I raced back down the hill, picking up speed quickly.
“Hank!” I shouted. Flashbacks tackled my guts and twisted them into knots. I couldn’t lose Hank again. I couldn’t lose another partner. I knew I was jumping to conclusions, but in fairness to myself, I’d been through a lot lately. A lot.
Crowds of children and moms pushing strollers and herding day camp kids wandered by looking harried and like they were trying to enjoy the fact that they were spending their lives officially managing hundreds of thousands of kids.
Looked like a dream.
“Hank!” A few moms shot me confused looks, then began shouting shepherding terms to their packs of children. “Hank!”
I didn’t care that my shouts were disrupting the flow of the zoo the groups. What was I expected to do? Speak like I was in a cathedral? We were outside.
“Everything all right?” A woman with black curly hair and a discerning gaze asked me. She gave me an appraising look. We made eye contact and my indignation died on my lips.
This woman wasn’t asking me out of irritation. She was asking me out of the bond of sisterhood. There was a world-weary look on her face like she knew the possible scenarios that could bring me to crying out a man’s name in the middle of the monkey zone in the local zoo. She was giving me an opening. Her group of kids, about six little ones wearing yellow Kids of Sunshine daycamp shirts, stared up at her, then looked at me like they were waiting to hear my answer as well.
“I’ve lost my partner,” I said, a bit distracted. I was still hoping to see Hank pop out from behind a massive concrete encased garbage can. Bomb proof, those things. “He was just with me. Uh, you see a guy with fluffy, wild black hair and aviator sunglasses? Goatee. Wearing a bomber jacket?”
She gave me crazy eyes. “A bomber jacket?” She repeated, her words full of both doubt and attitude.
“I know, he’s crazy. It’s a—he’s a New Yorker. It’s a thing for him. I just blame the fact that he’s from New York.”
“I’d say. It’s ninety-five degrees today. Might as well be wearing a sauna suit.”
I chortled. “I think I’ve said that exact thing to him.”
I looked at the kids. “You kids see a guy wandering around in a jacket?”
Some of them shook their head.
“These guys just learned to not talk to strangers,” the woman said. “It’s all right, kids, you can answer her.”
“I saw a man wearing a jacket going that way,” a little girl said, her arm popping up and veritably turning into a sign-post pointing toward a building that had a bathroom sign on it.
“Thank you!” I glanced at the mom, who was now my best friend for reaching out to a sister in need. “And thanks for your help.”
“Of course. Got to be here for my girls.”
Minerva’s ghost, I loved her.
“If something serious ever randomly happens to me, I hope I run into someone just like you,” I said, hoping to show her my gratitude.
“I learned a while ago that I’d rather say something and suffer the possible brief moment where it seems like I’m making negative assumptions and potentially save someone, rather than ignoring the possibility that someone just needs a helping hand.”
“You’re an angel,” I said, my heart filling up with warmth. “I’m sure he’s just in the bathroom. He’s my cop partner. He knows better than to disappear without telling me where he’s going. He’s gonna get a tongue lashing. I hope you guys have a killer day!”
“Oooh, they’re cops, kids,” the woman said, smiling and looking down at the children as she began to herd them on their way with her arms. “They help people. Heroes.” She winked at me and hurried away.
I wandered toward the bathroom, my palms getting sweaty as I grew more anxious. When I finally found him, I wondered if I’d just have to shove him around for tricking me like he had.
“Hank!” I called as I got to the doorway for the men’s restroom. “Hank! You in there?”
What kind of guy would do that, though? Just duck into the bathroom, neglecting to tell me when he knew I’d been counting on him to keep up with me?
What else could it be? It certainly wouldn’t be that he’d been yanked up into the sky by some magical lasso or being or what have you.
I supposed it could be something like that he’d been abducted by a god. They had that kind of power. Was Atropos toying with me? Thoth? I hadn’t seen much of either god since the death of my mother. It was as though they were avoiding me so that they didn’t have to answer to me for her death.
They would answer for it, the next time I saw either of them.
That was when I saw a glowing light from the corner of my eye. As a magick-user, I was used to bumping into odd things like glowing, spinning balls of light, random monsters, random supernaturals, and the one or two odd god or goddess here or there.
So I didn’t jump or scream when the large orb of light appeared behind the building housing the men’s restroom. Basically it was a ball or swirling patches of light and darkness, purple in color but with colors like blue and black mixed in there.
I stopped in my tracks. Behind me was the gorilla habitat. In front of me was the entrance into the men’s restroom. The ball of light was about ten yards away from that, nestled between a fence that divided the zoo proper with the rest of the city. I waited to see if it rushed toward me, or attacked me or the like. Which, I have to admit was fairly brave of me. Brave or possibly the antics of a moron. Just standing there, waiting to see what happened. I had a shield of protection just waiting for me to cast it if anything untoward came for me from the ball of light or if it made a fast move in an attempt to get me. Or… anything. I’d never seen anything like it.
Without any evidence other than its presence, I knew that the ball of light, which was slightly bigger than me from head to foot, had something to do with Hank. Had Hank made it? Had it gotten Hank?
I waited about three minutes. When nothing happened, I shouted one last time in the general vicinity of the men’s bathroom, thought I better check—and went to the door.
I peeked inside.
“Hey!” A little boy shouted behind me. “That’s for boys!”
“Hank, you in here?” I yelled into the bathroom. A couple teenagers at the sinks turned and looked at me. “Guess not!” I turned and let the door fall shut. The boy who’d shouted at me arrived at the doors.
“No girls allowed!” he said.
The kid had chutzpah, I had to give him that.
“I agree. I’m a woman, though,” I said, walking away.
He ignored the ball of light, that or he couldn’t see it. That meant it had veil protection. Good to know. It was supernatural. As though there were any question about that. Still it was good to have proof.
I went toward the ball of light, moving slowly, expecting to see it suddenly dodge and dart and then come charging at me like it was driving toward the hoop and we were in a pickup game of basketball.
As I got closer, I sensed a hum of energy it emitted, just above the threshold of my hearing.
The thing remained there. It reminded me of a portal, but this was three dimensional, not two. So, it wasn’t anything I expected.
“Hank?” I said to it. “Is that you? Have you turned into a big glowing ball of light and energy? I always suspected you would one day. Have you reached enlightenment? Is this nirvana?”
It wasn’t a laughing matter. My partner was missing and I was facing down a ball of energy and light that I’d never seen before. But, I’d had about all I could. I needed the humor. I needed Hank to appear and tell me he’d just been goofing, new-boot goofing, and I needed to slug him in the bicep and tell him to never fuck with me like that again. He was too important to me to do that sort of thing without dire consequences, one of them being physical violence from me (as though my meager fist could even hurt him).
“Ok, so you’re not a glowing ball of light.” I muttered to myself. “Can you hear me?” I asked, switching up my attempts.
Walking all around the ball of light revealed to me that it was indeed spherical and it was about the size of human. Taller and wider all around than me.
“What are you?” I whispered.
“Hey lady!” A shout came from behind me.
I spun. It was the young boy with all the attitude.
“You OK, lady? You’re talking to the air. You know that right?”
“How old are you?” I shouted back, scowling at the kid.
“None of your business. Not supposed to talk to strangers.”
“Thanks! Mind your own business. I’m practicing for a show later. A—” I looked at my outstretched hands, which were extended to measure the size of the ball. “A mime show! Now get lost!”
“Happily, Karen!” he shouted back.
What a pill. A pill. And that was such a Karen thing to think.
I needed to speed up my investigation. I knew it had to do with Hank, I just didn’t know how. I was sincerely beginning to buy into the nirvana concept. So he’d achieved it when I wasn’t looking, and had transformed into a glowing ball of light that couldn’t talk to me. That would be just like Hank to reach a euphoric state and simply fade into light and then hang around to rub it in.
I’d be happy for him, really. I wanted all the good things for him, but I wanted most of all to be part of them. So, in that way, I’d be annoyed about his transformation and achievement.
But, honestly, it just didn’t seem right. I reached out to see if energy poured off the ball, and if I could feel it on my skin.
I did feel something, but it wasn’t heat. It was barely power. It was more like… an absence of atmosphere. It was something, that was nothing. I moved my hand closer. Still feeling nothing, so I pressed further.
My fingertips were mere centimeters from the perimeter of the ball of light. It wasn’t a solid line like a basketball. It was hazy and vibrant, like the molecules making it up were excited and incapable of staying in line.
What was the worst that could happen? I lose my hand? A finger? It burns off and I’m left fingerless?
Taking a breath to draw courage, I shoved my hand into the ball. I expected it to burn. I expected to feel something.
Instead, I felt nothing, but it let my limb inside it. I pushed through.
And then suddenly, something inside the ball grabbed my hand and yanked hard, jerking my entire body into the ball of light.