Spirit wards are in the bones.
Wolf in the Bay
Part I: “Wolf”
The little bones disappear into Eira’s hands and she shakes them like dice. Jabez watches, squatting opposite her across the iron tracks. He glances nervously left and right, convinced he can feel the ground shivering with an approaching train. Eira shuts her eyes and whispers wordlessly.
“Do we have to do this here?” Jabez asks. The scent of rust, earth and eucalypt fills his lungs. Cicadas press against his ears.
“Shhh,” says Eira, opening her eyes. “Yes, we have to do it here. There are good vibrations.”
Jabez rubs his palms on his jeans. His stomach feels hollow; its contents emptied just a little way down the track. The sun beats down through oily leaves.
With a twist of her wrists Eira releases the bones onto the casting cloth. They scatter like a birthing constellation across the dark velvety blue. The two friends lean forward.
“What does it mean?” Jabez asks.
“Give me a minute.”
The bones seem to shiver slightly. Jabez clasps his hands together, fingers slippery with sweat.
For several minutes Eira stares at the configuration. A long sigh whistles out between her lips, and she sits back onto the dirt.
Jabez swallows loudly. “What do the spirits say?”
Eira closes her eyes. “Nothing.”
“What do you mean, nothing?”
“It’s not clear. Some days the bones keep secrets.”
Jabez grabs a fistful of his hair and bites his lip. “This is really important,” he says. Tears push their way into his eyes.
“Calm down, Jabez, jeez. It’ll be ok. This just means we have to move onto plan B.”
“We have to find Wolf.”
Jabez swallows again, his Adams apple bobbing up and down.
Dusk falls orange across the docks. Jabez and Eira step out from the air-conditioned deli with a bottle of water in a plastic bag. They stand looking out across the carpark to the ocean.
“We didn’t have to buy this,” Eira says, lifting the bag.
“It would’ve been impolite, going in there asking questions and then not buying anything.”
Eira shakes her head.
“I guess he didn’t tell us much though.”
“At least we know that Old Sam still lives in Container City.”
“Allegedly. And we don’t even know if Old Sam is Wolf. He could be some psycho.”
“My bones say he’s safe.”
“My gut thinks otherwise.”
Eira shrugs and swings the bag over her shoulder. “You coming with me, or are you going to wait for that rogue spirit to consume you from the inside?”
Jabez shivers, and then descends with her towards the water.
Container City is made of rust and brine. Crates abandoned at the death of the towns shipping industry had quickly become a nest of fringe activity, a maze of makeshift dwellings. The ragged edge of a tall wire fence marks the South entrance. Jabez’ eyes flick to the sign above the entry, a plank of wood painted with black symbols like eyes and tails.
As they walk Eira coughs awkwardly. “I did actually see something, in the bones this morning.”
Jabez stops. “Why didn’t you say? What was it?”
“You were already panicking. I didn’t want you to go over the edge. It wasn’t to do with you anyway and I couldn’t properly see it, just the edge of something…”
Jabez’s face is white against the deep evening hue.
“Well, it looked like the Eternal Storm.”
“It’s part of the spirit myths. Supposedly it’s a storm that never ends, that just takes on different forms. It’s caused by a vortex of raging spirits. I think I saw it, blurry, in the distance.”
Jabez chews on his knuckles. “Why would you tell me that now?”
Shadows lengthen as they walk the winding lanes, their footsteps sounding in the empty air. They round a corner and see a tall, thin man leaning against the wall. He grins at them, his canines sharpened into points.
“You little birdies lost?”
“We’re looking for Old Sam.”
The man’s grin widens. He pushes himself upright and walks towards them. “Sam ain’t around anymore.”
Jabez takes a step back and hears a low breath behind him. He turns, sees the road behind blocked by people.
“We’re not looking for trouble,” says Eira.
“Oh, but you’ve found it.”
A strangled cry surges up Jabez’s throat. He doubles over, pain radiating through his chest. Shadows seem to leak from his skin, black ink dripping to the ground.
The man’s eyes widen. “Who’d have thought, this little wimp has spirit,” he says.
A jeer rises from the crowd.
Darkness crawls into the edge of Jabez’s vision. He feels Eira’s arm around his shoulders.
The bodies press closer.
A flash of light fills the lane, morphing into leaping legs and glowing eyes. The man with pointed teeth bellows with rage. A roar like a tidal wave pushes against Jabez’s eardrums. The sensation engulfs him, and the world goes black.
The pillow is scratchy, bunched beneath his head. Jabez blinks awake, staring at the corrugated ceiling. Low voices murmur nearby.
He rolls over, pain and blood filling his mouth.
Eira sits on a low crate with her back to him. Opposite her is a young man, perhaps thirty, with whiskery cheeks and a navy blue beanie. Orange embers glow in a grate. Midnight blue presses against the tiny window.
The man senses his gaze, looks over. He says something Jabez can’t hear.
Eira turns and runs towards the mattress.
“Jabez, I knew you’d be ok,”
She wraps her arms around Jabez’s head.
“What happened? Where…”
“We found him,” she says, sitting back on her heels. “We found Wolf.”
The man walks over slowly, his dark eyes watchful.
“This,” Eira says, gesturing upwards, “is Old Sam. He says he can help you with the spirit.”
Jabez’s head spins. He opens his mouth to speak, but a wave of tiredness overcomes him.
Between his closing eyelids he glimpses a shadow beyond the window, a dark, hulking beast.