The phosphorescent lights of the twenty-four hour pharmacy stung her eyes a bit, so Delilah took her shades out of a pocket and put them on. The bulky rims blocked out most of the light, and her steps echoed through the deserted isles, isles like alleyways full of unwanted goods and just as empty. They were full of the impression of variety, but if you looked at the ingredients just about everything was the same: high fructose corn syrup was in everything, even the medicine and the bread, a dash of citric acid, caffeine, calcium disodium to preserve the impression of flavor – literally everything in the place was made up of different incantations of around thirty ingredients, themselves derivatives of about ten. It sickened her.
She approached the pharmacy with a sense of urgency, and tapped the little bell at the counter. It rang out with a clear, crisp ding. A tired blonde woman, who couldn’t have been much older than Delilah, put down a fashion magazine and with all the lethargy of a coiled cat – and just the same demeanor – went up to the counter.
“Where’s the old man?” Delilah asked with suspicion.
“I’m his new assistant what can I get you?” She rolled her eyes as she spoke. She was a condescending little thing, that was for sure, and certainly didn’t know who she was talking to. Delilah measured her up, and decided that she probably was pretty with a little sleep and some makeup. Delilah knew she looked like shit at the moment, but didn’t care.
“Well I just wanted the usual,” Delilah said, and realized under the assistant’s unflinching glare that there wasn’t really a way for her to know what that was. In a huff she reached a hand into the pack slung over her shoulder, took out a crumpled piece of paper, and held it before the assistant’s face.
“That’s not an order form,” she said, looking down her nose at Delilah.
“I know it’s not an order form, just get it for me,” Delilah was starting to lose her temper, and this woman definitely didn’t want that.
“Well if you don’t have your order form do you at least have the number? I can look up your name too, otherwise,” she leaned forward over the counter, “you’ll just have to come back later,” she cocked her head and smiled. Delilah took a plain silver flask out of her pack and downed a big gulp, it stung like tart fire, then she let the woman have a full blast of her glare.
“I’m sorry we don’t allow drinking in here, you’re going to have to leave,” she said, a little flummoxed.
Delilah made no motion to leave, but instead looked around for any cameras, she saw one behind the counter in a corner… only a few seconds now. The woman followed her gaze and said, “Um yea we have cameras in here, look lady, you really should just leave okay?”
Lady? Did she really just call me that. Delilah uttered a curse under breath, “kanpa,” and the camera popped off of its hinges, snapped off the wall, and flew across the room hit the other wall and clattered to the ground. The assistant screamed and jumped in fright, and when she turned to look at Delilah it was with the respect and reverence she so deserved, “Get my medicine,” she whispered. The assistant ran off to do her bidding, she came back in a few minutes, and had a small brown bag in her hands. Delilah checked to make sure everything was there, then turned her attention to the assistant, who looked back at her with the eyes of a frightened kitten barely comprehending the full danger it was in, “Don’t hurt me just leave okay,” she whispered.
“Has anyone ever told you, you look cute when you’re scared?” Delilah had absolutely no interest in the woman, but she savored her abject fear. The terror in her eyes sent a shiver down Delilah’s spine.
“No no please no,” she muttered through quivering lips, but Delilah cut her rambling short and said, “I’m not going to hurt you little fool, just remember not to be so quick to judge. Have a bit of consideration.” The woman nodded vigorously, and before she turned to leave Delilah whispered another curse, “kia kanpa,” that gently patted the woman’s behind – the look on her face was magic.
Delilah pulled her sweater close around her small frame, as much as she loved the full moon she hated how the wind blew right through her. The October tree boughs swayed hither and thither, and it made her smile despite the cold. She had the ingredients she needed to finish off her love potion, it would be ready in a few days and then she just might have someone to keep her warm. It didn’t matter whether or not it was of his free will, Delilah looked down on people, even the “smart” ones could never fathom the power of her potions. A few cats came out to meow and purr at her feet. She bent down to pat their scruffy necks, and picked up a small wiry black cat to hold while the others walked at her side. She chuckled with delight as one of them meowed and patted her leg, insisted to be picked up. She bent down, held the two cats as they nuzzled her chin with their own wet little noses. She wasn’t so cold just then.
One of the cars parked on the street suddenly rumbled to life, the two cats leapt out of her arms, and one left an awful scratch up her arm even through her clothes. Delilah rummaged through her pack for the flask that had her potion, she fumbled to screw the cap off while a man stepped out of the car. He was about average height, and from his silhouette she could tell from his tight shirt that he had an athletic build – he wouldn’t have any trouble overpowering her. Delilah took a couple of swigs, but it would take maybe half a minute to kick in, he was already striding toward her. She turned to run but he was already on her, he grabbed her arm and said, “Excuse me miss would you like a ride?” His voice was gentle, non-threatening, and she felt a sudden flush in her cheeks at having been frightened.
“No thank you,” she said quickly, and meant to take a step away from him, but his grip on her arm stayed firm and he said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist. It’s dangerous this time of night.”
“I’ll be fine,” Delilah said.
“I insist,” he said with a smile.
Delilah sighed, looked to his car then back at him, and shivered from the cold. “Fine,” she said. She walked to the passenger side door, his car was a classic muscle car of some kind or another, old and washed up but a well maintained purple. The inside had an interesting aroma, pleasant, heavy, and familiar though she couldn’t pinpoint what it was. He sat down with an easy languid gait, rolled down his window and took a pipe out from somewhere, “You don’t mind if I smoke do you?”
“It’s your car,” she said.
He shrugged, stuffed his pipe with something dark and aromatic and lit up, puffing heavily. She saw the sharp angles of his face in the firelight, his chin stubble, mustache, and close-cropped afro. His fingernails and cuticles were cut, apparently he kept himself as well maintained as his car. “What is that?” She asked, genuinely curious.
He exhaled sharply out the window, turned and said, “It’s tobacco. Real tobacco, no additives or carcinogens for me thank you,” he smiled, the white of his teeth stood out in the darkness.
“I never knew it could smell so nice,” she said.
“It’s my own special blend,” he said and held the pipe out to her, “I even carved the pipe myself out of Jamaican wood.” The pipe was an angry face carved out of a swirl of white and dark wood, the sap seeped out and solidified into sweat on the brow and tears that trickled down the eyes. It formed a grotesque kind of beauty that Delilah understood.
“Are you Jamaican?”
“My great-grandfather was, but I’ve never been outside the states,” he took another long drag from his pipe, put the car in first gear, and started to drive down the deserted street in the opposite direction Delilah had been walking.
“What were you doing out here in your car?” She asked, and figured he was looking for a place to turn around.
“Taking a nap,” he said. She didn’t quite believe him, and said, “Really? What is it, one in the morning?”
After a brief pause he said, “What if I said I was waiting for you?” He looked into her eyes from behind a haze of smoke.
“Now why would you do that?”
“Maybe I think you’re beautiful and wanted to kidnap you or something.”
“Or something,” she laughed, “well you seem alright,” she gave him a smile and ran a hand through her hair.
“Seriously though, I’m not taking you home,” he observed her out of the corner of an eye, to see how she reacted.
“Where are you taking me then, a cemetery or something?” They chuckled together. He had no idea what he was dealing with, she could rip the hinges off the door fasten him to the seat and blow the car into smithereens with a little mental effort, but she wouldn’t, not just yet anyway.
“I was thinking my place, I live pretty close and have an extra room. I’ll make you some dinner too, unless you object?”
“You mean you don’t live in your car?”
“Ouch,” he laughed, “thankfully not.”
“Well do I have a choice?” She asked with a little smirk, knowing she damn well did.
“Nope,” he said, and they shared an intense look. He turned out onto a wide avenue, they passed rows of silent suburbia on either side.
“Well if you’re going to kidnap me, I’d at least like to know what you do,” she asked.
“I drum,” he said, “I play the African djembe.”
“I meant like what you do for a living. Unless of course you make your living as a drummer.”
“I do, actually. I play out on cruise ships, in studios, out at shows, anywhere and for anyone who will pay my price, which is relatively high as far as percussionist’s go, if you’re really so curious. What do you do exactly?”
“I make potions,” she said, somehow willing to take a chance at telling him a bit of the truth.
“Huh, and does that pay well?” He asked with a sidelong glance.
“Well enough, and I’m one of the best at my craft, if you really must know.”
“Oh I must, must definitely,” his smile was broad and good-natured, “I wouldn’t want to bring a bad witch home,” Delilah felt like he’d seen right through her, and suddenly she didn’t feel so comfortable, then he added, “but you seem alright.” She stayed quiet so he said, “Hey I didn’t mean anything by that, it’s just you know, making potions, witchcraft, I figured since it was October it would be an appropriate joke. Here’s my place,” he pulled over into the driveway. His house didn’t have grass but a rock garden with a few cacti, it would’ve been a total dump in anyone else’s hands, but somehow he kept it looking just a well kept comfortable sort of “lived in”. It certainly looked better than Delilah’s dingy apartment, but there was something else about the place that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. More of a feeling really, an intuition that crept up her spine and told her to go home, to go home now, but when he said it wasn’t too late to change her mind she said dinner sounded nice – the feeling wasn’t related to him at all. She liked his charm, but there was something else. She reassured herself that her flask was still in its place and walked up the path with him.
He held the door open for her, and she walked into pitch darkness, then from behind her he struck a match and lit a candle. He walked around the room, lighting candles on the walls, until the room was bright with flickering light. The room had a fireplace, a couch with a multi-colored sheet over it that was black green and yellow, a lazy-boy recliner, a long coffee table, and there on its own side of the room was the djembe. It was a foot wide and a few feet long, it tapered at the waist and then fanned out again to the bottom, like a shapely woman. It rested on a stand that held it in the air and was covered with a white sheet. The half of the room that had the djembe didn’t have any carpet, but the other half did. Following her line of sight, the man said, “That’s my baby, she’s no doubt anxious to meet you. I’m Markus by the way, you never asked my name you know.”
“Delilah,” she said, and held a hand out to him.
“Pleasure,” he shook it, smiled, and motioned for her to sit where she pleased, “I’ll go get dinner started, make yourself at home.”
“Why don’t I help? I can cook,” she said. Markus lifted an eyebrow, “It’s already prepared,” he said, “I just need to put it in the oven,” he took her arm and walked her into the kitchen, a candle in his other hand. “My eyes are light sensitive, in case you’re put off by all the candles.”
“I don’t mind,” she said, “it’s kind of nice actually.”
“Good. I made lasagna,” the kitchen was a small space with a checkered floor, the walls were a dull blue that lit up nicely under the candlelight. There was an old stove and oven, and a little mini-fridge, other than that room was empty. “I don’t spend a lot of time here at the house, I just practice here in between traveling really,” he knelt down and pulled the little container of lasagna out from the fridge, it was just enough for two, “I hope you like mushrooms,” he said.
“I don’t mind them,” Delilah said, and Markus took the cover off the lasagna, “it looks good.”
“Five different kinds of mushrooms,” he said, and shook his head to emphasize their delectability. He set the container on the oven rack, set the temperature, and asked, “Would you like anything to drink?”
“Water would be nice,” she said. Markus opened a cupboard and got a clean glass, then filled it with water from the tap, “Afraid I can’t offer you any ice,” he said, and handed her the glass. He walked her out to the sitting room, “Would you like me to play some music for you?”
“Well I don’t see what else there is to do,” she said, and sat on the couch.
“Well hopefully you enjoy the show,” Markus went to the other side of the room where his drum was, and that’s when Delilah started to get that uncomfortable intuition again, like she was somehow in danger, that something was wrong, but it was just a drum, and she still had her potion handy. She didn’t see any reason to be feeling the way she did, and wrote it off as not having spoken to a man this charming and interesting in such a long time – perhaps ever. He was somehow different from any man she’d ever met, like a breath of fresh air. Men usually bored her, even the ones who knew all the right things to say were predictable, and she had no interest in what they had to say anyway. It wasn’t just that she liked Markus, or thought he was nice, but she was genuinely interested to hear him play. Even the instrument he played was unique and exotic to her.
Markus tore the white sheet aside. The drum was beautifully crafted, it had the same swirl of dark and light wood that his pipe had, only now it seemed to reveal some hidden meaning – like seeing yin and yang, life and death, love and hate, contained in one symbol. The head was made of taut goat skin, long ropes held it down tightly to wrap around the drum’s waistline. Delilah fancied they reminded her of a corset. Markus stroked the skin lovingly, then whacked it with his palm to produce a loud bass note that reverberated throughout the room, Delilah felt it in her bones, Markus smiled. “It never gets old,” he said, and then dove into a basic rhythm. His hands were mesmerizing to watch, and the richness of the tone was incredible. Delilah had never heard anything like it, but as good as he was, she started to feel more uncomfortable. After a few minutes she wanted him to stop, but his eyes were closed in concentration, but just as she was about to get up and go over to him he stopped. “Do you have a bathroom?” She asked.
“First room on the left,” he said, and pointed at a dark hall, “Here,” he handed her a small lit candelabra.
The bathroom walls and sink were stained, but aside from that it was quite clean. Delilah looked at herself in the mirror, into her own auburn eyes, and whispered, “Get a hold of yourself. You’re in complete control, you could end him at any time if he tried something.” Not feeling so sure, she took her flask out and downed the rest of her potion. That would make her powerful enough to shove him through a wall. When she came back the lasagna was ready, he had a plate laid out for her on the coffee table, and was himself already eating, “I’m kind of starving,” he said apologetically, “hope you like it.” She sat next to him on the couch, drank a bit of water, and took a bite. It was good, flavorful, full of texture, and the variety of mushrooms were complimented by a number of cheeses.
“This is good,” she said, “where did you learn to cook like this?”
“I learned from the same person who taught me how to play that drum, my great grandfather. He taught me a lot of things…” he trailed off in reminiscence, “ I loved the old man, he passed just a few years ago.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Nothing to be sorry for, he lived a good life. That drum used to be his favorite one, and now it’s my one and only.”
“It must be nice to have that sort of connection with someone,” she said, “I loved my mother, I learned a lot from her but she fell prey to… fate I suppose you could say.”
“Sorry,” he said, not wanting to pry too much, and being respectful of her hurt, “what about your father?”
“He was never a big part of my life,” she said, and her voice was so haunted that Markus didn’t ask anymore questions, but got up to play his drum instead. This time when he played, Delilah felt much more at ease. She enjoyed watching him in such deep concentration, playing something so unfamiliar and beauteous. How he was able to produce such a medley of sounds from a single drum was incomprehensible – he laid a hand across it and whacked it with the other to make a sharp crack, then in the same motion pressed down with a finger to make a sharp swoosh, he even dragged his elbow across the skin to make a sound that zigzagged in tone. It was really something to a see a talented musician in his element, and expressing some deep and profound part of himself.
All of a sudden there was a pressure behind her eyes, she felt dizzy and disoriented. She cried out to Markus but he didn’t hear her over his own pounding drum. The walls around Delilah seemed to pulsate to the beat, and the candles that were so gentle before flickered in an oppressive dancing medley. She collapsed to the floor, her head reeled, and she looked up to see Markus standing over her, though the drum still beat it’s all consuming, cacophonous timbre. It was louder now too, and Delilah realized she was looking up at the ceiling. Markus was drawing a circle around her with white sand, and whispering something that she couldn’t overhear. Summoning her will, she flung him across the room, he gasped in surprise, his face wore a look of fear and astonishment as he flew through the air. He clattered to the floor but quickly picked himself up, in a moment he was behind her, binding her hands. She shook her head, but her attempts to clear it were in vain. Before she had the chance to throw him harder he kissed her, he pressed his lips to hers full of abject need, full of his desire, and she couldn’t understand why he was doing this. He did want her – she knew – but she didn’t know what the hell was going on. For the first time in a long time she was afraid, and it was a horrible feeling. He stroked her hair, as if to let her know that everything would be alright, then he took his place behind the drum and began to play.
The drum beat faster, louder, and harder. The time signature was off, wrong somehow, but it was meant to be that way. Sweat dripped from Markus’ brow as he repeated the long, off-kilter complicated rhythm. It sounded ancient, old, older than Markus’ grandfather, older than life. Delilah felt the color leave her face as the room became cold, and as something dark the size of a large fist dropped out of the bottom of the drum. It uncurled on eight long hairy legs, and looked deep into Delilah’s eyes with beady red hunger and need. Delilah heard a woman scream, someone shrieked at the top of her lungs, someone bawled their eyes out in the kind of terror that came once in a lifetime, and she was certain that that someone was her. The thing danced, each leg coming to rest along with a crack of the drum. She threw it as hard as she could, and felt the cold slime of it even through her mind. It caught gracefully on a wall, and merely continued to pirouette to the hideous dark melody. She was losing her strength, and felt her body going numb.
Markus stepped away from the drum and plucked the spider off of the wall, all of a sudden the drum stopped, she tried to catch her breath while he said, “Delilah, I’d like you to meet Leviathan. I told you she’d be eager to meet you, but don’t worry, she can’t go past the sand.”
“What the fuck are you talking about, you’re crazy!” Delilah screamed.
“Leviathan is the spirit of my drum… well, technically I suppose you could call her a demon, but I think that’s politically incorrect, she won’t mind though.”
“There’s a... a spider demon-spirit-thing living inside of your drum?”
“Yes. Hey, are you feeling alright? You’ve seemed out of it. Did you by chance drink one of your potions or something while you were here?” The spider attached itself to his wrist, and cocked its head to the side as it stared at Delilah - she imagined it was wondering what she must taste like.
“Yes that’s how I was able to throw you! And I’ll do it again too!”
“Please don’t, look I’m not sure what you use to make such a powerful potion – I’ve never even heard of a potion that could do that – but is it possible that one of your ingredients didn’t mix well with one of my mushrooms?”
Delilah took a minute to think, then said, “You didn't use Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms did you?” She thought she heard quick, slick wet breaths, as if the spider were… laughing.
“Those are them,” he said.
A brand new fear washed over her, she was blocks away from her apartment – she’d never be able to make it there and have time to concoct an antidote, “Well then I guess, I guess I’m dead. Shit, death by mushroom,” she whispered.
“On the contrary,” Markus said, “a drop of Leviathan’s venom should cure you. There’s just one catch, you see, well aah, her venom is also an aphrodisiac,” he looked away. The spider made the wet breathy sound again. Delilah breathed a sigh of relief, and glared at the thing’s many beady red eyes.
“Well let me have it,” she said. Markus scratched the spider’s back, it kicked out a leg like an eerie, evil little chewahah, and secreted a small drop of green venom onto Markus’ outstretched finger. He put his finger to Delilah’s lips and she swallowed the tingly venom down. Sure enough her fever and dizziness went away, and another feeling took its place. Markus set Leviathan on the ground with a loving tenderness, and the spider scurried of to its place inside the drum. He turned to Delilah, “I’m sorry for scaring you like that, it’s just that I’ve never introduced Leviathan to anyone before and I figured since you were a witch you might not freak out too much.”
Delilah laughed, happy to still be alive, “That’s alright, I’d of appreciated it more if you’d of told me first though,” with a thought she hit him hard in the stomach, drove the wind out of him and felled him to his knees, “that’s for scaring me,” she stroked inside his thigh with one of her feet, “now come and make it up to me.”
“Shouldn’t I untie you first?”
“What for, I can beat you with my mind,” she smiled at his uneasiness, and shoved him towards her. They locked lips for a thrilling, supernatural moment, then she drew back and said, “Wait, how did you know I was a witch?”
“You weren’t the only one buying the ingredients to a love potion,” he said, and kissed her.