Fixation, part 9

Our ongoing short story… has nearly reached its conclusion.

‘Where did you get this?’ I held the wheel up in front of Arabella’s face. As soon as I’d realised what I was looking at, I’d fished it out of the cabinet and rushed off to find her.
‘I have no idea,’ she said, too casually. ‘There’s all sorts of rubbish hanging around this house. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of it had been here for hundreds of years.’ Then, instead of asking why I wanted to know, she said, ‘Listen, how do you fancy a stroll along the canal this afternoon?’. Classic distraction technique.
‘Don’t lie to me. You stole this from Pop. Or, at least, you found it and didn’t give it back to xem.’ I dangled the wheel out of her grasp.
‘Let me show you what we can do with it,’ she whispered. For a moment, I was tempted ā€“ this, finally, was the magic she’d been hiding from me, the secret reason behind the books, the paraphernalia, the intelligent cat. But then I thought of Pop, out of time in xyr pirate outfit, and realised that if I believed in one, there was no reason not to believe in the other. Was there? As a computer scientist, of a sort, why should time travel be any less realistic to me than magic spells? Apart from the whole breaking the laws of physics thing, which wasn’t my area of expertise.
Anyway, fundamentally, Pop wanted this back, and until xe got it, xe would carry on sleeping on Robbie’s sofa, disrupting his fledgling relationship and his art. And xe was Robbie’s friend, for all the unlikelihood of it, and if I sided with Arabella ā€“ which I wouldn’t, would I? ā€“ my brother might never speak to me again.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Show me.’ It seemed the best way to prevent her from hiding the wheel away and kicking me out, never to see it again. Perhaps I could persuade her to put on one of her silk blindfolds, and then I could steal it back.
She set up her workspace with care, lighting candles and incense and rearranging symbols according to the instructions in one of the heavy tomes from the bottom shelf of the bookcase. I could tell she’d done this many times before, for all she’d tried to pretend otherwise. Maybe she hadn’t thought I was sufficiently indoctrinated into her world yet. She paced out the floor, whispering to herself. I had no way of telling whether she was doing it right, whatever that meant, whether she was a true witch or a disgrace to all pagans.
Eventually, it was done. The wheel sat alone on a small table in the centre of a chalk circle, and I stood on the edge, looking in. Arabella cradled a red feather in her palms, holding it up to the candlelight before letting it fall, gently, to the tabletop, where it brushed against the wheel. I had to admit she was still beautiful, despite what I now knew. She began to chant, a soothing series of sounds, clearly memorised. No hesitation.
I stared at the wheel, and blinked as it seemed, ever so slowly, to begin to turn. The red feather fluttered, and the scents of jasmine and lavender from the incense drifted towards me. The air shimmered – probably only a heat haze from the candles, but I could almost swear I could see a figure emerging, spinning on top of the wheel. I watched, mesmerised, forgetting any plan Iā€™d had, drawn deeper into the web of enchantment.
My phone rang.
Stumbling away from the ceremony, I grabbed it, hearing Robbie’s voice almost before I’d answered.
‘Morgan, we need your help.’
I grabbed the calibrometer wheel and ran out of the door.