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What We Cant See

by Kaye Thornbrugh
Copyright Kaye Thornbrugh

You lied to her, Alice said, her voice low as she sketched the first lines of the
binding circle on the tile floor. The chalk didnt want to stick, and she pressed
harder. To that woman who hired us.
I did not. Filo yanked the flower-print curtains closed, blocking out the
August sunlight. The kitchen went dim, all the smooth, clean surfaces gleaming
mutely. I told her we could handle a poltergeist, and we can.
You only said that because she looked at you like you were a kid and it
made you angry, Alice protested, knowing she was right. Filo was fifteen, not
quite finished growing into his limbs, though Alice could already see the man he
was becoming starting to emerge in his features: the elegant lines of his face were
strengthening slightly, and the cast of his incredibly blue eyes was more focused
every day. Alice was the same age, but she looked even younger than he did. You
dont have to prove anything to her.
I wasnt trying to
Besides, she went on, this isnt the job she hired us for. She made it
sound like a faery, not a ghost!
When they arrived at this house half an hour agothe house of the woman
whod hired them to look into her familys supernatural troubleit had
immediately become clear what kind of problem she had. Alice had hesitated, but
Filo had plowed ahead and asked the family to clear out for a few hours while they
worked.
And now they were standing in a suburban kitchen, preparing for an
exorcism. Even now, Alice could feel the cold, chaotic energy rushing through this
house like wind, making her skin crawl. She suppressed a shudder.

In their business, Filo and Alice mostly handled problems like evicting
pixies from attics and returning runaway gargoyles to their cathedral posts.
Werecreatures, shapeshifters and half-breeds hired them to brew potions and craft
prepackaged spells. Once, they broke a curse for a vampire. But ghosts were a
whole different ball game.
Ghosts arent like faeries, Alice insisted. We cant even See them!
It was true: Alice and Filo had the Second Sight, which cut through faerie
glamour and other illusions, but ghosts didnt have to reveal themselves, not even
to their eyes. To deal with them, you had to rely on what you could feel.
Look, Alice began. We dont have to do this. We can pass the job along.
That half-phouka uptown
We can handle a damn poltergeist, Filo said sharply. As he spoke, he
pulled a bundle of sage from his bag and touched his fingers to the leaves, igniting
them with a pulse of magical energy. The smoke wafted across the kitchen, making
Alices eyes water. Its not like theyre even real ghosts. Theyre just bundles of
loose energy. We just have to lure it, bind it and take it apart.
Im just saying, if you dont feel like youre ready
Were ready, Alice. We dont need him to do it for us.
Him.
Nasser. That was who he meant.
In the past, Nasser had always taken the lead on ghost jobs; his extreme
sensitivity to magical energies made it easy for him. Ghosts didnt scare himbut
Alice feared them because they didnt always follow the normal rules, and Filo was
afraid of anything he couldnt see, even if hed never admit it.
If Nasser had been with them, theyd have no doubts. But Nasser had been
gone for almost a year. They hadnt accepted a single ghost job since he and Jason
had left them. Until now.
Gripping the thick piece of chalk harder than before, Alice looked up at Filo.
He was examining the blade of his short-handled knife, the one he used in spells
and rituals. The blade was inscribed with thin, elegant runes.

You can say his name, you know, Alice said. It wont hurt you to say
Nasser.
But when she said it, he flinched a little. For a moment, she abandoned her
task and stood, cupping his elbow lightly.
Its okay, Filo, she said softly. I miss him, too. I see him everywhere
every blond guy on the street is him until I take a second look. And every time I
hear music, I think its Jason. Its okay to want them here. Its okay to miss them.
I dont miss them.
Filo, theyre our friends.
His voice went low and sort of hollow as he shrugged her off. They were
our friends. They betrayed us, Alice. I dont miss them at all. Now lets get to
work.
Alice sighed, but didnt argue. It wasnt worth it.
By the time she finished sketching the binding circle on the floor and
sprinkling salt around it, Filo had prepared the bucket of salt water and shredded
sage, and placed three stubby white candles in the center of the circle. Alice had
molded the candles herself; shavings of rowan bark and salt were mixed in with the
wax, which was gouged with runes of attraction.
Ready? he asked.
Before she could speak, all the cupboards flew open, slamming open and
shut with tremendous force, the dishes and glasses rattling maniacally on the
shelves. Drawers flung themselves open, cutlery jangling like bells. Goose bumps
bloomed all down Alices arms as the frenzied energy flowing through the house
intensified, a charge in the air that prickled against her skin.
Hurriedly, Filo touched his finger to each candles wick. A bright blue flame,
the same color as his eyes, ignited on each. He reached for the third wick
and the room exploded with sound.
Alice ducked as a dinner plate shot across the kitchen, through the space
where her head had just been, and shattered against the far wall. Mugs launched
themselves at Filo, catching him across the shoulders as he hunched over

defensively. He tried to stand, but a chair dragged across the tile and slammed into
his legs, bowling him over.
A plate connected with Alices ribs, and she stumbled, gasping. The room
was a whirl of crashing plates and slamming cupboards, a tornado of sound. The
poltergeists energy pulsed beneath it all, insistent as a heartbeat, urging the chaos.
Knives and forks leaped from a drawer, hurtling toward Filo as he
straightened. With a flare of magic, he flung his right forearm up, baring the
protective bracelet he always woreand the projectiles bounced away from his
face with sparks of blue-white light, as if striking an invisible shield.
A chill washed over Alice like ice water, and she jerked around. The
poltergeist was in this room, its interest piqued, drawn by the magical candlelight
like a bug to a lamp. She could feel it in the air, pressing in against herbut there
wasnt enough light.
Alice lunged toward the circle. She forced so much magic into her fingertips
that she almost incinerated the wick of the last candlebut the bright white flame
caught and held, and she scuttled away from the circle as the poltergeists cold
chaos energy rushed past her, toward the light, into the binding circle.
Filo flattened himself against the tile, diving under a chair that crashed
through the air, and whipped out his knife. He swept the blade across his palm and
slapped his hand onto the edge of the circle, releasing a pulse of magic that even
Alice feltand the circle snapped shut like a trap.
At once, the kitchen fell still.
Every animated object clattered to the floor, but inside the circle, the
poltergeist raged, a little storm cloud of energy. Alice could almost see itthe
faintest outlines of it, shadowsas it hurled itself against the magical barriers with
a sound like distant thunder. But it was sealed with blood and salt and magic. The
poltergeist was going nowhere.

Rising, Alice flung open the curtains, flooding the kitchen with fierce light.
Sunlight disrupted spirits, pulled them apart like loose seams, but the bucket of salt
water that Filo pitched into the circle was what finished it.
The air sizzled and hissed as the poltergeist dissolved; Alice opened the
window and screen door so the excess energy could dissipate into the dry heat
outside. Filo burned more sage, fanning the purifying smoke through the room.
For a long moment, they stood catching their breath.
I told you it would be fine, Filo said eventually. He tossed the burned-up
ends of the sage leaves unceremoniously into the backyard.
She shook her head. You really needed this, didnt you?
A heartbeat passed, and she was sure he wasnt going to answer. His gaze
was fixed on the lawn, green and vibrant, where a sprinkler ticked back and forth,
little rainbows arching in its spray. Then he lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
I wanted to know that we could do it, he admitted.
What? she asked, walking up behind him. Fight what we cant see?
He shook his head. No. Just that we can still do some things ourselves.
We can do everything by ourselves, Filo, she replied. She reached for him,
meaning to squeeze his shoulder, then dropped her hand. There was so much he
couldnt see. Ghosts werent the half of it. Doesnt mean we always should.
Frowning, he let the screen door fall shut. Alice winced when it slammed
against the door frame. Then she swept her gaze around the kitchen once more.
Shattered bits of glass and plates glinted on the off-white tile. Wooden chairs
sprawled in pieces. Granules of salt and powdery chalk slowly dissolved into the
water splashed across the floor.
Did you make any promises about damages? Alice inquired, biting her lip.
Like, partial refunds for cleaning costs?
Of course not, Filo snorted. Poltergeists are messy by nature. If you want
to make omelets, you have to crack a few eggs. Or, you know, smash up a kitchen.
Shrugging, Alice mused, Maybe theyll be so grateful we exorcised the
poltergeist that they wont even notice.

Filo waved away her words. Doesnt matter anyway, he drawled. I dont
believe in refunds. And besides The smallest of smiles quirked his mouth, and
Alice reflected the expression instinctively. They already paid.