Witness to a perfect crime

"What do you mean, gone?" I peer at Carl though bleary eyes, not even half awake yet.

"Miranda," he repeats. "You remember Miranda? The new demon you picked up last night and brought here?"

Frowning, I nod, and push myself into a sitting position. "Of course, I remember Miranda. But what do you mean that she's gone?"

"She's gone. She left. She's away. She's somewhere else," offers Carl, a tad impatient.

I shake my head in the way Dog Monday shakes his after a bath, hoping that I can thus shake myself awake. "But… where?"

"If I knew, would I wake you?" asks Carl rhetorically. "I went to the bathroom and figured I'd check in on her afterwards. When I did, I saw that she's gone."

"Maybe she went home?" I suggest. Experience tells me that we won't be so lucky, but I'm just so utterly tired and no matter how much my brain screams at it to wake up, my body only wants to go back to sleep.

"In your pyjamas?" Carl raises both eyebrows.

So, that settles that. No more sleep.

Sighing, I push back the blanket and swing my legs over the side of the bed. "Show me."

Together, we walk over to the living room, where we find Miranda to be still gone. I switch on the light for a better look. The sofa-bed is in disarray, but her neatly folded clothes remain on an armchair by the window, her shoes pushed tidily beneath it.

"If she'd gone home, she would have put on her clothes," points out Carl, nodding at the stack of clothing.

"And she would have made the bed," I add with a sigh, because someone who folds a torn and dirty sweatshirt as neatly as Miranda did wouldn't leave a stranger's home without making her bed first.

"So…" Carl scratches his head. "What happened?"

"That," I reply with emphasis, "is the one million dollar questions."

"Pounds," corrects Carl, but he does it half-heartedly.

Not daring to disturb the bed or move the clothes, I let myself drop to the floor and sit there, cross-legged, looking at the room as if it will divulge its secret if only I wait long enough. Meanwhile, Carl turns for the hall and in the next few minutes, I hear him roam the apartment, moving from one room to the next – not, of course, that there are many.

"I locked the front door from the inside last night and it's still locked," he tells me upon his return. "The key is inside the lock and there's no sign that anyone or anything left – or entered – through it. The windows are all closed, except for the one in the bathroom –"

"– and that's too small for a person to fit through," I finish for him.

The implications of his findings are, of course, clear. Miranda couldn't have left without unlocking the door or opening one of the windows and likewise, no-one could have come for her without doing either – unless, of course, magic was involved. Magic, or witchcraft.

"Demons don't gain the ability to walk through walls, do they?" I ask, in a somewhat futile hope of not having to face the inevitable.

"No, that's just ghosts," replies Carl, sighing, and sits down next to me on the ground.

"Do we think ghosts can somehow kidnap a living person from inside a locked apartment?" I enquire, despite already knowing the answer.

Predictably, Carl shakes his head. "I don't think so. We'd need to ask that witch from last night to be sure, but –" He breaks off and looks at me from the side. "You think it was him?"

I shrug. "It's the only logical explanation, isn't it? He seemed decent enough by the end, but no-one else knew she was staying here and however she left this flat, it wasn't through normal human means."

"But why?" wonders Carl.

Again, I shrug. There's another one million dollar question for us. Or pounds, I guess.

"What do we do now?" asks Carl. "Do we call the police?"

"It's an option. Except… What good could the human police do against a witch?" I muse, staring despondently at the untidy bed in front of us.

Carl drops his head back to lie against the wall. "Nothing at all, I wager. Pray, there isn't a special witchy police we can call?"

"Not that I'm aware of," I answer, "and I would be aware of it, I think." After all, I might be powerless myself, but I grew up in a magical household, so I do know my theory.

"Bugger," he mutters.

For a moment, we both look at the empty sofa-bed in silence.

"What do we do?" I finally repeat his question from earlier.

"We need to find her, don't we?" replies Carl and turns his head to look at me.

I nod slowly. "Yes, we do. Only…" I pause. "How do we find her?"

What I don't say is that if the witch took her, we stand no chance anyway.

"Maybe she did go home, after all?" Carl suggests, though without any conviction. "Maybe she got scared and left in a hurry without getting dressed and maybe… maybe the ghosts somehow helped her leave without unlocking the door?"

That's not what happened. I know it and he knows it, too. But at the same time, if Miranda simply went home, things would be so much easier than any other possible alternative option. Because if she didn't leave on her own, someone or something forcibly took her from our flat by magical means while Carl and I slept and… that's not a comforting thought to consider. Not in the least.

"Maybe," I therefore answer, despite better judgement.

"So, that means we need to find out where she lives," deduces Carl and sits up straight again.

"We do," I agree, because it can't hurt and at least it's something to do.

For a moment, I fall silent, until I notice Carl looking at me expectantly from the side. He wants me to divulge whatever information I have about Miranda, little as it is.

Thoughtfully, I push the tip of my tongue between my teeth as I think back to the Incident in the Back Alley, as it surely now deserves to be called. "She mentioned having to tell her father about staying the night, so I assume he lives with him," I relay to Carl. "And she gave her last name, but… I don't think I remember it."

"Try!" urges Carl, his eye turning imploring

I frown, as I attempt to pull up the memory in front of my inner eye. Oh, to have Shirley's memory!

"It was something religious, I think," I remark slowly. "Something like Friar, but not quite… Maybe something with a P?" Frustrated, I glare at Miranda's shoes pushed beneath the armchair.

"Prescott, Preston, Priestly, Pryor?" Carl rattles off and if the situation weren't quite so serious, I'd tease him for his unexpected knowledge of vaguely religious surnames starting with P.

"Hmm," I make thoughtfully "Pryor, maybe? It rings a bell."

"Miranda Pryor," Carl tries out. "At least is sounds good together."

Not that that's any proof as to its accuracy at all, but we must go by what we have, I suppose.

Carl gets to his feet and offers me a hand. "Come one. Let's get dressed and then we'll try to find out whether there are any Pryors living in Edinburgh." He pauses, considering his words. "She does live in Edinburgh, doesn't she?"

"I sure hope so," I reply with a sigh as I allow him to pull me up.

By now, the sun has gone up somewhere behind the thick cover of clouds. Already, I know it's going to be a dreich day, with the weather matching our current situation, for which 'bleak' is really a most polite description.

I get dressed quickly in a pair of jeans from the clothes chair and a light sweater I bought at an Oxfam shop a while ago. My hair feels limp and slightly greasy, but I don't want to waste time by showering, so I just throw it into a ponytail, before washing myself quickly at the sink.

When I enter the kitchen, Carl is already there and pours cereal and milk into two bowls. "You look like death warmed up," he informs me kindly when he looks at me.

I shrug, because I know he's not wrong. I slept for all of three hours, I couldn't be bothered with make-up just now and there's a painful zit growing on my chin. It's that kind of day.

"When we find Miranda, I'll ask her whether I compare to a ghost," I reply, intentionally choosing 'when' over 'if'.

"Certainly not to a summer's day," Carl quips and pushes a bowl and spoon my way.

I pull a grimace, but it's half-hearted. "Any coffee?"

Carl nods at the coffee machine in the corner, which is already dripping away. "Give it another minute. I made it strong."

Good. I need strong.

While the coffee brews, I turn back to the bowl in front of me. Carl added a bit more milk than I usually like – thus showing that he, too, is tired – so the cereal is somewhat soggy. It can't be helped anymore though, so I eat it uncomplainingly. It really is one of those days today.

As promised, the coffee machine beeps a minute later to indicate that its job is done. Carl fills two cups and places one in front of me. Normally, I don't drink black coffee, but today, I need the biggest caffeine push I can get, so I decline when he offers milk. He doesn't take any either.

"So, I looked up Pryors living in Edinburgh and it gave me nine results," Carl tells me and holds up his phone. "No Miranda Pryor, unfortunately, so we need to try our luck with all of them. Some are couples or women listed alone. Do we know whether she lives only with her father or is the mother still around?"

"Don't know," I mumble around a mouthful of cereal.

Carl nods, business-like. "Okay, if we can't rule out the women, we need to try all addresses. I thought about simply calling, but that might be weird, so I suppose we better go in person."

Yes, because turning up at people's houses and asking for a Miranda isn't weird at all.

I don't say that though. Instead, I gulp down my coffee, grimacing at the bitter taste, and ask, "Do you have your bus pass ready?"

Luckily, he does, because our journey takes us all the way around Edinburgh, criss-crossing the city in a way that leads me to believe this could have been planned more efficiently. Alas, neither Carl nor I are blessed with a great sense of orientation, so at this point, I'm just glad we're not getting lost.

More bothersome, without a doubt, is the fact we're not having much success either.

I ended up smearing some tinted cream on my face to hide the pallor and the dark circles beneath my eyes, but I know I still look like someone who's had a rough night. Carl, with his blond, cheerful boy-next-door-looks always makes for a more trustworthy appearance than I do, and never more than today, but we still get eyed with suspicion every time we ring a new doorbell.

Three times, no-one answers the door at all, though at least at one location, there's a neighbour who leans out of her kitchen window to ask both nosy questions and tell us that no Miranda lives at this place. Once, an elderly woman opens and then slams the door shut right away, with no amount of pleasing convincing her to talk to us. Two times, we actually do meet someone and are able to ask for our friend Miranda, but to no avail. Either they really don't know her or they're convincingly pretending they don't.

It's only by afternoon that we reach the seventh address on our list.

"The very definition of Suburbia," I murmur as I look up at the row of identical terraced houses.

Carl chuckles and pulls me up to one particular house. "You don't need to move in," he reassures, and thank God for that.

"Josiah Pryor," Carl reads the little name tag by the bell as we come to stand in front of the door.

"Godspeed to us," I wish and press the doorbell.

For a few moments, nothing happens, but then I hear footsteps inside the house that come closer. Heavy footsteps, belonging to a heavy man with a very red, very round face framed by old-fashioned whiskers.

"I'm not buying," he growls at us and tries to close the door again.

Instinctively, I shove a foot between door and frame. "Excuse me? Mr Pryor?"

With a displeased grunt, he opens the door a fraction wider again and peers at me. "I said I'm not buying."

"And we're not selling," Carl assures him quickly.

"I don't want to talk about Jesus either," snaps Mr Pryor. "I'm a good, upstanding Christian and have no time for this modern mumble jumble."

Huh?

"We're not Jehova's Witnesses," promises Carl who, as a minister's son, was quicker on the uptake than me.

"Well?" asks Mr Pryor. "What do you want, then?"

"We'd like to speak to Miranda," I answer hurriedly, lest he decides to close the door on us after all. "We're friends of her."

The name seems to invoke something within him, because his face grows, if possible, even redder and his whiskers start to vibrate. "Miranda!" he booms. "I'd like to speak to her, too!"

Quickly, I exchange a look with Carl. So we've come to the right place!

"Is she home?" Carl enquires, still hopeful, despite all signs pointing to Miranda not, in fact, being home.

"No," answers Mr Pryor and to say he looks displeased would be understating matters. "She didn't come home last night and I haven't heard from her since. She better not be with that useless Milgrave boy!"

The Milgrave boy? Could this be where Miranda went?

Once more, I exchange a look with Carl. He shakes his head slightly and I understand this to mean that he doesn't think there's much more to find out here. Obviously, I concur.

"If Miranda comes home, would you give her my number and ask her to call me?" I ask, noticing too late that this time, I didn't manage to substitute a 'when' in time.

Mr Pryor doesn't look enthused by the idea, but after a long moment, he nods curtly. My foot still in place by the doorframe, I rummage through my bag and produce an old grocery bill and a half-dried green eyeliner pencil. I scribble down my phone number and thrust the old bill at Mr Pryor who looks at it in distaste.

"Would you mind telling us where Miranda's friend lives?" Carl interjects quickly as Mr Pryor already starts closing the door. "The Milgrave boy?"

"No, I can't," is the curt reply and the door is closed with such force that I can only just pull back my foot in time to stop it from getting crushed.

For a second or two, Carl and I remain standing in front of the closed door, just staring at it. Finally, he turns and grabs my hand to pull me along, away from the house and along the street towards the bus stop.

"Well," I begin with a wry smile, "I suppose that explains why Miranda took so well to the revelation that she can now see ghosts. She already lives with a ghoul."

Carl snorts, then sighs. "But we still haven't found her."

That, unfortunately, is true. A day spent trekking around the city and we're no closer to finding Miranda than we were this morning.

I mirror his sigh, my smile slipping from my lips. "No, we haven't." I pause briefly. "Do you think the witch might have…" Raising my eyebrows, I trail off meaningfully.

"Or else, she might be with the Milgrave boy," Carl points out.

Bless him. He really is the most optimistic person I know!

"She might be," I allow, but I don't manage to sound convinced.

"We need to check it out anyway," Carl decides. "I mean, how many Milgraves can there be around here?"

"Regardless of how many there are, we can't check them out today," I tell him. "I need to work tonight and I'm not even sure I can be there on time now."

Carl hesitates, but then he nods. "Right. Rent."

"Rent," I confirm, because no matter how much I feel for Miranda, I don't want to get evicted over this. We won't be of any use to her homeless either.

"Okay, so you go to work and I'm going to snoop around the sewers a little and see whether the rat community knows anything about people disappearing," Carl decides.

I wrinkle my nose. "You know the rule though!"

He grins. "Of course. I'll shower before I go home. Don't I always?"

"Not when you think you can get away with sneaking in unshowered, which is why it bears saying," I chide him.

What neither of us conveniently mentions is that 'home' possibly stopped being a safe place last night. If so, its odour could well end up being the least of our problems.

By some rare stroke of luck, the bus arrives mere moments after we reach the stop. There are no free seats, because I guess that would be asking too much, so we find a spot to stand near the doors. As the bus lurches forward, I cling to one of the bars, but end up stumbling anyway. Carl grabs my arm to hold me upright, before giving me a reassuring pat on the shoulder. I just roll my eyes at him.

Outside the windows, Suburbia passes by. It's only when Edinburgh starts looking less generic and more like itself again, that Carl speaks once more. "If Miranda isn't with that Milgrave boy, we might have to re-consider the theory that she disappeared by… unnatural means."

By 'unnatural', of course, he means 'magical', but this is as direct as we can get on this crowded bus.

"Yes," I reply, my chest tightening at the thought.

"And if she did," Carl continues, "we might have to ask for help in finding her."

Immediately I feel my body go rigid. "I'm not calling home."

Carl sighs. "I'm just saying –"

I cut across him, shaking my head. "No. Ask your rats, if you want, but I'm not calling home to tell them that I tried to help a dem– someone and lost them overnight!"

Again, Carl sighs. "It's not like that and you know it."

"Either way, I'm not calling home," I repeat emphatically. "I'll go and try my luck with the human police before I ask anyone in Canada for help!"

It's apparent that Carl doesn't agree, but he knows me well enough not to press the subject. Instead, he tries a different route. "Do you think there's any sense in trying to find the – the guy from last night? What was his name again? Ken? Maybe he can help us."

"If he wasn't the one who took her in the first place," I remark and give Carl a side-eye.

There's yet another sigh from him. "You're right. I just thought about all the knowledge he has, but I forgot he's our prime suspect."

"I was wary of what he meant by 'studying' dem– people like Miranda from the beginning," I tell him darkly. "It can't be fun to be studied by… the likes of him."

"No." Carl purses his lips. "Gives a whole new meaning to the term of 'poking people with a stick', doesn't it?"

Of course, real witches have no need for wands, but I don't suppose that bears pointing out right now. So, instead of replying, I just shrug and try not to stumble as the bus takes a corner rather dynamically.

We get off three stops later, reasonably close to the Bottoms Up Bar to walk the rest of the way. I try to send Carl to the sewers right away, but he insists on accompanying me, which leaves little doubt that the thought of the witch taking Miranda from our home after we hosted him unsettles him as much as me, even if neither of us wants to admit it out loud. Like Miranda last night, I suppose we both cling to the practical aspects simply so as not to grow completely hysterical at what's happening right now. Talk about having your life change overnight!

"Anything out of the ordinary?" Carl asks once we've reached the bar and I know that he really means to ask whether there's any trace of the witch.

I pause briefly to concentrate, but no alarm bells start ringing. "No, it looks like everything is in order."

Carl nods. "Okay. I'll go do some exploring, but I'll be back here by the end of your shift. Ring me if anything at all happens."

I nod and lean forward to give him a brief hug. I suppose I should probably assert myself and tell him that I can find my own way home, but whatever is happening right now, it's unsettling and potentially scary, and I like the comfort of his presence.

"See you in a bit." I wave at Carl, before turning for the back alley leading me to the staff entrance. It feels weird to be here again after everything that has happened since last night, but I square my shoulders and walk on with more confidence than I feel. It's just a few metres, after all, and then I'll be surrounded by the mundane safety of –

Abruptly, I stop.

There's a figure standing in the half-dark by the staff entrance. For the briefest of moments, our eyes meet across the dingy alley.

Witch, I just have time to think, before I'm thrown backwards.

Then, everything goes dark.


The title of this chapter is taken from the song 'Let it rain' (written by Kristen Hall, released by Amanda Marshall in 1995).


To Guest One:
Thank you for your review and your kind words! I'm truly glad that you like the story so far and hope that you will also enjoy what's to come =). You're right that the different genre means I'm having to do much more world building than I'm used to with fanfiction. Normally, the background is all set up, but here, I shook it up to such an extent that at first, I myself had to get everything straight again. I did deliberately load up the previous chapter with a good deal of exposition though in the hope that it got everyone on board, because things are starting to get moving now!

To Guest Two:
I must apologise because I can't, for the life of me, figure out what you mean to say by me supposedly "knocking other fantasy books/shows/tropes all the time". The only trope I actively made fun of is the one about a centuries-old vampire falling in love with a teenager, because that just makes no sense at all on a maturity level. Everything else is mentioned merely in a "look, this is how it's different from what you've heard"-way. But no matter. The brilliant thing about this site is that if a story annoys you, you're utterly free not to click on it, which, I'm certain, solves your issue much more reliably than any response by me ever could =).

To DogMonday:
Yes, the question of why Rilla can't use magic and whether there's a way for her to come into magical powers of her own, that's definitely something this story will deal with. At the same time, it's just one of its subjects and I wouldn't even call it the most important one. Your review made me think about how I'd characterise the story and if I had to pick just one word, it would be "acceptance". At it's core, the story is about achieving acceptance in several different ways and that, I hope, will be its main message by the end of it. Along the way, we'll also figure out the question of Rilla's magical abilities, but far more than finding magic, she has to find acceptance in herself and in others. I can't say too much here without spoiling things for everyone, but I think I've got to know you a little by now and I hope that you will ultimately enjoy what I've got up my sleeve for this story =). There will be moments, I assume, when it looks like the story takes a too predictable and too easy turn, but bear with me. It'll be just another step to what I hope will be a satisfying ending.
Also, you're absolutely correct to say that regardless of the goal she's working for, Rilla will have to do most of the work herself. She'll have support along the way - and not only by a somewhat obnoxious whiskey-drinking witch -, but this is her story and therefore, it is hers to write. Sometimes she'll have more support, sometimes less, but her actions and decisions are always her own and they need to be. It's part of her progress, I think, that she takes more and more control over her own life over the course of the story, and while I can't rule out that there'll be moments when she needs protection, she is never in need of a saviour - no matter how good-looking he might be ;).

To Mammu:
I'm glad this chapter answered a lot of your questions! It was meant to ;). It was also meant to leave a few questions still open, because otherwise, I wouldn't have much of a plot left. I've got most of this story figured out by now though (certainly the ending), so I'm hopeful that by the end of it, no more questions will be left unanswered.
Having written all the way to chapter 15 already, I can certainly promise we'll reach the moment Rilla starts trusting Ken much sooner!
I've heard about Encanto, but not seen it yet. I must admit I was a little put out by it, because just when I start writing a story about magic (which I'd been planning for months and months), Disney releases a movie with a similar premise. It was very inconsiderate of them! Though I guess at least my story will be different inasmuch as no-one will break out into spontaneous song? ;)