Poe Fernandez thrives on the wrongness of Midnight Falls. He likes to think of himself as a wrong person, who took the right wrong turn, and found a wrong place to which he can finally belong.
Midnight Falls will be a perfectly fine place to die.
That matters to Poe because, at 31, he knows he is in his twilight years. He will die soon. Not by suicide, but by fate.
It’s something he is simply sure of.
He can feel it in his gut; the wrongness of the knowledge twists inside of him like a serrated blade. He thinks of it as his own brand of chronic pain — it’s something he simply lives with. But today, as he smooths his spring-loaded curls back into a ponytail, he thinks the pain of it is deepening. Snaking around his bones; seeping in and nesting.
Laying eggs, perhaps.
It’s so dramatic that he jumps up and hurries to the window, thinking that there must be something out there. An external force at work.
And something is out there.
He just can’t see it.
The dense morning fog bleeds into the autumnal grey light of the early October morning. He squints, waiting for signs of life, but nothing appears.
Shaking off his unease, Poe nips at his lip ring, and turns away.
He opens the fridge and takes a swig of orange juice. It’s exceptionally sour, but then, everything is these days.
That’s the thing about black magic, it alters you.
It’s especially fond of taking away pleasures. One for each spell.
He’s already lost so much. Most tastes and smells, certain colours, particular pitches of sound, the ability to get drunk. Furtively, he wonders what he lost most recently, after helping a woman cross the vale to find her daughter. Not just any woman — he’s no altruist, and certainly doesn’t give up pieces of himself for strangers, though it might appear that way from the outside. Tending bar is, after all, a great way to meet too many people.
To become too invested.
Still, he prefers to keep as many pleasures as he can, so he can enjoy what little time he has left.
But this woman was special. Poe had decided a long time ago (right around the time when the gut twisting pain had begun) that he would not commit to any one person. That he would not buy a house or start a family. Through trial and error, he learned that there were certain people who were better suited to this — married, closeted, nomadic. Or, simply damaged. Midnight Falls is teeming with damage. But this particular woman was both married and damaged, which meant she was exceptionally easy to not fall for, and overwhelmingly easy to love — no, to idealize.
She needed a spell. He provided. And now, he’s awaiting his consequence.
It will be bigger than he is anticipating.
On his way to work, Poe clutches his chest and gives his left arm a squeeze. He does this from time to time, as if it will prepare him for the heart attack he’s sure is coming. It’s how his father died, after all. Young, spry, dead. “In the blink of a bat’s eye,” to quote Poe’s grandmother. “You watch out, or you’ll wind up just like him.”
Grandmother knows best.
The streets are exceptionally empty, even for a late Sunday morning. He can barely see three feet ahead of him through the fog. When Poe turns the corner there is a shift in the breeze and it seems to move through him. Nausea blossoms in his empty stomach — he wishes he could still taste spices: curries and chilis and garlics; but it’s all so sour now that he often forgets to eat, putting it off as long as possible. But it’s not the lack of food making Poe’s body suddenly weary. It’s something much more malevolent. In the corner of his eye, he spots a shadow creeping out of the fog. He stiffens, freezing in place. It’s not instinctual. Poe has always been a flight guy. It’s why he’s never thrown a fist, and has never been caught by one either. He’s no coward, he just prefers to avoid conflict.
But this has nothing to do with instincts. Something is holding him in place. Compelling his motionlessness. His eyes dart about, looking for another glimpse. His chest tightens and for just a moment he thinks he will be reunited with his father. The slow beating of his heart drums in his ears, matching the eerie cadence of the softly billowing fog. It’s moving like smoke now and Poe knows this is unnatural. He squeezes his eyes shut as a heavy droplet of sweat rolls down his forehead.
When the hold on him breaks, Poe nearly falls forward. Gulping sour air, he swings around just in time to catch the way the smoky fog swallows the shadow below. Stalky and low to the ground. A dog, perhaps? Poe lunges towards it, desperate for a closer look, but it’s gone.
From his other side, another shape appears. This one is tall and slender, moving swiftly and with such purpose. Poe jumps out of the way, surprised to find he is in control of his body this time.
It’s just a girl. A teenager who avoids meeting his eye as she picks up her pace. She has spent most of her sixteen years immersed in the rhetoric of ‘strange men equal danger’, and this guy’s two-step of paranoia sets off an alarm in her that she can’t help. He looks as though he is wading through water, which stands out to her on such a beautiful, sunny day. She decides he’s still on a bad trip from the night before, and crosses the street.
Once at the bar, Poe barricades himself inside. He peers out the window, but the fog has somehow thickened, and he fears he won’t be able to see the shadow return.
That’s no matter though, because it won’t be approaching from outside. Unfortunately, it’s already behind him.
Poe snaps around and finds himself facing a stalky black dog with a mean grin ripped across its face.
“It’s a shame, really,” a voice slithers from the darkened back room, moving closer and into the light. “I was routing for you, Poe.”
Poe’s chest heaves. He watches as the man materializes, tall and pale, black trench coat and a bowl hat that keeps most of his face in shadow. He clasps the dog’s leash in one leather-clad hand.
“Who are you?” Poe asks, unable to move again. His eyes move back to the dog — the Hellhound — and he suddenly knows exactly who the stranger is.
His bones ache. The twisting pain seers through.
“I am neither friend nor foe, Poe.” A smile squirms and wriggles upon his lips. “Hm, that rhymes.”
“What do you want?”
The man sighs and takes a seat on a bar stool, still facing Poe.
“What I wanted, of course, was for you to do better. But it seems the apple does not fall far from the tree.”
Poe sees a flash of his father’s coffin in his mind’s eye.
“Am I having a heart attack?” He clutches his chest.
“No, you are not. And that’s the irony of it, Poe. You believed your father died of a heart attack, and in so convincing yourself that you would too, you let yourself make bad decisions.”
“Black magic is what killed your father, Poe. Too many consequences. Each one takes away another part of you, until there’s nothing left to give. Except your soul.”
“I kept hoping each spell would be your last, that you’d learn and be saved. But then you opened the vale.” He clucks his tongue, as if sincerely disappointed. “There’s no coming back from that.”
Poe’s heart falls. His father knew black magic? How could he have been so foolish?
Like father, like son.
“You watch out,” his grandmother had warned, “or you’ll wind up just like him.”
And so it is.
In the blink of a bat’s eye, Poe is gone.
Thanks for reading!
Midnight Falls is an ongoing series following a set of loosely connected characters and their strange encounters in the spooky town of Midnight Falls. The stories can be read in any order. If you enjoyed this tale, see Midnight Falls for more.