But today she frowned as she read. There were more want ads, but people complained of insufficient jobs. Apartment ads were plentiful, and house sales were down. Economic indices were up, but the spirit of the people of Chicago was unhappy, restless, even hopeless. She had seen it first on the street, in the grocery stores and restaurants, but now it was everywhere, even on MySpace. People were leaving, packing up their families and pets, abandoning beloved jobs, and, like it was an afterthought, putting their dream homes into the hands of harried real estate agents. It just didn’t make sense.
Sandie picked up the next neighborhood paper and scanned it, then shook her head. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong, but this only showed the symptoms. She would have to go out and find the cause—but where?
It was time to check a different source of information. The old ways were usually vague or as maddeningly symbolic and obscure as the Delphic Oracle, but sometimes they were needed.
She cleaned her dining room carefully and took the leaves out of the center of the tablee, leaving herself with a proper circle to work on. She laid out a fine, microfiber tablecloth, then set five candles equidistant around the edge and lit them. Five tiny carved cats, each with a cone of incense were next. Then she started to spread the papers on the dining room table. For this, she needed real paper, so she identified a number of the puzzling articles and posts online and set her printer to chattering.
She shifted the papers until the pictures, columns of text, tweets, and advertisements shaped into a pentacle, and the whole table was covered. Finally, at the center of the table, she placed the stand for her crystal ball. It was brass, and depicted five cats, each with different precious stones for eyes—amber, opal, peridot, sapphire, and amethyst. Finally, she lifted the crystal ball from its case and set it carefully on the stand. It was natural quartz, expensive and beautiful.
Then she lit the incense and breathed deep, walking around the table and opening her inner eyes. She sank into the process; she had inherited enough of the catkin magic for this, but only barely. She chanted as she walked, waiting until she felt the flare of the magic deep inside, then turned toward the table and opened her eyes.
She was facing the cat with opal eyes, and saw its tail twitch angrily. It was not looking at her, however. It was looking over at a picture of the Lakefront earlier that year, the article about tourists visiting the ice caves before everything in the city had gone nuts.
Sandie didn’t remember printing that article, much less placing it on the table.
She whispered to the cats, “Show me, please—who is messing with my city?” She leaned over the table and gazed into the ball. Immediately, as clearly as if it were a cute baby animal post on Facebook, she saw a beaver frolicking in icy waters, swimming in circles, up and down and around and around. She watched for a moment, but like a facebook video, that was really all there was to it. As expected, a riddle.
She sighed and looked at the cat, and was surprised to find herself looking at the one with amethyst eyes. She sighed with relief. The cats were willing to answer more than one question, this time. That was rare, and precious, and probably meant that her city was in even more trouble than she had realized. She considered, then asked, “Where should I look first?”
All the articles she had been reading spun in front of her eyes, as if to say, “everywhere”. She pushed at the magic harder and leaned in to look at the crystal ball. Words from headlines and ads flashed by as the articles kept spinning, faster and faster. Animal rights, natural habitat, pollution, wilderness. Then she was too dizzy to focus and the magic she could call, exhausted, was slipping away.
It wasn’t enough! She reached, swinging her arms out, reaching in an attempt to grab at least one more clue, and her left hand hit a small glass bottle, knocking it over.
What? She had cleaned the room! Where did the bottle come from?
Dizzy, she fell against the wall. She was by one of the doorways, and she grabbed the moulding there, looking over at the table. What had she hit?
An open bottle of indelible India ink lay there, open, on its side. She watched as the ink spread across the papers on the table, forming a complex set of perfect concentric circles, each one overlaid with strange symbols. She watched in horror as the ink sank into the paper, twisting faces from smiles into grimaces of fear or anger or longing and obliterating or reshaping words. The smoke from her incense cones swerved in the still air of her apartment to avoid the area.
She’d gotten her additional clue—someone had cursed Chicaugwa, cursed her city carefully and thoroughly.
She stared in horror at the mess on her dining room table, knowing that it had become her responsibility to rescue her city, though she didn’t have the training or the magical power to even really understand what had been done. And the symbolism of the India ink was not lost on her. The curse had already soaked into the fiber of the City, like a stain on the tapestry woven by the fates.
Thank you to tigertoy for the prompt!
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