Right Hand Magic
A Novel of Golgotham
Like most Manhattanites, aspiring artist Tate can't resist a good rental deal-even if it's in the city's strangest neighborhood, Golgotham, where for centuries werewolves, centaurs, and countless other creatures have roamed the streets.
Her new landlord is a sorcerer name Hexe, who is determined to build his reputation without using dark, left-hand magic. As Tate is drawn into Hexe's fascinating world, they both find that the right hand does not always know what the left hand is doing-and avoiding darkness is no easy trick...
The address I was looking for was at the very top of Golden Hill Street, between Perdition and Beekman. Unlike the rest of the surrounding city, there had never been an attempt to turn Golgotham into flat, orderly squares. Because of this, the basic layout of the neighborhood had changed very little since the early eighteenth century.
I stared up at the house before me. If ever there was a perfect example of Golgotham architecture, this was it. With its twin turrets and ornate lightning rod perched high atop its peaked roof, it looked like an escapee from a Charles Addams cartoon. There was even a gargoyle poised atop the cornice, bat wings folded tightly against its humped back. Marshaling my nerve, I strode up the granite steps, grabbed the brass door knocker shaped like a coiled asp, and knocked as loudly as I could.
After a few moments, there came a squeal of rusty hinges as the heavy door swung open. Although I was half expecting Dracula, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the person on the other side was a very handsome young man, no older than twenty-five, with the lean, muscled body of a skater. He was dressed in a T-shirt, with SUPER FRIENDS printed on the front, skinny jeans, and had a pair of scuffed Chuck Taylors on his feet. His hair was shoulder length and unruly, as if it couldn't decide whether to be straight or curly, and deep purple in color, with pale blue highlights.
He tilted his head quizzically to one side, fixing me with golden eyes that had cat-slit pupils. I noticed with a slight start that he gripped the edge of the door with six fingers instead of five. It was only then I realized I was face-to-face not with just another Lower East Side boho hipster, but with an actual flesh-and-blood Kymeran.
I had seen Kymerans on television and in movies, and read about them in books and on scandal Web sites, but I had never actually laid eyes on the real thing before. A part of me was surprised that the extra finger wasn't like the rigid fake plastic pinkies sold at Halloween costume shops, but actually curled and flexed like the others on his hand.
"Yes? What is it?" he asked with a hint of irritation. He had noticed me staring at his hands.
"We, uh, talked on the phone earlier," I replied, color rushing to my cheeks. "I've come about the room."
"You got money?" he asked bluntly, eyeing my own tattered jeans. "I don't care how hot you look; I'll not have a lubbard under my roof."
I had no idea what a "lubbard" was, but it didn't sound complimentary. "I can pay three months in advance, plus deposit, if that answers your question."
He studied me for a long moment, as if trying to decipher something written on my forehead that only he could see, before finally stepping aside. "The room's on the second floor."
As I entered the house, I caught the scent of used jockstraps boiled in potpourri. Well, that probably wasn't what it actually was, but it sure smelled like it. I automatically wrinkled my nose in disgust.
"Sorry about the stink," he said, closing the door behind me. "I was in the middle of mixing something up when you knocked. Give me a moment—I need to take the cauldron off the boil."
He hurried down the hallway to the back of the house. Unsure of what to do, I followed him. As I tagged along, I glimpsed a double parlor with an adjoining dining room and what looked like a study on the ground floor.
The kitchen was large with plenty of counter space, every available square inch of which was littered with glass vials and containers. Sitting atop the old-fashioned gas stove was a large cast-iron vessel, the contents of which bubbled and gurgled like a pool of lava waiting to erupt. As I watched, he pulled on a pair of oven mitts and lifted the heavy cauldron from atop the burner ring as if it were a pot of spaghetti.
"Careful! Hot soup!" he said as he crossed the kitchen and placed the steaming container on a circular slab of marble covered in arcane symbols. "I have a little side business as a nimgimmer," the landlord explained, noticing the puzzled look on my face. "I have a client with a fondness for fauns, so to speak, and he's picked up an unfortunate case of orf."
"Uh-huh." I tried my best not to let on that I had no clue what the hell he was talking about.
"It's a form of knob-rot passed along by livestock," he explained with a wry smile.
"Oh!" I lowered my head and coughed into my fist so he couldn't see me blush.
"You're new to Golgotham, aren't you?" he asked, not unkindly.
"Is it that obvious?" I winced.
"Just a tad," he replied. "So what kind of psychic are you? Clairvoyant? Telekinetic? Dowser?"
"I'm none of those," I explained, slightly baffled by the question. "I'm an artist."
He stopped what he was doing, a surprised look on his face. "Really? I would have figured you for a medium, myself. Normally psychics are the only type of humans who look to make their home in Golgotham. What brings you here?"
"Rent, for the most part. I'm looking for a place where I can live and work in the same space. The raw materials for my art are expensive. I need all the help I can get. Plus, I've always been fascinated by this part of the city. It's so… real."
"I've never heard it described quite like that before," he laughed.
Kymerans are known for giving off natural perfumes, as opposed to body odor, and now that the noisome concoction in the cauldron was off the boil, I finally noticed the landlord's personal scent. When he brushed by, I caught a hint of citrus, moss, and leather. It was definitely a masculine aroma, and one I found quite attractive.
As we headed up the stairs to the second floor, I looked around for signs of other tenants. "Do you live here alone?"
"Hardly!" he laughed. "I have another boarder right now, but I doubt you'll have occasion to see him. Assuming you want the room, that is."
"I hope you don't take this the wrong way—but aren't you kind of young to be a landlord?" I asked.
"I inherited the job," he explained. "The house has been in the family for two centuries. When I told my mom I wanted to try my hand at lifting for a living instead of going to thaumaturgical college, she insisted I take over things here. It's worked out pretty good, so far."
Just then something small and close to the ground ran past me, brushing against my leg before disappearing into the shadows at the top of the stairs. Whatever it was didn't have fur.
"What the hell?!?" I yelped.
"Oh, that was just Scratch," the landlord laughed. "Don't mind him. He's always like that with strangers."
"Scratch is a… pet?" I asked uneasily.
"Something like that." He turned and addressed the darkness gathered at the second-floor landing. "Scratch! Come out and meet our guest!"
There was the sound of claws scrabbling on hardwood, followed by a flapping noise. Something resembling a house cat, save that it was utterly hairless with bat wings growing out of its back, leaped out of the shadows and made a perfect four-point landing on the second-floor balustrade.
"Dear God!" I clapped my hand over my mouth, but it was too late to hide my shock.
The winged, hairless cat fixed me with an eye as red as murder. "Who's the nump?" it sneered. "Another looky-loo?"
"Scratch! Where are your manners? Be nice. Or at least nice-ish. I'd like you to meet Miss…?" The landlord gave me a smile that pinned me to the spot like a butterfly. "I'm afraid I did not get your name earlier…?"
"Just call me Tate."
"Scratch, this is Miss Tate."
"Humph," Scratch sniffed, clearly unimpressed.
"Pleased to meet you, uh, Scratch."
"As well you should be," the flying cat replied curtly.
"Scratch is my familiar. I'm sure you've heard about such things from books and movies." As the landlord stroked the winged cat's back, Scratch butted his forehead against him, just like any other tabby would. "He is also my rent collector."
"Yeah—I eat the deadbeats!" The familiar grinned.
"Honestly, Scratch. You're such a liar. You're not allowed to take more than one bite, and you know it. Come along now, Miss Tate…"
I nervously glanced over my shoulder at the winged cat still perched on the banister; the creature's eyes glowed like hot coals in the dim light. My mouth went dry as paper. Maybe moving to Golgotham wasn't that great an idea after all…
"Ah! Here we are!" The landlord held up an old-fashioned key that looked better suited to unlocking a pirate's treasure chest than a door. He slid it into the keyhole and gave it a quick turn. The door swung open, revealing only darkness. He crossed the room and pulled aside the heavy velvet draperies that covered the windows facing the street. "Let's get some light in here."
As the late-afternoon sunlight spilled into the room, my trepidation about living among witches, demons, and things that go bump in the night instantly disappeared. The space was easily two thousand square feet—twice the size of the SoHo loft I currently called home—and outfitted with antique oriental carpets, a marble fireplace decorated with satyrs and nymphs, and a fifteen-foot vaulted ceiling.
"It's much bigger than I expected," I gasped in amazement.
"Yes, that's one of the unique features of this house. It was designed by my great-uncle Jack. He was a Mason of Hidden Degree, famous for utilizing a form of geometric origami that allows you to occupy more space than is physically available."
"That's amazing! How many rooms are there?"
"I'm not exactly sure. Some of them only manifest during certain astronomical convergences. This floor is relatively stable, but you should never go upstairs by yourself. That's how we lost Uncle Jack."
"You mean something up there killed him?" I asked, trying to control the alarm in my voice.
"Heavens and hells, no! We just lost him, that's all. He's probably still wandering around up there somewhere," he said, gesturing to the ceiling. "So, do you want the room or not?"
"I'll take it," I said as I pulled out my checkbook. "Who do I make this out to?"
"The name's Hexe, with an extra 'e' at the end," he replied, returning my smile. "And welcome to Golgotham.""An entertaining story that demonstrates an amazing breadth of imagination and introduces a fascinating alternate society...an intriguing introduction to an environment peopled with eccentric and memorable characters."
"Collins is especially skilled at portraying the sweaty, nervous moments when everything goes wrong and help is too far away...a very well done portrayal of a strange neighborhood amid our all-too-mundane reality.
"Nancy A. Collins has reminded me why I loved [urban fantasy] in the first place...a lot of fun."
"[A] great beginning to what appears to be a fantastic new urban fantasy series. I look forward to reading the second story to see what the author does with this incredible and complex neighborhood."
"[Collins] does an excellent job of bringing Golgotham and its unusual occupants vividly to life, yet grounding the story in reality. Compelling characters and dangerous drama add up to dynamic and exciting fun!"
-Romantic Times (4 stars)
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