Raven Miller Chapter 1
“I think I found him!” I shouted, wiping the sweat from my face. Even though I wore no make-up, the muggy summer heat of the deep South, made my skin clammy. My tear ducts watered, as if non-existent foundation was melting into my eyes. I removed a McDonald’s napkin from my pocket. Thankfully I had kept it clean and unused for just such an occasion. “Holy crap,” I groaned as the thick sweat stung my eyes. It was like the universe wanted to remind me just how much my partner and I did not belong here. “Oh, damn.” This was something no sane person would ever want to see, much less track down of her own free will. I wasn't a cop, or even getting paid. How the fuck was this my life’’s work?
The body was in bad shape, his assailants had tried to cover their tracks while clearly never having watched a true crime documentary. He was cut up, burned, even partially skinned, including the removal of his hair and facial features. What lay before me barely looked like a human. In fact, had we gotten to the body any later he would have likely been ravaged by the local wildlife. And if that had happened, the police would have had the perfect excuse to shelve the case.
Who was I kidding? Local jurisdiction for the attempted murder of a drifter: they’d shelve it anyway, maybe even have him declared dead, so they could deny medical care and treat him like something less than human; like a slab of meat. But I knew he was human. I could feel his strength, his spirit., I even knew his name. “Hi, Bobby.”
If I had to guess, the thought process of the psycho-bitch who’d masterminded this display, I’’d have to go with a lack of time and resources. Meaning, since they could not fully or properly destroy the body, his attackers simply tried to remove the parts that would be used for identification. I just hoped that most of this was done after he was rendered unconscious, because he clearly wasn’t dead.
I placed my fingers in his mouth to feel around for the presence of teeth or a confirmation of breath. I could feel shards of bone, sticking out from a broken jaw; clearly the work of a hammer, not pliers (removing teeth with pliers would have been much easier and much faster.). “Yup, this was a hack job.” I didn't even want to know what became had become of his teeth. But on the bright side, I felt a warmth coming from the back of his throat confirming that he was in fact alive and strong enough to fight. “You're good, Bobby. You're good. I just pray that all this shit happened when you were already knocked out.” Or that he was at least, at the current time, actually knocked out. If that was not the case, he was likely to jump up like a frightened zombie upon feeling my touch. And that would be creepy, even for me.
My small hands stroked what remained of the victim’’s blood-stained denim jeans. Much to my surprise, his lower body seemed to have taken less abuse. But even without damage to his legs, hips or spine, this was going to be a difficult one. “Wow. Makes me almost wish I wore gloves,” I muttered aloud as I examined the state of his genitals. Granted it, male victims cannot (usually) be identified by their penis and testicles, but the mutilation and,/ or removal always seemed to be part of the disposal process. “Holy fuck.”
“And mainstream media calls women the weaker gender.” That sentiment always made me laugh. After all, I came from a long line of powerful women. Some of whom would have been drooling over the sight that lay before me. Those bitches were the true man-eaters; females who killed simply to prove they were the stronger, more deserving sex. This was why, despite the gruesome state of the victim, I had it on good authority that the mastermind of this particular crime was a female.
The weather was uncomfortably hot, making the blood sticky and the body smell. I had to keep reminding myself he wasn’t dead; his chest was moving ever so slightly to represent breath in his still functional lungs, I just had to stay focused on my job. But as the minutes went by, my eyes were growing at odds with my other senses.
My partner just laughed, as she brushed a lock of sticky gray hair from her equally sweaty forehead. “Yes, all us ladies are the weaker gender, and on Wednesdays we wear pink, right, babe?” The old hippie woman wore camo print Tt-shirt that showed off her strong abs. This, paired with and colorful sweatpants, made her look younger than her sixty-plus years.
Did you seriously just call me babe? “I can't believe you actually know that movie.”
Annie was old enough to remember the good old days; hippies, and disco, punk rock, and nuclear war. She even had a father who’d died in Vietnam. “Well, all good lesbians know Mean Girls; the Plastics, all 'em jokes about friendship and white Africans.” Annie’s southern twang was playfully adorable, especially when she walked with a spring in her step.
“The first movie anyway.” I pulled my ceremonial bracelets over my perfectly manicured nails. Cleanliness was a necessary, vital, part of my practice, since my powers would required skin to skin contact. I rubbed my moisturized, lavender-scented hands, letting the colorful wooden beads of my chunky jewelry roll over my skin. (I was a total fem-girl witch.) “You know, the second movie was a piece of shit. What was the point of making a sequel with none of the original cast, nearly ten years later?”
Annie shrugged. “Well, there are mean girls in every generation.”
“And some of us were born from them.” I smiled at my own joke. I wasn't a ‘‘Mean Girl,’’ like the clique in the movie. But I credit that to my mother; if the Plastics were real, she would’ve been a founding member. And some of us murder them to steal their powers. “Annie, go check in on Lola. I don't need her waking up to this.” I remembered putting my toddler down for a nap, before arriving in North Carolina, but not much after that.
Annie stifled a laugh. “Our little hell spawn is almost three. Trust me, she'’s woken up to worse. And before you get your panties in a bunch, you know I mean that in the kindest way.”
“I know,” I said, as I tied my hair back. “My curious tiny angel, she always wants to play in the blood. But last time I let her get into my tool kit, I almost lost a finger.”” I was, of course, kidding. I adored my daughter’’s passion for medicine and forensic science. Black magic, however, was a little more than what I wanted her exposed to. And black magic was a big part of my therapeutic process.
Annie rolled her eyes and chuckled with her sweet southern elegance, as she fanned herself with her hand. “I will leave you to your work.”
“Thank you, Miss Annie,” I replied, as I returned my focus to my patient. “Twenty-seven-year-old Roberto Gian ‘Bobby’ Reyes, occupation: freelance model and graffiti artist. Your drifter ass got cut up worse than Humpty Dumpty.” But unlike the nursery rhyme, I was more than capable of putting him back together again. I just needed to focus on what was still there. “Show me you're still in there. You may look like a side of beef, but you still have some fight left in you.” I took a breath, continuing my search for a connection point.
“I bet you have such a kind soul. This kind of thing only tends to happen to nice young men who get caught up in the search for love. You meet a sweet girl, who tells you all the right things. Then after a night of drinking and/ or drugs, your pretty little girlfriend cuts off your junk and leaves your mutilated body on the side of the a North Carolina highway. At least according to the police report.”
The publicly released police report was drafted only after the arrest of nineteen-year-old University student Ramona Quinto. The local girl was found to be in possession of an artifact; tattooed skin that used to be part of Bobby’’s upper arm tattoo, wrapped around an eyeball (all of which was carried on a keychain.). Without a location for the body, the police didn't have enough to charge her with assault or murder. They just kept her in custody on charges of conspiracy, offering her deal after deal for information about the ‘‘actual killer.’’ Since there was no way a good little Christian girl could have been acting on her own. Sexist assholes.
“How you doing, Bobby?” Since I wasn't able to feel for a life force, I pulled out a penlight, shaking it a bit to get the battery to activate. “You still there, sweetheart?” I asked out loud as I focused the light onto his eyes.
His dark pupils twitched, followed by a blink. I couldn't help but crack a smile. The man was alive, or at least what remained of him was. “Good job.” I reached for his left hand, giving it a tender squeeze. Now that I’d found a point of life, I could feel other energies, rippling through his muscles, nerves, and blood. “This world has dealt you one hell of a bad hand, but just know, I believe in you, Bobby.”
I moved on to tending his wounds, stabilizing his body enough to move him. “I’m pretty sure you just met Ramona and she saw you as an easy mark. But, damn, not even livestock deserve this.” I’d seen many discarded lovers of witches; beautiful men and women, thrown away like garbage. But most witches have the decency to finish them off by devouring the heart. To leave a victim like this, was an act of pure hate.
A clattering sound coming from behind forced me to turn my head. “Annie, are you serious?” My partner was leaning against our car. She held our squirming toddler in one arm and her police scanner in the other.
“Mama Raven!” Lola was a curious little girl. Her long, jet-black hair was pulled back in pigtails highlighting her adorably round cheeks. “Mama! Mama! Mama!” I was the one who’d gotten her dressed that morning. (Annie liked to keep her hair in braids, a process that took well over an hour.) And my partner would’ve never allowed Lola to wear her beloved sunshine-yellow off-brand t-shirt with a neon pink pony that attempted to mimic a certain popular series. That thrift-store find was her favorite and as such had not been washed in nearly a week. Not that we ever did much laundry anyway. And she wore no pants or shirt, only a pull-up as she flailed her little legs in the muggy heat. My little girl laughed and giggled; to her, everything was play. Such innocence was truly inspiring.
Annie did not appear to have heard me as she was muttering profanity under her breath. “Fuck it. Earth to Raven!”
I could hear her losing her grip on the scanner. Would it really kill her to let Lola see it for a while? "What’s up? Did you catch something?”
“Not yet, but we can’t risk it,” Annie muttered, shifting Lola in her arms. “We need to get him the fuck out of here before the local cops start arriving.”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, I’m going as fast as I can. You can't rush this shit!”” I groaned. Annie clearly didn't want to be here. Not in the sweaty armpit that was North Carolina, or accompanying me on the investigation of a possible witch and her male victim. There was nothing in it for Annie; no politics, no fame, no taking down the one percent, or whatever. That was all the stuff she cared about, what made her who she was.
My words bought me only a few seconds of quiet before Annie returned to her bitching. “And by that, I mean, we need to get the fuck out of here, before we're locked away, fingerprinted, and sent to a high-security military prison off the coast of Cuba.”
I paused, tapping my fingers on my leg in frustration. It was obvious, she just wanted help with the baby but lacked the social skills to simply ask. If necessary, I could hold Lola on my back or even keep her next to me strapped into her car seat.
Unfortunately, the sudden gap in productivity only shut my partner up for all of sixty -seconds. “Well, you’re going to have to try and hurry up, Raven, darling. Is the dumbass fuckboy stable enough to move or not?”
“No, he’s not,” I replied, attempting to harness my mental focus. “I am working as fast as I can.” Stupid cunt never takes my job seriously. “You can put the baby in her car-seat if you like. You know, to gain full use of both your arms.”
“You know that’s the one skill I lack,” Annie muttered.
“Are you kidding me? So, you're not even going to try?” I shook my head and groaned. “Such bullshit.” Annie was the older one, the wannabe super-soldier who never actually enlisted. Some might even call her a terrorist since blowing up buildings that don't belong to you is considered a crime. (Even if they do contain evil military, political or local government figures.) I knew for a fact; all her balls came from her work as a wannabe superhero or Robin Hood. She had skills (like that one Liam Neeson character,), but I was the one with powers.
“Roberto Gian Reyes,” I said as I placed my hands on his chest. I was feeling for a nice bloody open wound to use as my entry point, to unite our life forces. “You're about to make a deal with the devil. But don't worry, I’ll make it worth your time."
My curious fingers found the perfect spot; an injury just below his clavicle where a shard of bone was protruding through his skin. Using the sharp broken bone as my cutting tool, I made an incision across my palm, along my lifeline. Whenever he flinched, I held him close, forcing the bone further and further through my hand, until at last I was impaled to the point of being immobile. The pain was not too unbearable. I imagined it was what normal people felt then they got implant piercings, except they got a little jewel or an odd- shaped piece of silicone. (Or devil horns, those were also pretty cool.) That’’s all this was; body modification. The first few times were had been the worst. No matter the prize, the human body still has nerves and tendons to deal with. But much like all body modifications; piercings, implants, gauges, or tattoos, it only gets easier with practice.
“Bobby Reyes, I give you my hand, in exchange for your life.” If I was a bad witch, I would’ve just fully sacrificed one finger. I’d bleed until my body absorbed his life force like a sponge. Once the spell was complete, I’d be down one finger, but having gained a slave. And I mean it in the worst sense; he would be a living doll who bent to my will. But I kind of like having two complete hands. (Plus, what the heck would I even do with ten slaves?)
I watched cautiously as his skin regrew and his body healed. “Yes!” With each new layer of cells, his features started to become more human. As bones fused and rebuilt, I could see the man was tall, with light skin and dark brown hair. His hair had previously been cut and or burned off. To see it regrow like the most beautiful grass, was truly awe-inspiring. How could anyone? To disfigure such a beautiful human was just criminal. “I can see why you were identified as a freelance model.” I couldn't actually remember where I’d read that. Oh, well. I’’d figure it out once we got back on the road.
I carefully moved him to our trailer, with my hand pinned to his still exposed bone. Lucky for me, the wheels on the bottom of my handmade gurney made the process a lot easier. “Ok, Miss Annie, let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“Mama Raven said fuck!” Lola giggled, clapping her hands.
Annie rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s about time, Mama Raven.” Holding Lola with one arm, she jumped into the driver’s seat and took off before I’d even fully closed the door. I could hear Lola laugh with delight as Annie made a sharp turn, on to the highway.
“I can hold the baby while you drive,” I said as I made myself comfortable in the back with Bobby. If I broke off the bone in my hand, the spell would fail, and with the extent of his injuries, my poor patient would likely die in my arms. But I had faith in my daughter, that she would not interfere with my process or our fragile connection.
Annie groaned. “Maybe when you're finished. For now, I can handle a toddler." Her strong arm clutched the baby, who clearly wanted to see what Mama Raven was up to. “Lola'’s at that stage where she puts everything in her mouth.”
“No!” Lola cried. “I want Mama Raven!”
“Fair enough, Annie.” I locked eyes with the struggling toddler. “Hey, Lola, I need you to listen to me, ok?”
“Mama?” She looked at me with a pouty, quivering lip.
“You need to calm down so Mama Annie can drive.” I wanted to ask Annie to pull over, to at least try and put the baby in her car seat. But it was more important for us to put some miles between us and the previous location. “Okay?”
Lola nodded and went limp in Annie’s arms. “Ok, Mama.”
With that issue resolved, I started chest compressions. To the untrained eye, it looked like I was performing CPR on Bobby’s wilted body. And in a way I was. One two three, press. One two three, press. Blood covered my hand, feeling warm, soothing, powerful. “By the Goddess, the primal queen.” I took a breath, focusing my thoughts. Words filled my mind from languages lost to time. “Dear one, I ask for your blessing in my time of trial.” I felt a ripple of energy. My request hads been granted.
“I pray to you, the legends and queens, the daughters and mothers, I call your names: Angelina, Scarlett, Miley, Elizabeth, Tanya, Ann, Olena...” This was the hard part. I had to name famous, powerful women. Luckily it seemed to work with only first names (a fact that I’d learned through trial and error.) As long as I could visualize a face to match the name (meaning no, making up random names that meant nothing to my history or soul.) Each name was meant to invoke the power of a woman; old, young, living, or dead. Because we are all goddesses walking this earth until our heavenly mother calls us to her side. The trick was to use as few names as possible for the strongest dose of magic. And to also use a wide variety, as to not draw from one person too often. To do so can lead to bad luck, such as the death of Princess Diana. But the ritual is usually quite efficient since the majority of powerful women don’t realize they have an excess of power. (Let’s just say this ritual is why Queen Elizabeth is pretty much immortal.) I could only wonder what kind of power my name carried.
Anyway, I watched my blood flow into Bobby’s chest, sharing my magic, my strength. It felt soothing, like taking a drink of ice-cold water on a hot day. To do this for a male was unheard of. But I’d done it successfully six times. And if the goddess power didn’t want me saving the lives of males, I assume they would have cut off my ‘prayer supply’ a long time ago.
Although it was clear, Bobby had lost consciousness due to the graphic nature of his injuries, once he’d borrowed enough of my power, he awoke with a blood-curdling scream.
Annie nearly swerved off the road, causing Lola to cry. “Fuck, Raven! Make your patient get his damn shit together!”
Bobby glanced in her direction, spewing forth a statement that drifted between nervous stuttering, and profanity. It was as if he were trying to defend himself, and or beg for his life. He was speaking what I assumed to be Spanish or maybe French. I wasn't fluent enough to be able to decipher what he was saying in his current mental and, emotional state. But I could tell by his body language he was (understandably) terrified.
“Hey.” I gripped his shoulder with my newly freed hand. My wound had healed over nicely, leaving behind only a thick, numb scar. I looked him in the eyes, forcing eye contact as I took deep breaths. “Inhale, exhale, just breathe, you’re safe here. Do you understand me? Do you speak English, at all?”
Bobby nodded and appeared to calm down. He placed a hand to my cheek, as if trying to get a better look at my face. His lips parted to speak, but the only thing that came out was more foreign gibberish, before he fell backward. Bobby started to convulse, seizing, with a noticeable amount of blood and spit oozing from his open lips.
“Crap.” I knew had known this was going to be a bad one. He’d been missing body parts, but there were also noticeable signs of organ damage. “You’re okay, you're going to be okay.” I sucked in my stomach, placing my hand on his throat. You got this, Raven. You’re so much stronger than your mother ever was. With the scar tissue over the open wound, I had to focus my power on his airway. But even with the blessing of the mother goddess, I had to be ready to make another physical sacrifice. And this time I didn’t get to pick. Luckily today’s events were not the first time I’d faced down such a dilemma, so I was mentally prepared for what was going to happen. Partially, anyway.
I was hoping against hope that the mechanics of the spell would draw from my fat cells (as opposed to cells that I actually needed.) Although I was in no way medically savvy enough to sway that outcome. In the past, I had sacrificed muscle and bone and even suffered organ failure on more than one occasion.
The process was always uncomfortable, and today was no exception. The magic chose to go after my stomach, giving me the equivalent of a series of ulcers. My arms trembled with pain, as my body threatened to go into shock, but I did not dare let go of Bobby. “Deep breathes, just keep breathing.” It was worth it for the end result.
I could feel my patient’’s chest rise and fall as breath filled his lungs. And then he screamed again, followed by more stammering in a language that I did not understand. I notice he was only screaming when his eyes were closed. When he could see me, he seemed to know I was not his assailant. “Bobby, just look at me. You're safe here, I’m a doctor.” Sort of, anyway.
“Médecin?” he asked.
“I don't know what that means.” By the tone of his accent, I was leaning more towards French, than Spanish. I turned to Annie, since research was her department. “In your investigation did you find anything about Bobby Reyes being French-Canadian?”
“I think so,” she said in an uncertain tone. “Um, polly vouparlez-vous English?”” She shouted the question slowly, as if speaking to a dog.
I couldn't help but roll my eyes. “Are you fucking serious right now?”
“Sorry, Raven, it’s the only phrase I know."
Lola cheerfully laughed at Annie’s French-Southern drawl. “Polly-- vou!"
The laughter seemed to calm Bobby enough for him to realize he was, in fact, safe. “W-who are you?” He spoke slow, broken English, but it was clear he understood well enough. “What am I doing here? And, um, how?”
“The name’s Raven, my partner and I are trackers. That means we follow instances of paranormal activity.”
“Par-ra-nor-mal ac-tiv-ity?” he repeated, enunciating every syllable. “Like the show with the two brothers?”
I was not surprised that the long-running television show, Supernatural had more of a following thaen the Paranormal Aactivity movie and its ungodly amount of sequels and prequels. “Yeah, actually.” I was thrown to the side as our trailer screeched to a halt. “Ow! What the hell?”
Annie chuckled. “Well, well, look what we have here.”
I stood up to take a peek out of the window. There I saw a red, late-nineties model Ford truck parked diagonally across the road. At least I thought it was red. As I squinted my eyes, the vehicle seemed to shimmer with a holographic glow. Oh, no, this was is not good.
There was only one type of creature who had a car like that. Well, technically two, and I was really hoping for a hipster millennial with an expensive paint job. “Come out come out whoever you are,” I muttered playfully, trying to show more balls than I actually had. I honestly hoped I would not be getting my wish.