Jacinda_9: Lance, are you there?
Lance179: I'm here. What's up?
Jacinda_9: What's going on with the game?
Lance179: What do you mean? Did the server crash?
Jacinda_9: No. It's . . .
Lance179: It's . . . ?
Jacinda_9: You won't believe this.
Lance179: Try me, Jac.
Jacinda_9: Promise you won't laugh.
Lance179: How bad could it be? Did it turn your computer into a toad?
Jacinda_9: Not funny.
Jacinda_9: Really not funny.
Lance179: Sorry. What happened?
Jacinda_9: My mouse is purple.
Lance179: It's purple? That's it?
Jacinda_9: Before I started playing, it was grey and silver. It has always been grey and silver. It was never available in purple.
Lance179: What happened?
Jacinda_9: I don't know! I was playing Valor Quest, testing the gloves, and fighting some sort of invisible badger.
Lance179: That would be the jackacoati.
Jacinda_9: Whatever it is, okay? Not important. I felt my hand ache a little, so I stretched. That's when I saw my mouse had changed colour.
Lance179: Did you see it change?
Lance179: Anything else different around your PC?
Lance179: Is the game still running?
Jacinda_9: In the background. It pauses when minimized, right?
Lance179: So I've heard.
Jacinda_9: What happened to my mouse? In fact, ever since you gave me the links to the game, I've felt like I'm being stalked. What's going on, Lance?
Lance179: I'm here. Just checking something here.
Jacinda_9: What's happening?
Jacinda_9: . . .
Jacinda_9: I'm being serious, Lance. What the hell is happening?
Lance179: I am serious, Jac. It's not something I can explain well online.
Lance179: Can you meet me in fifteen minutes?
Jacinda_9: Not without an explanation, Lance. I'm being stalked and you're the prime suspect.
Lance179: We can meet someplace relatively open. There's a few things I want to show you, but we can find somewhere that gives us privacy but still lets you call for help if you want. You choose.
Jacinda_9: All right, how about Carleton in front of the Steacie Building?
Lance179: It'll take me longer, but I'll be there.
Jacinda_9: I'll be inside out of the cold.
*** Jacinda_9 signed off.
"Trish!" Magic? Whois he trying to fool? Yet, I don't have any other explanation for the mouse or, for that matter, those eyes. "Trish!" It's insane, though. There's no such thing as magic. There's always an explanation.
Trish opens my bedroom door and enters. "What is it, Jackie? Oh, when did you get the new mouse?"
"Forget the mouse." I get out of my chair. "I'm going to Carleton. If I don't call you in an hour, call the police."
"What? Jackie, wait, what?" She stands in front of the door, blocking it.
I disconnect the game gloves from my computer. "I'm going to Carleton to meet someone. If something goes wrong, I don't want you waiting several hours before getting worried and calling the cops."
"No, you want me to do that in just one. Who are you meeting?"
"No one you know. Just look at my chat logs if something does happen, okay?"
Worry works its way on to Trish's face. "It's not that guy from the weekend, is it?"
"No." I lock my computer then try to leave past Trish.
"Jackie." She holds her arms out to prevent me from getting around her. "Explanation, now. You're starting to scare me."
I shrug. "I'm not sure. Remember the weird shit going down around me? I might know who and I'm going to make sure it stops."
"If you know who it is, let the cops handle it."
"And tell them what, that this guy is projecting eyes on windows and mirrors? They'll lock me away."
"Then take me."
"Trish, I need you here, a phone call away. If I'm wrong, I'll call you."
Trish lets her arms fall to her side. "Tell me what's going on when you get back, okay?"
"I will if I can." I slip past my roommate. "I'll call so you can stop worrying, too."
I can feel Trish watching me as I leave. I make the trip to Carleton in record time and find a parking spot close. Carrying the game gloves, I go to the Steacie Building, home to the chemistry department. Although there are chairs and couches in the lobby, I pace, my breath visible in the cold air inside. Too much nervous energy in my for me to sit down for even a minute.
Lance arrives ten minutes after I do. He walks in and looks around. I turn on my heel and in a half dozen strides, reach him. "Jacinda, there you are."
I keep my voice low and even. "What is going on?"
"Like I told you on the computer, magic."
"There's no such thing."
Lance walks over to the doors leading to the tunnel system. I follow, glaring. "Jacinda," he starts.
"My name's Jacqueline," I correct.
He nods. "Jacqueline, this is easier to show instead of trying to explain. See the grafitti on the door?"
There's a long red gash from the top of the door to the bottom. "I see it."
Lance twists his fingers around, making several gestures almost like sign language. The red streak on the door fades away. "See it now?" he asks.
I stare at the door. "Where is it?" I ask as I move in to take a closer look. "You prepared this before I got here."
"You chose the place, not me. I came from downtown, too."
"The paint can't just disappear like that."
Lance steps away. "Then where did it go?"
I touch the door. It feels like the usual metal fire door used here on campus; cool, the paint rough and chipped. Just like it should be before the tagger sprayed the red streak. "I don't know. But there's an explanation."
"Besides magic." I give my head a shake, then shuffle over to one of the couches. I sit down on the black vinyl that passes as a cushion and try to think, ignoring the freezing feeling on my butt. "You had some sort of paint remover in your hands."
Lance holds his out and open. "Nothing up my sleeves, either."
"It can't be magic."
"It doesn't exist." Even I know I'm grasping at straws now.
Lance joins me on the couch. "I can show you how you can do it. You just have to trust me."
I face him. "Trust you? How do I know you weren't--" I cut myself off.
"How do you know I wasn't . . . what?"
"Jacqueline, if something else is happening, I might be able to explain it."
I take a deep breath. "Look me in the eyes."
"Look me in the eyes," I interrupt. He does as I ask and I look into his dark blue eyes. I shake my head. "It's not you."
I let out my breath. "The eyes." I turn away from Lance's confused look. "You might be the only person I know who won't think I'm crazy."
"Jacqueline, I can't tell you anything if I don't know what you're talking about."
I meet his eyes with mine. "I'm being stalked, but the stalker isn't following me in person. They're using eyes in mirrors and windows. Ever since the weekend, I've been seeing them."
"Did you recognize the eyes?"
I think for a moment. "No. Other than being the same each time. They're not yours." I shrug. "Do you think I'm crazy?"
Lance shakes his head. "I think someone is following you magically. I recognize the spell. I might be able to protect you from it, if you trust me."
"This means magic is real, doesn't it?"
"Would you prefer to be insane?" Lance smiles, trying to improve my mood. He stands up, holds his arms over his head with his hands together, and says something I don't understand. A wave of soft light falls from my head to my toes. "How do you feel now?"
I do a quick mental assessment of myself. "I don't feel any different."
"So, I coloured my mouse purple. Can I undo that somehow?"
"Whether you're ready to learn."
Nervous energy finally gets the best of me and I laugh. I manage to keep from being hysterical, but tears do run down my cheeks. Lance moves in a few times to try to help me, but backs off each time. Poor guy probably has never had to deal with a woman trying to keep a tenuous grip on reality. After a few minutes, I recover and wipe my eyes. "Sorry, Lance." I try to catch my breath.
"I understand. You're changing paradigms. Best to use a clutch when doing so."
"What do I need to do?"
Lance smiles. "Believe."