Bokker spent the stakeout at Kilauea watching Jurassic World in a little window on his military-grade laptop, a thick, multi-cornered black slab that looked like an OtterBox on steroids. She assumed he watched porn on it as well, which raised the question of whether he was really masturbating to Pornhub or to this piece of shock-resistant electronics reaffirming his position as a Real American Badass. “Probably spanking it to videos of that Tesla cybertruck,” she said aloud.
Bokker pulled out an earbud. “What?”
“You sure your cams are working?”
He frowned and waved at the screen, which was otherwise occupied with the night-vision camera feeds in shades of green. “Yes.”
“Can’t see much with them.”
“You couldn’t see much without them either. It’s raining, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Which was, she understood, nearly always true here, in one of the world’s wettest spots. They were parked at an overlook near the visitor center, since the park rangers had run them off from better overnight vantages. The volcano had been active lately, with a lava lake forming a kind of crater within the crater. Its red glow permeated the low clouds and cast the landscape in an eerie light that, along with the billowing volcanic fumes, reminded Naoko disturbingly of the sunless depths of Hell, where flames and Lucifer’s sanguinary glow were the only sources of light. Maybe that was why she was so on edge.
Her hand stole away again to the pocket of her black denim jacket, fingering the kid’s charm bracelet there, a miscellany hung from a silver chain. A glass heart, a miniature Eiffel tower, a bear, a bird, a lacy butterfly made with a hot glue gun. She imagined eight-year-old Trudy Hamaker leaning over a table with the implement, biting her lip in concentration as she executed the design. Naoko could almost feel the heat on her fingers.
No, not almost. She let go for a second, then touched it again. The charm was hot. In a flash she yanked it from her pocket.
The butterfly was glowing bright green, and pulsing. Now she saw what she had missed before within the tracery: a rune of guardianship, bransg, like two half-moons placed back to back, with a triangle centered in the left. The charm bracelet was an actual charm, infused with some tiny amount of other-dimensional matter, demon blood or pixie dust or who knew what.
“What’s that?” Bokker said sharply.
“It’s hers. Trudy’s. She’s in trouble.”
“I don’t know. Nearby.”
“Shit.” He slammed the laptop shut, threw it behind them, and got out, just a second behind Naoko. She began drawing runes of her own over the bracelet, trying to trace the location of its owner. It was not demonic in origin, she discovered; probably from Faerie. This made it more difficult, as her own magic was firmly based in Hell, but she wasn’t totally ignorant on the subject.
She only took notice of Bokker again when he set down what appeared to be a cat carrier onto the asphalt. He had also retrieved an assault rifle from the backseat, leaning it against the SUV. While she looked on, puzzled, he opened the carrier and, with a black-gloved hand, pulled out a small animal. It was not a cat.
“What the fuck is that?”
“Indian pangolin,” he replied, setting it on the wet asphalt. The scaled creature turned onto its back, rolled into a partial ball, and sat looking at them mournfully.
“Was it back there the whole time?”
“Obviously.” From one of the many pockets of his camouflage vest he withdrew a small vial and began pouring its oily contents in a circle around the befuddled mammal (pangolins were mammals, right? Or were they marsupials?). The rain would disperse it, but maybe that didn’t matter.
She waited, but he didn’t say anything else. With a black sharpie he drew some runes on the pangolin’s scales as she drew closer. “And what, exactly, are you doing with said pangolin?”
“It’s a protection spell I learned it from this sadhu in Varanasi. Turns your skin hard as nails, makes you resistant to heat. I’ve seen it stop a bullet, no problem.”
“Aren’t pangolins endangered?”
“Well,” he grunted, drawing a bowie knife from a leg sheath, “better them than me.” The knife flashed down.
Its point hit only asphalt, deflected by Naoko’s sudden kick. “What the fuck?” Bokker scowled.
“That’s my question. What the fuck?”
Determined to ignore her, he now grabbed the poor beastie roughly, which pissed Naoko off more, and brought the knife down again, or tried to. This time she feinted with one foot, causing him to grab for it, twisted slightly so he caught only her jeans, stepped off his shoulder and again kicked his knife hand, hard enough to knock the blade right out of his hand. She ended by twisting to land lightly between him and the knife.
The thing about guys like him is that they hated it when a girl half their size beat them at anything. Determined to have his way, Bokker sprung forward and tried to tackle her, presumably to teach her a lesson.
By then a judgment had crystallized in her forebrain: Fuck Jared Bokker. He’d led her to Trudy, and she would thank him for that. But she’d disliked him the moment he tried to crush her hand in his man-grip at the airport. She disliked his crew cut, his Diet Cokes, his camo and his gadgets. She even disliked the Ford Expedition he’d rented, just by association.
So instead of being tackled, she did a leaping cartwheel over him, one hand springing off his crew cut to give her some extra lift and, not coincidentally, pressing his head precipitously downward until he sprawled like a fool in the puddles, hands outstretched and splashing. With a small tug at her waist, her ensorcelled runechain/gothy belt slipped free, like a snake eager for a mouse, and she whipped it around his feet. Its links, each a demonic rune, could be rearranged to form a variety of spells. Right now it was on its default: restrain and entangle.
At that moment a sudden boom shook the caldera. She had just turned that direction, and to her shock saw a massive bolt of red-white lightning split the sky, striking very close. A fiery lash of fresh lava spouting upward at the point of impact, and a tremor running through the earth. This was, she feared, the answer to the question of where Trudy was.
“Fucking let me GO!” Bokker yelled, red-faced and writhing, his wrists now effectively chained to his neck by the unbreakable chain. The pangolin had risen to its feet and was plodding toward the jungle’s edge, hopeful perhaps that it would find some new varieties of ant to enjoy in the Hawaiian rainforest. “Aren’t you a witch? Witches kill shit all the time!”
“Maybe I’m a different kind of witch,” she replied. “Thanks for the info on the girl.” She turned and ran for the crater’s edge, tracing runes in the air.
Joel Tagert is a fiction writer, artist and longtime Zen practitioner living in Denver, Colorado. He is also currently the office manager for the Zen Center of Denver and the editorial proofreader for Westword. His debut novel, INFERENCE, was released July 2017.
Nico Salazar is an illustrator, muralist, and designer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has been drawing since he was a small child and grew up between Santa Fe, California, and Hawaii due to his father’s service in the U.S. Navy. These three locations heavily shaped Nico’s style showcasing a unique synergy of cute & dangerous imagery that blends influences of manga, street culture, comic books, graffiti art, and 90s nostalgia.
He received his BFA in Painting from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2014 and shortly after joined up with artist collective Meow Wolf to produce his wildly popular mural-room installation Hidden Capsule in Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. Nico went on to form his product line Future Fantasy Delight in 2015 with support from Meow Wolf and is currently working on his Spring/Summer collections.
Nico enjoys gazing at the Tokyo Skyline, collecting luxury paint markers, being around palm trees and practicing his psychic powers.