Garbol swung the glass-fronted laundromat’s door out, swaggered in, and planted the butt of his cue stick next to his foot. The smells of detergent and lint filled his nostrils, dryers groaned with a methodic pulse, and washers grunted out their cycles. A Mariachi cover band played ‘I Wear My Sunglasses at Night’ on three different TVs. Garbol waved his hand, and the door snicked the bolt locked.
He’d tracked the enthralled people to this nexus from which they’d all begun.
Candy machines then dryers lined the left wall going all the way back to an alcove with bathrooms, closets, and a door for employee’s only. A column of back-to-back washers filled the middle, and to the right was the attendant’s desk with a scale, followed by a short row of washers along the wall that ended in an open area with change machines and seats.
A skinny, middle-aged Mexican pulled a sopping wet comforter out of one machine and put it in the next, closed the door, pulled out a quarter, hesitated, pocketed the quarter, then opened it again, and transferred the comforter back to the previous one.
A fat guy in overalls, blond beard and mustache, stared into a dryer full of clothes at a standstill.
Two plumpish hispanics folded and unfolded clothing on the back tables. A third fixated on the coin return button on a money changer, pressing it continuously.
A caucasian man sat in one of a line of seats along the window wall to Garbol’s right, his hair cut high and tight, a People magazine in his hand, a girl curled up on the next chair, leaning her back against his shoulder. The man’s eyes glared over the top of the magazine, looking down the aisle where a lady snarled and pulled on a washer door like she wanted to tear it off.
“How long have you been here?” asked Garbol.
“Are you talking to me?” asked high-and-tight.
“You and your gal are the only lucid ones here. Who else would I be talking to?”
“The ladies in the back are still with us,” said the man.
“Not for long,” said Garbol.
“They’re scared out of their minds. That’s the third time they’ve folded that same pile of clothes, but I think it’s just to avoid attention.”
“Okay. Stay as you are, then.” Garbol swaggered down the left aisle to avoid the snarler. To the ladies in the back he said, “Grab the handles of this curse. Push away in full reverse. Be free, my ladies.” He touched each on the temple with his cue.
They goggled at him. “What to do, señor?”
“Put your laundry in your baskets and join the two in the seats up front. Being close to other lucids will protect you from the brain fog.”
They took the lane away from the snarling woman.
Garbol stepped to the lady at the change machine. He didn’t have to rhyme his words, but it helped him focus and bend his mind into the power drawn by his staff. “Hark, I say. Listen well. Follow not the curse to hell. Awake, rejoin us fit with fire. Leave behind all false desire.”
She stopped pushing the change return.
“Awake to friendship, bless the light. Abandon curse for vivid sight.”
She gasped and looked at him sharply. “Oh, thank you, sir.”
Garbol swung his head toward the front. “Up with the others, please.”
He looked at the lady ripping at the washer door. She would be the hardest. He sauntered to the next row over and approached the Mexican man. Pounding came from the front, and Garbol looked up to see a young man punching the glass of the door. His eyes were dead, like the Mexican in front of him. A few others gathered behind the boy, and multiple fists pounded.
Garbol spent a few minutes trying in vain to acquire the Mexican’s focus through words, gestures, and shaking him by the shoulders. He tried the bearded man, and thought for a moment he had a flutter of recognition, but he fell back into oblivion.
“Sir! Sir! Can you come up here?”
Garbol raced to the front. The snarling woman stooped toward the girl on the seat and bared her teeth, reaching toward her with twitching fingers. Garbol flooded his power into his pool stick and thrust it between the woman and the group of lucids. She stopped and stared, confused and unseeing.
“Here.” He handed the pool stick to high-and-tight. “Just hold it in front of you for now.”
The front glass of the building was now fully crowded with dead-eyed people, scratching and clawing.
The Mexican and blond beard staggered toward Garbol and the lucids. The snarling woman hissed with in increasing agitation. The glass in the front door broke and the full volume of the groaning mass filled the laundromat.
Garbol lifted his hands and chanted. “I can’t get through to them.”
“Why are they coming back?” asked high-and-tight.
Why, indeed. Garbol hadn’t passed that many on the way here, so they hadn’t followed a wizard. They must have been drawn. But that would mean….
Snarler was the closest. He pressed his open hand upon her head. She hissed and scratched at his arms until he released her.
“No.” He grabbed the pool stick from high-and-tight. “Just stay away from her. Move to the back, if you need.”
More glass broke, and one of the dead-eyes crawled over jagged shards to get in under the bar handle on the door.
Garbol grabbed the sides of the Mexican’s head. Power glowed from the wizard’s hands, enshrouding the Mexican, but the man shuddered and pulled away.
It had to be the other. The bearded man’s dead eyes transformed into smoldering intelligence. Garbol thrust his hand forward, flashing a blinding light at the man, then swung his pool stick at his head. The man blocked it with his forearm and grabbed it, pulling Garbol off balance. The wizard stumbled, and the man smashed his fist on the top of Garbol’s head like Bud Spencer in a Trinity movie.
Garbol wilted to the floor, head spinning and streaks flashing through his head. His vision went gray, and he could no longer see his assailant. This warlock, who thought about the long-term instead of immediate satisfaction was formidable, the way he used this curse to gradually infiltrate the protected zone, compromising its integrity to make it vulnerable to bigger attacks later. This was a sorcerer that could bring all of wizardom to ruin if he was not checked.
“Back off!” High-and-tight yelled and growled.
Sight returned to Garbol, and high-and-tight jabbed and swatted at the bearded fat man. He was much quicker than Garbol, so beard couldn’t grab it from him. But in high-and-tight’s hands it was only a stick, and when beard got an opening, his black magic would be brutal, if not lethal. Several dead-eyes busted through the front and moved to surround them.
Garbol pushed himself off the floor, and scrabbled to his feet, stumbling down the far aisle and rounding the back to the other where he pulled out the wet comforter. He spread it in front of him and kindled the power within it until it glowed. He raced up to the front, high-and-tight and the warlock still sparring, and he threw the comforter over the enemy, then wrapped his arms around him to hold it.
Heat rose beneath it, and the material steamed.
High-and-tight passed it to him, and Garbol pulled it against the warlock’s chest. They fell to the ground and jostled around, but gradually all of the dead-eyes regained their wits, though alarmed with their surroundings.
The heat reached an unbearable temperature, and the warlock threw Garbol and the comforter off, planting his feet wide and bracing himself.
“Your curse is gone,” said Garbol. “Give yourself up.”
“Why?” The warlock scoffed. “Ten of you couldn’t hold me.”
“You stick around, and we’ll find out,” said Garbol. “You failed. Honor the boundary.”
The warlock guffawed. “Honor!” He roared again, but when Garbol lunged for him, he busted through the door, running like a track star.
“Who was he?” asked high-and-tight.
Garbol brushed his hand through his hair. “He is the Moriarty to my Sherlock Holmes. The Wo Fat to my McGarrett.”
“The Newman to your Seinfeld,” said high-and-tight.