Zero paced around the church for the next hour. He went up the creaking steps and then clattered down them again. He peered anxiously out of all the windows. He stared into the empty baptismal font as though it were a scrying tool. He studied the Stations of the Cross again. Layla tried to follow at his heels for a while but gave up in exhaustion and settled in front of the altar with her head resting on her paws.
At last he stopped still and Layla looked up. “I’m not going to run from them, Layla.” He said in a calm, level tone. “We’ll prepare ourselves as best we can but we have to live our lives, too.” He paused for an ironic smile. “Well, you know what I mean.” Zero made another quick lap of the church and checked that all of the doors and windows were basically secure. Then he called the dog and opened the side door. “C’mon girl. Let’s walk into town and get ourselves sorted out.” He tugged on his black, crushed velvet overcoat, careful to secrete Luna’s bouquet of protective herbs in his inside pocket. Angelica Root, Basil, Blessed Thistle…Zero wondered if it would work.
Zero and Layla set off through the vast, dry field which lay in front of the church. The grass was high and obviously no more attention had been paid to it than had been paid to the church for many a year. Layla stopped suddenly and stood quietly, waiting for a long, black snake to slide effortlessly past them along the ground. They both stood mesmerized for a moment by its gently curling form shifting this way and that. It paused in front of them then moved on. Taking Layla’s cue to keep walking, not long after they popped out on the main road to town. Darkwood, a sign read. Five kilometres. Zero sighed. Not too far.
Everything he could want was contained on Darkwood’s main street. He bought some groceries from the small supermarket which looked as though it had last been renovated in the 1950s; he bought the local paper at the newsagent so that he could look for a car in the classifieds and he picked up a few plates and some cutlery from the op-shop. It was actually not a bad little town to have landed in. The locals eyed him with a strange mix of suspicion and resignation—a blend of ‘what have we here?’ and ‘what have we now?’. Picking up a coffee for himself and a donut for Layla from the bakery, he realised why he had picked up on this peculiar vibe. He was not the only act in town. Mixed in with the ordinary local folk were witches, hippies, pagans, ferals and fae. The last of course being seen only by people with a…shall we say…broader range of sight like himself. In between the mainstream mainstays of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker (well, the chemist) was a tarot reader, a pagan supplies shop and a clothing store offering every combination of tie-dye imaginable. There was certainly an interesting energy here, Zero thought as he looked at a shop window full to bursting of pentacles, smudge sticks, crystals, incense and goddess statues. And then he looked up and saw the most interesting thing of all.