Art by Bonita Barlow
Jacob Morningstar stepped out of his vehicle, tying his long brown hair back, and was already moving toward the back entrance at the right end of the Fort Monroe parking lot, when he noticed a crowd gathered on the courtyard grounds near the main entrance. In the middle of the crowd, a tiny waif of a girl wearing a yellow-flowered sundress currently held a full-grown man over her head. She smiled brightly, arms held straight overhead, as the man’s body appeared to…expand. Jacob glanced at his watch, saw no one waiting for him by the service entrance, and headed toward the crowd instead.
Although businesses like this were still relatively new to the populace, and the laws regarding them were rudimentary at best, Jacob noted that some business owners enjoyed bringing a festive, P.T. Barnumesque panache to their workplaces. Here, it seemed that the owner—a curious, darkly strange man who went by the surname of Pyx—had fashioned himself a place of both utility and pageantry. Jacob thought it strange that anything so extreme could happen in such a place as this that would require his expertise, though not once had he spoken with Mr. Pyx. He had, and apparently would, only be dealing with the manager, an excitable fellow named William Nash.
Once the man held in the air by the little girl had grown impossibly huge, the girl shoved him up and away from her, where he flipped once and landed on his feet. The crowd applauded. The massive behemoth of a man stepped back onto the platform. He took the girl by the waist, and threw her into the air. She rose higher and higher still before slowing at last, only to find herself hovering there momentarily, just a blot of yellow in a powder-blue sky. It reminded Jacob of the Roadrunner cartoons where the coyote runs off a plateau, defying gravity until he noticed and pulled a sign from out of nowhere with “?!” scrawled on it, just before he fell. There was no sign in this scenario, just a crowd of people holding their collective breath, waiting for the girl to fall. Instead, she arched her back and shrieked as dark, leathery wings burst from her shoulder blades. She tucked into a ball as her wings unfurled before diving earthward. Her wings folded back, and she accelerated, until she became nothing more than a blur rushing headlong toward the ground.
The crowd gasped, ducking their heads, and started to scatter. Jacob noted that no one stood fast under the falling child to try and rescue her. The girl spread her wings wide and flew just over their heads. Now they began to cheer, those cheers increasing to a roar of approval as she flipped and tumbled through the air, at last coming to land gently on the grass. Applause exploded from the crowd, and she bowed to them then, her wings tucking and retreating into her back. Jacob could see only two small holes in the back of her sundress. No blood, no trace of her massive wings. Not even a single black feather.
Jacob smiled at the little girl's performance. It was most impressive, and he found himself applauding right along with the crowd. He watched the behemoth slowly deflate back to his normal size. The whole thing happened before the business was open for the day. It reminded him of those people who tell jokes and hype the studio audience before a talk show begins. Jacob checked his watch again and realized it was eleven minutes after eight in the morning. He would have time to take a few looks around before meeting up with Mr. Nash and getting down to work.
Fort Monroe was most recently purchased about three years ago, and major work ensued to secure the building. But as it was once fortified against attacks from the outside, it now served its purpose as to be guarded from within. Jacob supposed that the man and the child from the performance had at least level twos, but it was more likely that the girl had a three…or even possibly a four. By law, security for ephemerals from level three to level five is required to be multi-faceted, complex, convoluted really, and exhaustively thorough. And expensive.
Fort Monroe—or more precisely the land itself where the fort now stood—had a dark, sordid history. The land was named Old Point Comfort by the settlers of Jamestown as they’d passed through the area. Local natives were used, abused, then driven out and massacred. Fort Algernon was built upon the Point, then accidentally burned to the ground. The fortification was built and rebuilt repeatedly for years, but they all crumbled or had some calamity or another befall the area. Fort George was built there, and boat after boat full of African slaves passed through the area before a hurricane turned Fort George to ruin.
The fort became a Union stronghold despite being in Confederate territory. It was a pro-slave area that became a bastion of freedom for runaway slaves, being dubbed “Freedom’s Fortress.” Fort Monroe was officially decommissioned in 2005, and was eventually purchased by a group under the orders of Mr. Pyx. The new owners found it would be, for whatever the reason, a good idea to reform the fort’s exterior to take on a five-pointed star shape. “You can see us from the sky,” Mr. Nash had exclaimed to him over the phone in an exuberantly high-yet-throaty voice, “and it looks great on maps!”
Jacob looked up at the bright blue sky with its magnificent, cottony clouds and wondered if this job would turn out different from the rest. Land is like a man’s spirit, it remembers the good and the bad, and the dark weighs heavy upon it. Jacob wondered if Mr. Pyx understood the power of the soil, and that of pentacles. He shook himself out of those thoughts and looked around, surprised that he’d already reached the service entrance, and he noticed that this spot offered him a unique vantage point: he could see the repetitive paths of the security detail. Always in pairs, they covered the area well. He saw that the visitors had lined up at the front entrance. Even though he was good at his job and did it very well, Jacob always felt a degree of dread over the work he was hired for: extraction.
Please Return Next Saturday
for Part II of Nine Tenths of the Law
by Sean Padlo
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