Fogbound (part one)
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” the witch insists. With a tiny smile she thinks is private, she amends: “I haven’t broken any laws.”
“Lady, I’m pretty sure there’s something not right about turning a man into your zombie love slave.” I decide to put it all out on the table. The quicker I get this over with and get the hell out of this building, the better.
This woman, Kristy Zeigler, gazes back from the threshold of her apartment into the interior. Soft gray light floods through all the windows, too delicate to create shadows. Sitting on a long, lumpy sofa that I can just barely see from the door is the guy I’m after, Neil Everett, web-design slug and husband of one of my best and oldest friends. He’s wearing dark brown leather pants and a linen shirt the deep red of drying blood, unbuttoned over A scrum of dark chest hair.
“You’re not a zombie, are you, darling?” she calls.
Neil looks up from the magazine he’s been flipping through. “Pretty sure not, babe. Hey, Sean.
His eyes are both radiant with adoration and sleepy, half-lidded with sexual languor. Devoid of even a flicker of dignity.
Zeigler raises an eyebrow, as though she’s just won an argument. If this is the woman Neil left Susana for, there must be witchcraft involved. She’s a decade his senior, and an unkind decade it was. An unnatural redhead, too much makeup, aging toward matronly. Low-slung jeans that pinch a roll of fat around her bare midriff, a few inches of skin below a clingy forest-green tank top that’s either cropped to bare her midriff, or merely held aloft by the aggressive push-up bra.
“If Neil’s tiresome little wife sent you to beg him to return, come on in.” Hollywood-red lips curl into a flirty, sinister smile. This is her star turn, after years as an extra, and she motions me in with carefully staged indifference. “The sooner you can go tell her to move on with her life, the better.”
“I’ve got nothing to say to him.” I squeeze past her in the narrow hallway, close enough that I smell her perfume, something warm and spicy. “I’m here to make you let him go. I know what you’ve done to him.”
“Neil, baby, have I done anything to you?” she calls. “Anything besides screw your brains out?”
“No, that’s about it,” he laughs. He stands up as I enter the room, and looks sheepish. Maybe because he’s cheating on a woman who was way too good for him to begin with, maybe because he’s dressed like a complete tool. He doesn’t know whether to put out his hand or not. I’m glad when he doesn’t. “Hey, Sean.”
“You said that already.” I’ve always liked Neil well enough. He and Suze have a lot in common, and he’s always made her very happy. Always struck me as okay in a routinely guy kind of way. Football and video games and cheap beer.
“Oh,” he says, eyes roaming the floor between us. “Sorry.”
I look at his outfit again. He looks like the cover of a self-published romance novel. He sits on the edge of the couch, leaning forward, a posture meant to suggest sincerity. “I know you must think I’m a complete shit. But, man, I’ve never been in love like this.”
I turn from him to take in the bars of his cage. Zeigler has a nice apartment—top floor of an eight-floor building, battered period touches like crown molding along the high ceilings. Needs a paint job and better furniture, but the space itself is impressive. The view of Lake Merritt must be pretty nice, except that there’s been a thick gray fog surrounding this block for five weeks, in defiance of all meteorological principle. The TV news people have all reported on it. The fog has its own Internet fan site, and a fake Twitter persona.
“If you came to admire the view, I’m sorry.” She comes up behind me at the window, high heels clicking on the hardwood, and stands a little too close. Musky and floral at once, pushy. That would be a good name for it: Pushy, by Calvin Klein. “We’ve had the strangest weather lately.”
“Is that you, too?” I look at the fog and I look at her, and I don’t know which is cause and which is effect. She’s wearing fake eyelashes. I didn’t know they still made those. “I know about this building,” I tell her.
Long story I don’t want to tell, made short: For a few years I dated a woman who read Tarot cards professionally. Claimed to be one-third Gypsy, which isn’t mathematically possible but is a cute thing to say. She used to point this building out to me, a little gray tower just off Oakland’s concrete-lined lake. “Bad mojo,” she’d say. Maybe there’s something in the land it was built on, maybe it’s something in the architectural design, but it’s a magnet for bad power, and bad things.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Kristy asks. “Tea?”
“She makes a really good herbal tea,” Neil says. “Her own blend.”
“I’ll pass.” How dumb does she think I am? Guess I’d only have to be as dumb as Neil. “You know she’s done something to you, right? I mean, deep down, you gotta know this isn’t real.”
“It’s real,” he insists, as though he can convince me. “I admit it happened kinda fast. We met at my gym. At first it was just a hello thing, but then … I fell hard. I was teaching her barbell squats, and … the heat of her, the smell, the softness of her voice, her hair … I had to have her.”
“Yeah, that sounds entirely plausible.”
“It started with conversation … we came back here just to talk, and I fell in love over a cup of tea,” he says. “I mean, yes, the physical side is amazing—”
“Epic,” she offers.
“Stop,” I say. “So that’s it? You abandon Susana, you don’t even talk to her?” I wonder if I can get through to him. If there are official ways to break a love spell, I don’t know them. If I say her name a hundred times, if I detail the pain he’s putting her through, will it eventually chip away at the fraud? Maybe if I just slap him really hard. That would be worth a try.
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