A Time For Crows
“Well, I’ll be,” McPherson began, but trailed off as we took in the sudden darkness.
The outside lights still burned a cold blue, giving us enough to see frost creaking along the windows.
If you’ve ever seen frost falling and building up on angled glass, you know it makes the most bizarre of patterns, resembling anything from tansies to imperial kale and even ferns—it’s beautiful and haunting with its odd sort of peace like you find in the stillness of a graveyard. But these patterns weren’t natural. The frost made the glass creak and shudder and moan, and it froze in jagged slashes across the windows.
It was cold enough the tips of my ears and nose hurt.
Sleep bindings, he replied.
Where’s the binder? I said. They were coming for the woman.
Working on it, Eddy said.
Sleep bindings made sense. Bindings took energy from the oddest of places. Sleep spells, or bindings, would take the heat from a room as its energy source and basically slap a stream of comatose over its victims. It’s just like the opposite of a microwaved burrito—real cold on the outside and real warm on the inside. To the binder, the spell would appear like blue water channels that he could then move with his will. But to everyone else, they’re invisible.
Unless you’ve got something like Eddy. He can see the energy streams.
Down! He shouted.
I probably should have let it hit McPherson, but instead I tackled him and said: “Get down.”
McPherson took some of the fall, but I still landed hard on my knees.
“Get off me,” he roared, and drew his gun.
“Shut up,” I hissed back and clamped my hand over his mouth. “You’ll make us targets.”
A wave of heat rolled over us about chest height, followed by such biting cold that I blinked frost out of my eyes.
McPherson tried to shrimp out from under me and might have been successful if he hadn’t been trying to put his gun in my face. I didn’t have time for this; the woman I’d brought in didn’t have time for this.
I locked his right leg in a quasi leg triangle and then punched his right elbow inward, which made him fumble his grip just enough so I could strip the gun away. He went for my throat. Damn guy was stronger than he looked and had tussled once or twice before. So I shoved his gun under his throat.
“Let go,” I said.
And his hand relaxed.
“Shut up,” I said. “You want to get us killed?” It was a small thing to stay quiet after he’d already yelled, sure, but I’d rather not give away any advantages we may have, no matter how small.
We’ve got company, Eddy said.
Look up—there—trying to come through the front doors.
Looks like, Eddy said.
Eddy’s and my exchange took less than a heartbeat.
I scooted away from McPherson and put his cold gun on the ground—polymer grip leached the heat from my fingers. Besides, I wasn’t going to take it—I just didn’t want to get shot right from the get go. And I figured doing so would be a gesture of goodwill.
“We got to save her,” I whispered, or at least I hope I whispered.
Despite the darkness, enough light came through to make out McPherson’s bewildered features. “What?”
“They’re coming for her,” I said.
Something smashed against the frozen glass doors. I flinched. Frost puffed off the doors, but they held for the moment. When you magically strip the heat from something, say like a door, you’ll freeze the locks and latches. Hospital doors are strong. I wouldn’t be surprised either if they’d beefed up the doors two years ago when a nut-job named Jerry Bischoff had tried to shoot up the hospital over off Roosevelt. He’d blown up a couple of the security doors if I remember right.
Another boom on the doors.
I hopped up to a crouch, and from my angle, looked like three shadows stood on the opposite side of the glass doors, which were about twenty-five feet away or so. And while I couldn’t hear what they were saying, with all the arm waving, it was clear they were arguing.
What do we got out there? I asked Eddy
Hmm, looks like humans, good, but they’re binders. If they get through, we’re screwed.
Yippee, I said.
Maybe put me to sleep before the end so I don’t have to feel it.
I’ll haunt you in the afterlife, don’t worry.
Rapid shots came from deeper inside the hospital.
“Come on,” I said and ran in a crouch toward the closed doors that led to the patient rooms.
I’d taken all of four steps when McPherson said, “Don’t move.”
Crap, I didn’t have time for this. Should have seen that coming, but I’d hoped with my gesture of goodwill, he’d see I wasn’t the bad guy here. I lifted my arms and turned.
McPherson crouched with his pistol aimed at my chest.
You know, Eddy said, for future reference, it’s probably not the best idea to still move when a pissed-off cop has his gun trained on you and says “don’t move.”
The front doors rattled again and screeched with metal on metal, like they were trying to pry open the doors.
You might have two minutes if they keep it up like that, Eddy said.
“Look,” I said, my breath coming out in clouds, “they’re going to kill her.”
“Shut up,” he said, and stood, keeping his gun on me.
Guess I should have kept his gun, I said to Eddy.
Oh that would have been a good idea.
He with them?
Not that I can tell; probably just another do-gooder.
Kind of his job.
Sure. But you did manage to hurt his left hip pretty good when you dropped him.
And his pride.
Should have just let him fall asleep, Eddy said. But no, your conscious has to get the better of you. Probably won’t even shoot him now, even though it’d save you time.
More panicked shots echoed somewhere behind the emergency doors.
McPherson jerked his pistol toward the sound, but then back on me quicker than you’d expect a guy of his size to move.
“We can save her,” I said. God, I hoped so.
“You’re under arrest.” He stalked toward me, trying to hide his limp and the shiver in his voice. He obviously found strength in the familiar, was probably groping for protocol right now. “On your knees.”
“You’ve got three armed cultists outside,” I said, “ready to break open the doors.”
“Get down.” Least this time he kept his voice down.
“Plus who knows how many more inside.”
“And you have no idea how the frost came in here, or why everyone’s suddenly asleep, but you think that maybe I do.”
McPherson swallowed. He stood far enough away I couldn’t disable him, but he was in a pickle, and he knew it.
“Put the gun down,” I said. “And for God sakes help me save this woman.”
Oh dear, Eddy said, you’re basically saying “I’ve got a bigger penis, McPherson.”
The tip of a wrecking bar cracked through the double doors.
And they’ve seen us, Eddy said. Great. We’re dead.
Part of me wondered why I’d sworn off magic myself. It’d be easy to just open the floodgate and blast out power, disable McPherson, and keep the cultists out for a few more minutes. The pressure was always there, the magical buildup if you will. But there were a few problems with just opening back up to it. The first is that I hadn’t used it in so long I wasn’t even sure what would happen if I opened that gate—too much power, too little? But the even bigger problem was I’d seen what had happened to Earl—he’d gone on a dark path, which overcame his sanity in the end. And I’d been right there with him, on the same path. When it came down to it, I couldn’t trust myself to use magic. Ann was proof of that.
“You know why it’s so damn cold in here?” McPherson said, and even shivered.
I nodded. “I have to save her.”
The doors jerked open another inch or so. We had seconds.
“Okay.” McPherson nodded, almost more to himself than to me and lowered his gun. “Okay. But you do anything funny, and I’ll shoot your ass.”
Jump back, Eddy shouted.