its roof over the next rise--it wouldn't be much trouble to walk over.

Her car beckoned to her, though. A wave of lethargy gripped her legs and suddenly walking even so short a distance seemed like an unnecessary effort. Her stomach growled, hungry again.

She shushed it and pulled out her keys. Lightning crackled overhead.
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Old 04-17-2016, 06:17 PM   #18
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Wow, I am digging the pacing and suspense of this story. Definitely on the edge of my seat.
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Old 04-21-2016, 03:36 AM   #19
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Thank you for another wonderful chapter!
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Old 04-22-2016, 12:58 PM   #20
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Chapter 9

Roxie shut off her cruiser and squinted up at the house. It was a modest small-town home with a whitewashed porch and a mess of shrubbery. Old wooden storm shutters were closed over the windows and a rusted windchime bounced around over the stoop.

Light filtered through the slats of one of the shutters. Roxie tugged on her hat and stepped out of the car.

She took a moment to tuck in her uniform top, but it only served to make her less comfortable. With more gut to cover than usual, the shirt could barely reach to her waistband. The tapered sides couldn’t reach at all, leaving her lovehandles to poke out through a little triangle on either side. As she made her way to the door, she could almost hear her buttons straining.

“Just bloated from the soda,” she assured herself. But her stomach rumbled. She was still hungry.

Music thumped from inside, muffled through the heavy old siding. She pounded on the door a few times and jabbed at the bell. After a few rings, the music softened and a heavy stomping neared the door. Roxie instinctively tensed up, fingering her belt.

The door cracked open. A tall young man greeted her in silence. He was handsome, generously tanned, and shirtless, displaying a truly unfair array of muscles. Roxie gaped at his firm chest, then finally up to his face.

“Good…morning,” she choked. “Sorry to bother you so late—er, early—but I’m looking for a ‘Leila Jones.’ Any chance she’s in?”

The man looked back inside the house for a moment, then, to Roxie’s surprise, nodded and politely gestured for her to come inside.

Roxie followed gratefully, shaking rain from her poncho. “Thanks. Sorry, again, if I woke you.”

He waved it off, saying nothing, and pointed her down the hall toward a kitchen. She smiled and went ahead.

Family photos lined the wall. Roxie glanced at them and furtively pulled out the staff picture she’d snagged. She found Leila Jones in one of the pictures, an unremarkable, flat-chested waif in a modest Sunday dress. The girl sat cross-legged, arms folded in her lap, posture impeccable.

A metallic pop sounded from the kitchen, followed by a quickly muffled hiss. Roxie hesitated, looking back at the shirtless man, and stepped inside.

Alone at the kitchen table slouched a disheveled, obese young woman. She had to be at least three hundred pounds and it was all on display; she wore a pair of torn sweat pants and a tank top cut from an old tee shirt. A round, glutted belly pushed her thighs apart and pressed up against the edge of the table. A pair of swollen breasts, hanging freely in the tank, sagged to each side of the massive gut. The ruined waistband of the sweat pants hung half off her butt.

Her head was tilted back, eyes closed, as she shotgunned a can of beer. Her free hand set a pocket knife back on the table next to a collection of crushed cans and a stack of dinner plates. She gulped and gulped, chins wobbling.

The shirtless man entered from the far end of the kitchen. Roxie stiffened and looked back to the hallway, but he was right where she’d left him. There were two of him, apparently—the most identical twins she’d ever seen. Bodybuilder twins.

The flabby woman at the table finished sucking her beer dry and crumpled up the can. She rolled her head around, scratched her gut, loosed an impressive belch, and then finally noticed the police officer standing in her kitchen.

“Oh, mm, hello, ma’am. Sorry for…you weren’t someone I was…I was expecting here in the witching hour.” She rocked with another belch. “What can I do for you?”

Roxie glanced around and held up the photo. This woman had the same dark hair and all of the girl’s features, though those features had been significantly expanded. “You Leila?”

The woman smiled and wiped her mouth. “That’s me, yep. Hard to believe, I guess, but I’ve…grown up a little since we took that pic.”

“I know how that…goes,” Roxie admitted, wondering how Leila could equate ‘a little’ with tripling her weight. “Doing some celebrating?”

“Haha, in a sense. We just fin…finished setting up for a big event thing we’re doing tomorrow. Long day and a…longer night. Deserved a drink or two. Hope that’s alright.” She shifted in her chair, giving her engorged belly more room to spill out. “Wasn’t expec…ex…didn’t think we’d have company.”

Roxie forced her eyes away from the gigantic stomach and its mesmerizing wobble. “You’re in the privacy of your own home. No crime there, if you’re safe and responsible.”

“In that case,” Leila laughed, reaching for a fresh can and popping the top. “What brings you here, officer?”

“The, ah, travel plaza, actually. You work there?”

Leile sipped her beer and nodded.

“Can I ask what happened to your shift tonight? You’re clocked in.”

“Oh, I left early to set up for the event.” She gestured vaguely. “Guess I forgot to clock out. But the manager knows…knows about it. Said I could close up.”

Roxie sat herself in another chair at the table. “Did you forget to close up, too?” Leila was still gulping, so she continued, “We found the place robbed, Miss Jones. Big mess. Trashed. All the shelves emptied.”

“Yeah!” Leila guffawed. “No, that was—urrp—that was us.” She gestured to the twins. “We probably left more of a mess than we…than we planned. The boys here were supposed to clean up after, but I decided we could cel…celebrate first.”

Roxie raised an eyebrow.

Leila held up a hand. “Sorry. Right. See, ma’am, this event tomorrow—urrp, mm, ‘scuse me—this thing’s like a big…potluck thing at our church. Whole town’s pulling together for it. My boss at the plaza donated all his food stock.”

“Did that little store on the corner donate their entire stock, too?”

“Mm hmm! They were super excited to help out.” She drained the can and tossed it aside. “It’s like a big food drive, you know? We’ve been planning it for months. We’re feeding…feeding the hungry, haha.” She snapped her finger at the second twin. “Tommy, show her the, uh, the thing.”

Nodding, he pulled a flyer off the refrigerator and handed it to Roxie.

“Renaeville Chapel invites you to our ‘Never Hungry Again’ dinner,” the orange paper read next to a sketch of the church and some thanksgiving clipart. “Join us March 20 for a meal that will change your life forever!” Roxie skimmed to some smaller print at the bottom. “Contact Leila Jones for donation details. All food is welcome and goes to the ultimate cause!”

Roxie sighed, chuckling. “No robberies, then.”

“Nope,” Leila laughed. “I guess we shoulda put up a sign or something at the plaza. That’s my bad. Was in a real hurry and all excited. Plus nobody ever…nobody really comes in at night. ‘specially in this weather…” Her glazed eyes widened. “Oh my, officer, you’re…you’re not stuck here, are you? I heard the creek was flooded.”

“It looks like I’ll be in town for the night, yep. It’s okay, though...”

“You poor thing. Do you need a bed? We have a spare room. You could—”

Roxie shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m already set up at the motel. Wouldn’t want to impose on your...celebration, anyway.” She wasn’t sure how long she could trust herself, either. Roxie wasn’t much of a drinker, but the beer looked delicious and her stomach was desperate for any kind of indulgence.

“Oh, too bad. Well, if you’re still around in the—urrp—in the morning, you’re welcome to join us at the service. Goes on all day, so stop by whenever.”

“I’ll need to get back to the station as soon as the bridge is open. But thanks.” Roxie glanced at the clock and pushed herself up from the chair. “Thanks for your help, Miss Jones. Sounds like this has all been a false alarm…I’ll just check in with your boss in the morning.”

Leila gave her a drunken thumbs up. “Sorry for the mis…understanding.”

“Just, uh, make sure you put up a sign next time.” She stopped and turned back to the table. “Speaking of which…what’s, eh, what’s up with the graffiti?”

The other woman froze, halfway through a sip of beer. The twins watched silently, arms folded.

“The weird star thing on the ceiling,” Roxie continued. “Is that part of the event or something? Never saw that in my church back home.” She tensed, realizing the twin behind her was much closer than he had been before. “I’m…not from around here, though. This is probably just something that hasn’t made its way up to Minnesota yet, huh?”

“It’s sort of a local custom,” Leila replied slowly. “Won’t lie to you, officer…Renaeville’s got some new traditions that just aren’t common in other places yet. We like to think we’re...pioneers.” She flew her palm over the table. “Riding a new wave.”

Roxie swallowed. “Sounds very, uh, progressive.”

“Progress is the—urrrp—the goal. Just think…a whole town coming together to feed the hungry.” Leila dug into a bag of potato chips and shifted her well-fed belly. Roxie’s whined in response.

“And the knife?”

Leila stared at her. “Symbolic. Part of the icon…iconogra…urrp. ‘sjust like one of our logos or whatever. Our denom…inom…ination’s a little…different.”

“I guess so.” She took a deep breath. “Well, I’ll let you get back to your celebrations.”

“Happy to help. Here, wait, we can’t let you go empty-handed. Today’s about feeding the hungry. And I can tell you’re—hee—you’re starving, officer. Tommy, get her one of those boxes we got from the bakery. The white one.”

Roxie protested, but one of the twins clomped over to the pantry. Roxie had to do a double-take—she couldn’t be sure, but she didn’t think it was the one Leila had called ‘Tommy’ earlier. He returned with a large pastry box.

“You’ll love these, I promise,” Leila assured her. “Here, let me show you out.”

The obese woman rose, swayed, and collapsed back into her chair. She shook her head, unfocused eyes blinking stupidly.

“Yeah, probably better if Tommy shows you out,” she giggled.

Roxie closed the front door behind her. She huddled on the porch for a minute, grimacing at the pastry box. She adjusted her waistband, trying vainly to pull it down off her muffin-top and only managing to expose more stretchmarked skin to the chilly wet air.

Leila’s voice drifted out from inside the house. “Nah, nothing to worry about,” she was saying with the oblivious loudness only the drunk can achieve. “Might even be a blessing in disguise, y’know, just the extra spark we need.”

There was a pause, followed by a belch that seemed to shake the old house.

“The beer? Pff, calm down. This rate, it’ll take like, like, like, half an hour to get sober. ‘snothing. We don’t got to be there till five or whatever, so till…till then I’m gonna drink all the beer I can find. Well, all the beer you can find for me, haha.”

The music reappeared, drowning out her laughter. Roxie trudged back toward her car, holding her poncho up to shield the box from the rain.

She drove back toward the square and pulled off near the burger joint. She looked across toward the corner store, wondering what Hesper and Dag were still doing in there, but shut her car off and dropped her forehead against the steering wheel.

“Never responding to calls from this fucking town again,” she grumbled. Her stomach grumbled, too, and she was too busy banging her head against the wheel to stop her hand from snaking toward the pastry box.

Rain pounded against the windshield. Thunder boomed overhead. Soon, however, none of it mattered, because the pastries overflowed with a custard filling so rich and so delectable that it seemed impossible that anything should be wrong with the world.

“Oh, wow,” Roxie said through a creamy mouthful. “That is…magical.”

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Old 04-22-2016, 04:53 PM   #21
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Old 04-24-2016, 02:28 PM   #22
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Chapter 10

“Mm, that’s creamy,” Hesper moaned through a mouthful of vanilla. “Forgot how much I liked ice cream…cut it out of my diet years ago.”

Dag leaned back against a counter. “Looks like it’s back in your diet.”

“This is an exception,” she stated, reaching for the bourbon. She’d had a few sips more than she’d probably intended and now spoke a little louder than was necessary. “Just for the sake of the experiment. Have to figure out what our demon-summoning friends are thinking.” She shoved another spoonful in her mouth. “Have to know if they’ve unlocked the inaccessible impossible.”

“Ah,” said Dag. He shoved off the counter and paced toward the aisle, wondering if he would have been better off following the deputy on her investigation. Hesper’s magic talk had seemed intriguing at first but had become less and less grounded in any reality Dag recognized.

It didn’t help that her big 'spell experiment' didn’t involve any more fire or flashing lights; somehow her getting drunk and eating ice cream seemed less mystical.

“So, what happens if these people do summon a demon?” He asked after a while. “Is he gonna kill everyone or something?”

Hesper swallowed. “She will probably claim some lives, yes. But with demons it’s usually something bigger...and worse. We don’t know much about this ‘Ilta,’ since she’s outside the hierarchy, but most of these renegade spirits tend to mount world-domination bids, or try to supplant deities, or generally sow chaos.”

“Whoa.”

“Regardless…destruction and pain will ensue. Hell on earth and all that.”

He eyed her. “And you said you tried to do it once? Summon a demon?”

She held up a finger. “I only tried to contact one. That’s just a matter of lighting candles by your mirror and getting the incantations right…” She stifled a belch. “…and hoping somebody on the other end picks up. Basically eldritch Skype.”

Dag nodded, frowning skeptically.

Her bowl almost empty, she scraped at the melted ice cream at the bottom. “Bringing a demon to our plane…that requires an amount of power rarely seen on earth these days. Mortals can’t usually coordinate enough energies to even attempt it. And if you somehow could, the consequences of messing up the summoning rite are almost worse than the demon itself.”

“How so?”

“There’s a…like a veil, I reckon…between earth and the underworld. Keeps damned souls from escaping and hellfire from burning through to the mortal realm, right?”

“Okay.”

“If you’re trying to poke the other side of the veil, it’s got to be navigated with care. You screw something up on your way through, the whole system goes catawampus. Chaos fiends everywhere, anti-energy bleeding through, elemental ruin…bad news.”

“Bad news.”

“So we need to stop our aspiring demon summoning cult before they even begin. Fortunately, I reckon they’ve only just started gathering up power…and if my experiment works, we’ll know how they’re planning to gather it.” She set down her spoon and drank down the melted remains of the ice cream.

Dag ground his teeth. Hesper spoke with a strange ease about disturbing, unreal things, as though she were an exterminator explaining her plan to tackle an infestation.

She stretched with a long yawn and knocked her spoon off the counter. Unconsciously tugging her tube top back down over her food baby, she set the bowl down and bent over to save the spoon.

Dag opened his mouth for his next question, but it caught in his throat. His eyes widened at Hesper’s widened butt. It was mouth-wateringly round, bulging against the black leather of her tiny skirt. As she bent over, the bottom curve of her cheeks peeked out from beneath.

She straightened up and pressed a hand to her head, swaying for a moment. “Ugh…stood up too fast. Urrp. Also brainfreeze.” She settled back against the counter. “Also maybe a little drunk.”

Dag cleared his throat. “So all the dangerous stuff about demons…you didn’t try to bring one up yourself, I get it, but you did try to, uh, contact one or whatever.” He handed her a fresh bowl. “You had to be aware of the eventual dangers, right?”

“Not like I do now, but yeah,” she admitted. “I wasn’t thinking too clearly at the time. I’d just been kicked out of the academy and I was so desperate…” Her face twisted.

“What happened?”

“I was power hungry, like I said. Cutting corners to get ahead and feel special again.” She squirted a concerning amount of chocolate syrup onto the ice cream. “I had crafted a ring that could siphon arcane power from my mentor’s artifact collection.”

“I assume that’s like cheating.”

“Well…worse. It was dark arts. It was dumb as hell. And it didn’t even work. But he figured out what I was trying to do. Gave me the boot. So, being an angsty teenager, I tried to make up for one stupid gambit with a much stupider one.”

She glanced at the discarded hand-mirror and winced.

“And then that didn’t work either…I wasn’t a good enough practitioner to even break the rules right. But it’s a good thing none of the demons responded to my call…I would have done anything they’d asked at that point.” She held up her hand; a cheap plastic ring clung to her middle finger. “I kept it. Reckoned I oughta never forget how stupid I was. And how lucky.”

Dag wandered over toward the window. “You seem pretty good at magic now. You did the stuff with the dominoes, and then all that with the lights and the fire…”

Hesper smirked. “Basic stuff. But yeah, I did eventually buckle down and learn my shit. Remedial classes. You know those programs where they take drug addicts and make ‘em talk at middle schools about how bad drugs are?”

“Sure.”

“My mentor tracked me down and put me in the demonic version. My job is to find people headed down the wrong path and, uh, talk them out of it.”


"That happen a lot?"


"These days, yeah. I was in Bowling Green last week...this twelve-year-old managed to call up a minor imp...took me six hours catch the damn thing."


Dag squinted out the window. It was hard to tell through the rain, but lower street seemed to be running over with water.

“Okay,” Hesper announced, setting her bowl aside. “If I have any more ice cream I’m going to explode. Time to see if this sacrifice was worth it.”

“Sacrifice?”

She gave him an incredulous look. “My figure is important to me. It’ll probably take months to work this off. I’m just saying, the experiment better tell us what we need to know.”

“Which is?”

“Power, of course. Hand me my bag.”

He held the tote up for her. She dug out an incandescent light bulb, a magnet, and a length of twine. Tying the bulb and the magnet to each end of the string, she walked unsteadily to the center of the room.

“Step back a little, Dag. Don’t want any interference.”

“Uh, sure.”

She held the bulb at arm’s length and raised the magnet up toward the ceiling, under the heptagram. After a few moments, the bulb’s filament flickered faintly. Dag bit his lip.

“Alright, good,” Hesper murmured. “Latent energies from the rituals they did in here...sigils are shining like beacons. We’ll set that tare…” She waved her hands around the bulb and it darkened again. “Ready?”

Dag spread his palms. “Um?”

She took a deep breath and pressed the magnet to her forehead. She stared intently at the bulb, gritting her teeth, but nothing happened.

“Shit.”

“You okay?”

“Doesn’t make sense. That’s a major nexus…should be able to detect…” She shook her head and let the magnet fall. “Why layer all those enchantments…why else would you want to accelerate something like this?”

Still on the string, the magnet bounced and swung around like a mad pendulum. When it finally came to rest in front of her waist, it eased a little toward her food-baby and the light bulb flared undeniably to life.

Dag gaped, eyes darting from the bulb to her belly.

“Oh,” she said. “...wrong nexus point. That would, uh, make more sense.”

“What’s it mean?”

She stared at the bulb. “Power,” she breathed. “I should…we should…maybe we should do more to confirm. Try more, see if we get more…more. Yeah, more. Dag, get me…get me more.”
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Old 04-26-2016, 04:51 PM   #23
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Old 04-27-2016, 06:51 AM   #24
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Chapter 11

Roxie awoke to a long peal of thunder. A sudden gust shook the car beneath her.

She’d fallen into a shallow, half-dreaming doze. It had been less than an hour, judging by her dashboard clock, but she was indignant at herself and cursed vehemently as she wiped the crumbs from her mouth.

“Crumbs,” she realized, eyes wide. “Oh, no.”

In the passenger seat sat the pastry box, empty but for stray frosting and crumpled-up wax paper.

“No, no, no…all of them?” She pressed a hand to her stomach. It was definitely bigger than she remembered. Her waistband was unfastened and she could feel the buttons of her blouse pressing into her flesh. Looking down, she could see little diamonds opening up between the buttons and showing off glimpses of the white tank top underneath. “This can’t be happening.”

She leaned back against the headrest and blew out a long sigh. The sweet flavor of the cream was still on her lips; she tried to distract herself from it by staring out at the square.

The store’s lights were out. Hopefully Hesper and Dag had finished their deluded ritual and gone back to the hotel. On the other side she could see the fast food joint, its glow warm and inviting. Roxie’s stomach suggested she grab another burger or two.

“Damn it, no,” she hissed.

The restaurant’s back door opened and a woman stepped—waddled—out, waving goodbye to someone inside. Leaning over, Roxie recognized her face as a clerk who’d served them earlier, but she didn’t recognize the body. She hadn’t been rail thin, Roxie recalled, but she was fairly proportioned and in decent shape. The woman now passing Roxie's squad car, however, sported the swollen belly of a full term pregnancy. It wobbled and rippled with every step, naked and exposed below the hem of a uniform shirt that had stopped fitting fifty pounds ago. The sparkling chain of an elaborate belly button piercing swung to and fro with her gelatinous mass.

The woman weaved a little on her feet, as though she weren’t accustomed to her own weight. She ignored Roxie’s cruiser entirely, staring intently forward until she’d reached the streetcorner. She swayed there for a few minutes, sucking on a large pop.

Roxie pondered getting out to talk with her, but a car pulled up. The woman smiled and greeted the driver, tossing off her uniform’s visor and letting down her hair. As she opened the door she pointed to her stomach with what looked like an expression of excitement.

Once she was in, the car turned and headed up into the woods. A small sticker gleamed from its bumper: the seven-pointed star.

Roxie frowned. She reached over and pulled the flyer from under the pastry box.

“What the hell kind of church is this, anyway?” she muttered, looking it over again. She looked out the window and bent her head to look across the square. The silhouetted church watched over the town like a gargoyle.

Its windows were dark, but a lamp flickered in the parking lot. Roxie started her car.

The church was a simple, blocky building, just large enough for a sanctuary and a few offices and classrooms toward the back. In the rural Midwestern tradition, it was subtle and largely featureless, marked only by a perfunctory steeple and an unlit sign. Shielding her eyes from the rain, Roxie tried to make out the top of the steeple. There was no cross.

She hurried up the front steps. She’d forgotten her poncho in the cruiser, but she’d parked around the corner and would only get wetter going back for it. What worried her most was her midsection; the uniform shirt had come entirely untucked and she could feel her buttons straining with every move. Her slacks were tighter, too, limiting her stride.

She pounded on the huge wooden door, wincing at how the motion jiggled her lovehandles. There was no response. Lightning flashed overhead and on a sudden impulse she seized the door and pulled it open.

Roxie glanced around. The street was empty and her cruiser was out of sight. She rocked back and forth on her feet for a moment and then spun inside.

With the door shut firmly behind her, she stepped cautiously into the narthex. The air was heavy with dust and remarkably dry despite the conditions outside. Roxie felt a sudden thirst, but couldn’t tell if it was the aridity or all the sugar she’d consumed.

She smacked her mag-lite and beamed it around. The narthex was fairly standard, with polite flower pots, chairs, and a bulletin board of announcements. A poster for the food drive hung on the far wall, with a reminder that the start time was ‘dawn.’

Roxie checked her watch. Dawn—if the sun could even rise through such a storm—was probably an hour and a half away.

Her stomach gurgled. She tugged vainly down on her shirt, tempted to simply unbutton it. She sucked in, though, and pushed her way into the sanctuary.

There she froze. The chamber was recognizable as a place of worship, but not of any god Roxie knew. Her free hand groped its way to a light panel.

The pews had been removed, as had whatever flooring there had been, leaving only cold flagstones underfoot in a long, open chamber. An enormous heptagram was painted on the floor within a broad chalk circle. A cast-iron brazier stood at its center, piled with wood.

Overlooking it all was a raised dais. The pulpit featured a lone podium, some chairs, and a flat, square platform at the back. Another star hung above it, gleaming bronze against a black curtain.

The long side walls were each lined with serving tables. The left table was mostly empty, but the right was piled high with a smorgasbord of snacks, drinks, and small plates—the ‘donations’ from the travel plaza. The back wall, where Roxie stood, was stacked with couch cushions, pillows, bean bag chairs, and all manner of blankets and sheets.

Roxie made her way to the right table, taking care not to step on the heptagram. A row of bottled water waited at the end. After a moment’s hesitation, she acquiesced to her growing thirst and seized one. As she twisted off its cap, she noticed a row of paintings interspersed between the windows.

The first depicted a haunting scene of a woman wandering through a forest. She was draped in white linens, like something out of classical Greece or Rome. Roxie followed the wall to the next painting, absently grabbing a bag of pretzels from the table.

It was a continuation of the same scene, with the woman encountering a dark cave. The rocks were carved with runes and images of predatory animals. Several pairs of hungry eyes glowed in the dark forest behind the woman.

Roxie tossed away her pop bottle and slid to the next painting. Having apparently ventured into the cave, the woman beheld a long table overflowing with food and drink. Roxie tore herself away from the painting; it was too acute a reminder that she herself was overflowing with food and drink. She paced the sanctuary, circumnavigating the heptagram, but soon found herself staring at the next painting.

There was a new bottle in her hand, somehow. This wasn’t a huge crisis, though, as she needed something to wash down the last candy bar. The woman in the painting had a drink in her hand, too, in the form of a wineskin. Her other hand reached for a plate of grapes as she reclined, feasting, her decadence surrounded by fauns, pixies, and animal-headed servants.

It wasn’t any story or myth Roxie could remember, but she had never given antiquity much attention. She kept staring, though, drawn in by the elaborate scene. In the corner of the cave, at the mouth of what must have been a tunnel to greater depths, one of the pixies could be seen whispering covertly to some kind of urchin. The fat little imp was rubbing his hands with glee and glancing down the tunnel toward a faint orange glow.

Roxie turned away and walked back over toward the dais. She sat with a sigh on one of the steps and rubbed at her eyes. A gust of wind outside rattled the old windows.

She finished her drink and stared at the bottle, blinking. It was a beer bottle, but she couldn’t recall picking it up. The taste in her mouth was definitely beer, though; cheap gas station beer. She looked up and choked. On the floor before her lay the water bottle she’d originally grabbed, along with an empty pretzel bag, an empty package of cookies, several candy bar wrappers, two pop bottles, and a pile of cellophane she couldn’t identify.

“What?” she burped in disbelief. “When…?” She looked at her watch. Forty-five minutes had passed since she’s snuck into the church.

She leapt to her feet and instantly regretted it. Her belly and head complained hotly and she had to wait a minute for the throbbing in her temples to shrink down.

Her gut, however, would not shrink down. She could feel a draft against her muffin top. The uniform shirt, riding up the swell of her abdomen, could no longer reach her waistband at all. Its buttons strained audibly with every move. Roxie debated giving up and unfastening them, but her self-consciousness talked her out of it.

Pacing in frustration, she found herself up in the pulpit. The floor behind the podium caught her eyes: a large square lay uncarpeted and raised above the rest of the floor. It was a piece of corrugated metal and featured, on the far end, a small dial.

It was a commercial scale, Roxie realized. It was centered under the hanging heptagram and flanked on either side by a candelabra.

“What the hell kind of church is this?” she muttered, walking over to it.

The hand on the dial shot up as she stepped on. It bounced a little before settling just shy of two hundred pounds.

Roxie nearly fell over. “No way. No, no, no. No. Uh-uh.”

Her stomach gurgled. She pressed a hand to it and shushed it, but its argument was very convincing. The surface was soft and pliable, a cushion surrounding a glutted swell. The undeniable snugness of her slacks and the straining of her shirt buttons couldn’t be ignored, either. Another belch burbled up.

She looked back at the dial. Two hundred didn’t look like much, given that the scale could apparently handle up to a ton. Studying it more closely, she found a little piece of electrical tape, cut into an arrow. It was pointing to somewhere just past the 650-pound mark.

A refracted beam of light swept overhead—headlights, followed by the sound of tires on gravel.

Roxie went white. She hopped down from the scale and shuffled onto the main floor. Huffing and glancing desperately around, she hurried to pick up her wrappers and bottles and dumped them into the first trash bin she could find. She flicked off the lights and bustled for the door, belly wobbling and sloshing painfully.

Footsteps echoed from the other side of the door, joined by muffled voices. Roxie froze mid-step, heart pounding in her ears.

Her eyes fixed on the nearby coat closet. “Aw, hell,” she hissed. “Worst police officer ever…”

The church door swung open just as the closet door latched shut. Roxie flattened herself against the wall, wishing there were any coats to hide behind. Her stomach gurgled and she stifled a belch, staring out through the slats in the door.

The bodybuilder twins strode into the church, looking wary. One held a baseball bat and the other a fireaxe. After a moment they stepped apart and in waddled Leila Jones, chin jiggling and cheeks puffing from the walk.

She looked much more presentable now, wrapped in a long black robe trimmed with intricate designs and sigils. The robe sloped out before her, pushed forward by her expansive chest and held forward by her no less expansive paunch. Her hair was styled up in a curly bun and her face politely made up.

“You boys might have to carry me next time we climb those steps,” she chuckled, closing an umbrella. “Smells good in here. I am looking forward to that junk food, mm hmm.”

Roxie held her breath, feeling another burp coming on.

A fourth newcomer followed them into the church. She was a professional-looking woman, dressed rather like a librarian, with heavy makeup and a heavier backside. She carried her own black robe bundled-up under her arm.

“Ah, Ms. Nott,” said Leila, peering at the woman’s posterior. “Right on time. Been enjoying the spoils of our spell?”

She smiled. “Not as much as you, apparently.”

“Had to get a head start. We have a long way to go today.” Leila folded her arms over her gut. “And it’s so hard to stay full. To stay anything, really. I drank a whole twelve-pack and was only drunk for, like, forty minutes. Right, boys?” She asked the twins. “They were all worried for nothing, haha.”

“The acceleration is a blessing and a curse.”

“Indeed. Everything’s ready, though.” She looked back at the door. “Where’s your sister?”

Mrs. Nott swallowed. “We…haven’t found her yet.”

The twins rounded on her. “Still?” Leila murmured.

“She took off up the hill when that cop car came through. She may have made it over to the state park.” She took a deep breath. “Sorry for not telling you sooner—forgot the phones are down. I was going to keep looking for her, but, uh, you know.”

Leila cocked an eyebrow.

“I stopped in the burger place to ask if they’d seen her and got, uh, distracted.”

The twins seethed and stepped closer. In the closet, Roxie closed her eyes, breathing slowly. She massaged the exposed roll of her gut, desperate to quiet its rumbling.

Leila burst out laughing. “An admirable distraction. I can’t fault you for that, sister.” She slapped Mrs. Nott on her ample posterior. “Too bad about Lilith getting out, though. We’ll have to find a new, ah, volunteer to serve as a vessel.”

“Who do you think?”

“Not sure yet. But I’m sure a solution will reveal itself, as always.”

Roxie tilted her head back as a surge of indigestion flashed through her. Her belly pooched further forward against the shirt.

The bottom button popped, smacking loudly against the closet door. The twins whirled around, seizing their weapons.

Three more of the buttons followed suit. Roxie whimpered; Leila’s lips stretched into a grin.
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Old 04-27-2016, 08:01 AM   #25
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