Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Clay Tuesday: Arrest the Children

The Case of the Black-Eyed Children, First Instance

“Let me in.”

He wanted in. The man, with dirty blond hair, wanted in. He wasn’t overly charming, graceful, or particularly extraordinary in his looks. Sure he was handsome, but he was generically so. But he was new. So Miranda Fawson, slim and tall, let him in.

The young man, dripping wet from rain water, white tee shirt clinging to his skin, came in and closed the door. Thunder clapped outside. The young man tried to hide his shivering.

“You shouldn’t let strangers in so easily,” he pointed out. The way he said it wasn’t threatening, just matter of fact. Boring. Miranda would have preferred he been dangerous. But she shrugged it off. She would make him more interesting.

“Mr. Let-Me-In, you should be happy you have a dry place to stay.” Miranda leaned against the hallway wall, decorated with photo frames, smiling coyly.



“My name’s Adam. Look, if I’ve pissed you off I’ll give you chocolate when Sebastian comes around.”

“I hate chocolate.”

This response made Adam, who was trying to hide his shivering, scrunch his face in utter confusion.

“What, are you serious? That can’t be right.” He mumbled. He pinched the bridge of his nose, pausing for a moment before going on. “I hate it when he does this to me.”

Miranda was starting to get curious. “I’ve always hated chocolate,” she noted. “But who’s Sebastian? Your boyfriend?”

Gallons, it looked like, of blood rushed to his pale cheeks. Miranda had been joking, but now she thought maybe she had struck a nerve. Adam looked like he might become a fun new plaything; she liked this.

“No,” he stuttered, his voice slipping into a southern drawl, “He’s my bro. Broseidon. Broseph. Sherlock Bromes. That kind of thing. He’s the one who told me where you live.”

Miranda moved from her spot on the wall and chose to shuffle through a basket of random belongings near her front door. She only listened half-heartedly, and was at this point more worried about finding her Polaroid camera and pushing the bits of her bleached hair that escaped her bandanna headband out of her face. “Why did you need to know where I live?”

“I had a dream about you and this place. Sebastian looked it up for me to make sure you existed, that this was a case we could take on. He’s supposed to be here, too.”

Miranda began paying attention more sincerely now. “You had a dream about me? I’m flattered.” She turned her head around briefly to look at how serious Adam was before going back to her searching.

“Yeah, it happens.”

“Why exactly are you here?”

“Because they’re coming.”


“The black-eyed children.”

“Say cheese!” Miranda had found her camera and whipped around to take a quick snapshot of Adam. He was caught off guard and rubbed his eyes for several seconds after the flash had gone off. Miranda shook the photograph that came out of the camera, knowing full well it would probably warp the image. “The what now? Sorry, you looked vaguely unique while you were trying to defend your heterosexuality. I had to capture the moment.”

Adam gave Miranda a frown, or at least she imagined he did. It was difficult to tell since his face had a continual countenance of unhappiness surrounding it.

“The black-eyed children. Sometimes they’re called black-eyed kids. The name itself is self-explanatory.”

“Well that’s nice. Do they at least do party tricks?”

“They make you feel miserable and stuff.”

“Oh, so that explains your personality. You must’ve run into one.”

Miranda assumed that he frowned again. She clapped her hands together, bending the polaroid photo.

“They ask to come inside, and if you say yes they’ll kill you, maybe turn you into one of them. But they have to be invited inside, sort of like vampires.” Adam rubbed his upper arms. He looked like he was shivering. Miranda didn’t much feel like offering him a towel.

“How do you know they’re coming here again? A dream?”

Adam picked up an old-looking letter on a stand by the door that Miranda had received earlier in the week. He took out the dated paper from the envelope; the note inside was blank.

“You got this,” Adam replied. “That’s how I know.”

Before Miranda could respond there came a soft knocking at the door. “Let me get that,” she said, reaching for the door. Adam grabbed her arm, which instantly pissed Miranda off. She held her tongue.

“Let me do it.” Letting go of Miranda’s arm, Adam went for the handle and opened the door slowly. With each inch that the door opened, Miranda could feel any sort of hope or good feeling seep out of her personage like helium escaping out of a balloon, deflating her soul. Standing there on the doorstep were two average looking teenagers, one boy and one girl, with eyes that looked like they were glazed over with midnight black nail polish.

“Can we come in? Our car broke down and we need to call a tow truck,” said the boy. His breath smelled like scum and Miranda could tell he was lying but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything.

“Please? It’s so cold outside,” the girl added almost as an afterthought.

Tilting his head, Adam looked like he was actually contemplating it. The hair on the back of Miranda’s neck was standing on end; she knew it was a bad idea, and she wanted to shout at the children to leave, yet she could feel her lips beginning to form the word yes. Before she could say anything, Adam responded to the request.

“No.” He slammed the door.

Snapping out of her daze, Miranda choked out a weak “What was that?”

“They’ll knock again. I just like it when they get pissy. It makes this more fun.”

Like a prophecy come true, there came another knock, rougher this time. Adam opened the door quickly. He asked them what they could possibly want.

“Let us in,” the girl said more forcefully, incessantly. “Our car broke.”

“Use your cell phone.” Adam slammed the door a second time, and once more there came a rapping at the door. He flung it open. This time the two teens propped themselves heavily against the door frame, leaning as far in as they could without actually being inside the house. To Miranda, it came off as looking like some force field prevented them from entering.

“Let us in.”

“I said no.” The southern twang in his voice was still present, but less so the more he spoke. “I don’t see your car anywhere.”

“It’s a few blocks over,” the boy replied. Good lord, Miranda thought, his breath stunk like spoiled eggs.

“Then you should’ve tried another house,” Adam expressed coldly.

“Let us in.” The girl tried leaning in farther. This seemed to upset Adam because in a sort of retaliation to her movement he grabbed her face. The black-eyed girl shrieked violently, inhumanly, forget-me-nots sprouting from her nostrils and eye sockets underneath Adam’s palm. The boy turned to run.

“What’s the matter? Don’t run.” Adam grabbed the back of the black-eyed boy’s shirt, pulling the demon into his chest and putting him in a head lock. Flowers instantly began growing from the points of contact between him and Adam, covering his body like they did the girl’s. “You two aren’t even wet. Really, try harder the next time you lie.”

The black-eyed kids were consumed by the forget-me-nots, vanishing underneath their blanket of white. The flowers, just as quickly as they had cropped up, shriveled and died away, leaving behind only a few petals and an eerie silence as evidence that anything had happened in the first place.

Miranda broke the silence. “Do you do this on a regular basis?” Something akin to joy began returning to her system with the absence of the demons.

“Maybe,” was all Adam responded with. He walked out the door, slamming it shut behind him.

Miranda laughed, awkwardly, wishing she had some sort of evidence that what had just happened wasn’t a dream. She looked down at the snapshot of Adam she had in her hand. Grinning mischievously, she walked to a drawer, rummaging through and pulling out a pen and a thumbtack. Using the tip of the thumbtack, she scratched out Adam’s eyes and roughly filled in the scratchings with the black ink from the pen. She hung the photo on the wall between some of the fancier, framed ones.

“Where were you?” Adam asked Sebastian. He leaned against a wall outside a coffee house named Teal Justice. He had no idea what the name had to do with anything. It wasn’t practical, unless the name had to do with the bold colors inside. Either way it kind of made Adam sick to look at.

Sebastian lit a match, and let burn until the flames licked his fingertips like the tongue of a hellhound before letting the crumbled matchstick fall to the ground. All the while Adam gazed in admiration at the light and shadows cast on Sebastian’s form from the tiny fire. Sebastian drew in a large gulp of air infused with the smell of smoke, taking his sweet time in answering.

“Sorry, I got new orders from the Horrorscope last-second. They wanted me to check out a sighting of shadow people at Teal Justice, but it turns out they meant the location in Plumfield, North Carolina.” As Sebastian answered, he kept an eye on Adam, watching carefully as he flinched at the mention of the town.

“Don’t mention that place,” Adam mumbled bitterly. He ruffled his wet hair and stared out at the rain coming down in a light sprinkle now over the town. A silent prayer was had in Adam’s heart for being under a canopy at that moment, as he had yet to grab a jacket.

Sebastian took a small box with a bow on it out of his inner suit pocket and tossed it in Adam’s general direction. With the swiftness and grace of a former jock, Adam skillfully caught the gift.

“What’s this?”

“Chocolate. For pissing you off and all.”

Adam was slack-jawed at the comment. It took him what seemed a full minute before he was able to pull himself together, opening the box to see five tiny assorted truffles.

“Thanks, I guess.” Adam stared at the chocolates a moment longer before placing the lid back on the box.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Man Who Was Fire; or, the Story of Averett Emberhart

Flames savagely licked up and down Averett’s large, imposing frame; he was the son of rage and fire and all he wanted to do, more than any other thing, was hug her. He wanted to embrace her, kiss her, dance with her, be with her, his unreachable goal—but all he could do was burn and uncomfortably laugh at his misfortune. He was a man who had become the very sin that consumed and raged in his insides, and he couldn’t hide it with fancy words reserved for fancy occasions, used to conceal the most troubling of secrets in the most polite of societies. His pain and anguish was visible to all as he lived on in a state few could understand, a state so misunderstood that others mocked and scorned out of a primal fear of the burning light and pure unpredictable emotion he produced.

        His body betrayed his desire, unable to succumb to his wants, only regret and temptation. So instead he stood afar off, not daring to reach for the woman he wanted to adore until finally the rage and flames devoured him, leaving only gray ash floating in the breeze that came from the breath of his scorners, a breath that had previously fed him. The tiny bits of gray ash danced in circles round and round, fell on her with a soft kiss, and embraced her in a way she could not appreciate, because she had only seen the man who was fire as something to fear.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clay Tuesday: Harmonious Tantrum

Clay Tuesday

Harmonious Tantrum

Part 01: Allow No Evil

Lawrence Caldwell had lived in five-thirty-two West End Road in Massachusetts for well over two hundred years. In the year 1801 he had suffered a fracture in his hip that he received from a terrible fall down a flight of stairs in his house and, unable to call for help, he died on the steps. Nobody found his body for weeks, and his spirit simply decided not to leave. His house, which he had built himself, was four stories tall and overshadowed many other residences that had once stood alongside his. Over the years, however, those other houses were torn down and new ones built up; new residents moved in to Lawrence’s house as well, and did all sorts of nonsensical things to it that Lawrence did not approve of. So he tried to put a stop to it.

There wasn’t much he could do at first; he could make the windows shake, and cause smaller objects to move a couple of inches any which way he desired. But as the years grew longer, his anger towards new residents, and thusly his powers as a ghost, grew much stronger. He made loud noises, caused objects disappear, shattered glass, and even gave residents a brief viewing of his rotting spiritual body. And, once, in 1986, he killed a mother of two because she had wanted to put up wallpaper in his house. Wallpaper. Lawrence was disgusted with the changes people made to his home over the years, and that, for some peculiar reason, was the last straw. The house remained abandoned for decades after that.

Until two young men moved in.

In the months prior to those two young men taking up residence, crews and come and gone tidying up the place, something that made Lawrence uneasy after having his house to himself again. A priest came and blessed the house, too, which made Lawrence scoff. By the time the two young men came around, he had built up more than enough rage to, he hoped, exile them from his house and prevent anyone from ever wanting to return.

The first day, he made the windows shake. The two men ignored it. The second day, Lawrence smashed windows. They covered them with bags and had the glass cleaned up and replaced that day. On the third day, deciding to go further, Lawrence made himself visible to the shorter of the two men; the brown-haired one who always wore sweats and a white tee. Lawrence’s spirit, by then, bore very little resemblance to the man when he had first died. His face was gaunter, chunks of what would have been skin peeling away to show bits of skull and large chunks of hair had vanished as well. His left eye even hung limply along his cheek stretching down to his chin. The young man, not surprised in the least by the vision of the spirit, actually smiled a little and walked closer to Lawrence, holding out his hand. He stepped forward once. Twice. Three times. Lawrence felt uneasy, stunned by the young man’s boldness, and vanished in a wisp of smoke.

For the next week Lawrence took to observing the two new residents of the house. They were very much an odd couple; Lawrence learned that Adam, the boy he had tried to frighten, was very cleanly and made sure everything in the house was in its proper place. When he wasn’t picking up after Sebastian, the taller man, he was watching sports and soap operas on the television.

Sebastian always wore three-piece suits, even while lounging around the house. He would explore every room thoroughly; taking notes every time Lawrence made any sort of noise- even the noises Lawrence didn’t make he took note of. Whenever Sebastian would undress, Lawrence would take note of the medallion he kept close to himself at all times and the bizarre tattoo on his forearm. Both made Lawrence feel uneasy, which in turn made him angrier. He had to get the men out of there. The house was Lawrence’s, and he would not share with anyone else. He would channel his anger and do something amazing.

One evening at three A.M. Lawrence made the walls bleed.

Full of two hundred years’ worth of bitter emotion, Lawrence cause each wall in the house to ooze out blood. He moaned and howled, shaking his house’s foundation. Sebastian the open the door to his room and stepped out. It was then that Lawrence made himself manifest once more, his eyes glowing a vile green. He started at the end of the hallway, cutting out and reappearing closer Sebastian over and over. Sebastian backed into a corner, afraid to touch the walls covered in blood. He shook violently and tried grabbing for the medallion around his neck, but he had taken it off before bed and forgotten to grab it when he left the room. He shrank down to the ground. Lawrence, now only a few feet from Sebastian, lowered his rotting face. He was about to open his mouth when from the corner of his good eye he saw little flowers, live flowers, covering the wall, his wall. Taking his time, Lawrence turned and focused on Adam at the end of the hallway, the flowers starting from where his hand was placed on the wall. Lawrence cut out and phased to stand in front of Adam, towering over him.

“I think Sebastian and I are going to have to leave,” he started. “Your hospitality has been lacking.”

With both hands Adam grabbed the aged jacket of the apparition’s form, spider lilies consuming Lawrence. Lawrence saw several lights, and he started following them, quickly, because they were getting away. In his mind he followed, and followed, and then, but misfortune or happenstance, the lights were gone and all Lawrence saw was a cracked ivory mask with a single eye painted on it. It belonged to a reddish man-looking creature with black spines erupting from its back and feathers in his hair. He, or it, stood a good two yards from Lawrence, a spear in its hand, the point piercing Lawrence. On the spear hung an antique metal, the tiny door of which creaked open, sucking Lawrence inside. The next thing he knew, they were gone.

Part 02: Think No Evil

“Have you heard about the Cult of No One, Wellington?”

Wellington Bradshaw, by nature always a little tense and withdrawn, visibly grew even tenser at the question. Rachel had no idea this was even possible, and was somewhat amused.

Smoothing down his unkempt bedhead hair, he replied “yes,” and continued placing tests on the desks in the empty room for Rachel’s next class. He felt the air grow colder, but thought nothing of it; he probably only had the chills thinking about the entity that had once possessed his body.

“Then you probably know why I took the job at this school.” Rachel looked up at Wellington, but he kept his back turned. She smiled warmly, and looked down at the notes she was shuffling through.

Roughly a year ago the residents of the creepy little house had helped Wellington, his cousin Isaac Bradshaw, Renee Engleking and Charles Taffner Yonts. They were dream walkers, able to enter the dreamscape, the world of dreams, every Wednesday at 11:11. However, they ran into rare demons that lived in and ate dreams- The Empties, former dreamers who had sold their souls to No One, king of The Empties. That was how they lost Charles.

“It’s, well, it’s not like, well, you know. I mean it’s a cult. I don’t see how I can be found. I hate large crowds, I teach piano, and I just barely started college at the age of twenty-two.” Wellington stood near the entrance of the room now, placing the last paper on the desk. He exhaled, and for a brief second he felt as though he could see his breath. Softly, he added, “I don’t even go into the dreamscape anymore.”

“Do you know where Isaac is?” Rachel waited for a reply, but all she got was silence. “Wellington, we’re here to make sure nothing happens to you.”

Wellington couldn’t deal with the stress. His whole life he couldn’t deal with it- he loathed being around large groups of people and could barely handle the dynamic of having Isaac, Renee and Charles around. He had finally gotten used to that, and then everything went to hell- Charles, in a moment of weakness, considered selling his soul and got killed. Wellington himself became possessed by an evil entity who only wished to devour and used Wellington’s body to strangle and nearly kill Isaac, who then became a new person altogether in the dreamscape. Renee had to deal with it all and save the day with the help of Kristjan, Rachel and Adam. Wellington still struggled with the thoughts of everything that happened, everything haunted him. Had he been able to dream the entire fiasco with No One and the Empties would have given him nightmares for life, but instead the thoughts alone kept him awake late into the night. He didn’t want help now; he just wanted to be left alone, to not have any of it brought up ever again. He wanted to move on, like he had promised the comatose Isaac before he had woken up and vanished.

Wellington focused his clear blue eyes on Rachel, his eyes that had changed to green then gray before his possession a year earlier. He opened his mouth to say, well, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to say but he knew he wanted to say something. Before he got the chance he visibly saw his breath before his eyes, and the lights flickered. He winced. “I wasn’t the only reason you came, was I?”

A shriek reverberated through the now low-lit room, accompanied by a desk that was thrown too close to Wellington’s head for comfort but he stood his ground. This didn’t scare him a bit, he had been in truly terrifying situations in the dreamscape, inside of literal nightmares.

“This was the prize in the crackerjack box. I’m teaching folklore at a haunted school. A haunted school, Wellington. A lot of students plan on taking my class this semester.”

“I wouldn’t bother taking this prize to Tiffany’s and having it engraved.” Wellington walked towards Rachel, and the screaming stopped. As soon as it did, however, a pale, sunken-eyed young woman in black stood in Wellington’s path.

“She’s been trying to break me these past few days, scare me off, you know. I keep on saying that I can’t be broken. She can tell how negative you are, so she’s going to try and break you next.” Rachel sat down in her swivel chair, continuing to flip through papers.

“You haven’t gotten rid of her yet?” Wellington said with a twinge of sulphurousness to his tone.

“Why? She makes a great visual aid.”

“Now you’re just messing with me.”

“Is it working?”

Wellington’s fingers twitched at his side. He may have been special like Rachel, but she dealt with magic, the supernatural. All he could do was invade people’s dreams. He couldn’t even dream for himself.

Rachel finally looked up at Wellington and noticed his frown. “Alright, I’ll take care of it.”

She never got a chance to take care of it. Wellington saw her tense up, her eyes growing large like dollar coins. She pointed behind Wellington. He turned, a spear, wielded by a red-colored man in a mask, shot past his ear. Wellington’s head turned, he felt so dizzy now. The spear pierced the poltergeist girl, who hung from the ceiling. The birdcage attached to the spear opened up, and a thin mist rose from it, entangling the spirit and drawing her into the cage itself.

“Wellington, back!”

Wellington knew Rachel well enough to figure out that when her voice was that commanding, she was serious and he should obey. He fell back onto a desk, while a knife zoomed past where he had been, making its mark, sinking into the white mask that covered the red man’s face. It cracked, and the red man ripped out the blade, tossing it aside and vanishing.

“Wellington, are you-” Rachel started. Wellington interrupted.

“No. No. Don’t want to deal with this right now. This is why I hate being around people, crap like this happens. I’m going home.” Wellington walked out the door and came back in a few minutes later, grumbling. “You’re my ride.”

Part 03: Foretell No Evil

The first rule of any good stakeout was to always bring junk food. Kristjan Callier and Renee Engleking were not on a stakeout per-se, but Renee still craved something delicious and all around bad for her like a pizza or a burger. Renee felt she knew the enigmatic Kristjan well enough to assume he would even do something silly like try to coerce Renee into buying snacks for their outing once they had gotten there, and as such had even brought a little extra money with her just so they could get something good. But it was just not meant to be.

Renee crossed her ankles elegantly and smoothed out her white, layered skirt that went a little past her knees. She was sure the island of Plumfield had some wonderful places to eat or grab snacks; she honestly would have settled for a nice, healthy meal before they went out, or even requested Adam to make them a sack lunch. Instead, she was ultimately famished and bored just sitting on the bench across from Lady Barkhurst’s palm reading salon.

“You good?” Kristjan asked, not really bothering to look over at Renee. He sat leaning forward, resting his elbows on his knees and chewing on a toothpick. Renee thought they looked so shady, she and him, just sitting there, loitering. She, of course, was wearing light colors, mostly whites and crèmes, while Kristjan wore his signature black that brought out his bright, styled hair.

“Dandy like a lion,” she replied, brushing a hand through her wavy rust-colored hair. She laughed a little on the inside; she had used Isaac’s favorite phrase. “I’d be dandier with some stakeout food.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. You have to eat. Crazy kid.” Kristjan sat up and stretched out his arms. “I should’ve had Adam make us something to go.”

“So you can’t eat, either? That’s horrible.” Renee ignored the fact that Kristjan hadn’t thought of asking Adam. She’d save that for later and guilt him out of a much larger, fancier meal than they could have had waiting for Lady Barkhurst to open her shop. She figured she could even get a snack out of him right now as well if she played her cards right.

“Nah, I can still eat. I just don’t need to in order to survive. I thoroughly enjoy making Adam cook fancy meals for me.” He slouched back against the bench and moved his mouth back and forth along his face while shaking his knee. It looked like he was getting antsy. “Most people would call me lucky, you know. I have some aunts who would kill to never have to eat. They wouldn’t have to pay ridiculous amounts of money for personal trainers and for fancy diet plans. It’s not like they even need any of that. People in my family are just too focused on looks.”

Renee wondered how true that was for Kristjan, too. He always dressed very nicely and he was naturally handsome, objectively speaking of course. “No, definitely not lucky. You can’t sleep either. It’s not like you’re King Midas, but still.”

“Hey now, Midas had an awesome ability.” Kristjan and Renee both laughed, but she wondered how he kept from going crazy. Then she realized the answer was easy; he put all of his time into this job. He knew five languages, two of which he had learned since living in the creepy little house. He read grimoires, studied them really, and made sure he was rarely idle. This was probably the most idle he had been in a long while.

“I think I’d be dandier if I had a snack.”

“I’ll go grab us something tasty.” As soon as Kristjan stood up, the lights went on in Lady Barkhurst’s shop. Renee cursed her luck. “Rain check. Stakeout’s over.”

They crossed the street and entered the shop, the door chiming eerily and echoing in the empty room. Everything felt drab, soulless- it felt like a nightmare to Renee.

From behind a curtain emerged Lady Barkhurst, robed in a rouge gown that clung to her frame and jewels adorned her neck and fingers. Her raven hair full of curls was done up neatly, and her lips shone the same color as her dress. Renee thought it a bit much.

“Come, sit. You must want your fortune read, no? Would you like the tarot, a Ouija, or perhaps you would like me to tell your future through automatic writing?” Lady Barkhurst’s Eastern European accent came off as comically thick, Renee tried not to laugh. Lady Barkhurst signaled Kristjan and Renee to sit down before doing so herself.

“You’re playing the accent a little thick. It’s unprofessional, and a little insulting if you ask me. Thoughts, Renee?” Kristjan took his seat and rolled his shoulders back, loosening up.

“Honest to goodness I had to keep myself from giggling the moment you opened your mouth.” Renee remained standing, choosing instead to move around the room and examine all of the trinkets.

Lady Barkhurst paused, staring coldly at Kristjan. Slowly, she opened a drawer and brought out a deck of Tarot cards.

“Oh, I see. You plan on bringing out The Death without actually knowing what it means and saying something creepy about my upcoming demise,” Kristjan teased, folding his arms.

“No no, these are special cards, Kristjan Callier.” Lady Barkhurst’s accent became a natural French one as she shuffled the deck, dealing out five cards on the table. “You don’t even need to touch the cards- one of the gifts of being psychic, you see, much like Phillip Darwin Yeates. Now, let us see what we have here.”

Kristjan sat upright in a flash, grabbing Lady Barkhurst’s hand before she could flip over the first card.

“Kristjan, that’s rude.” Renee walked over to her blond-haired companion, placing a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. “I don’t believe we’ll have anything to worry about.”

“Thank you, Renee,” Lady Barkhurst replied softly, smoothly, slyly. She gave off an aura that made Renee feel insecure. Kristjan let go of her hand, and she flipped over the first card. It was a scarecrow; Renee wondered if it had anything to do with Kristjan’s nickname. She flipped over a second, and on it was a picture of a moon insignia, the card reading ‘The Dream Walker.’ Renee recognized it instantly as the symbol she saw every time she entered a dream; the symbol she would have to return to in order to exit from most dreams. Her grip tightened on Kristjan’s shoulder.

“Who are you, Madame Sosostris? These aren’t normal tarot cards,” Kristjan said, eyeing Lady Barkhurst carefully.

“I do not come from Ectabana, dear Scarecrow, but one day I shall reside in Astoria. Now let us continue.” She flipped over with a white crow on it, then another with a crude drawing of a man in brown on it. It read ‘The Listener.’ “Ah, yes. The Listener, your man in brown. It all makes sense, yes, I know who you are looking for, how you came to be.”

Kristjan grabbed Lady Barkhurst’s arm. “Who are you?”

“Kristjan, that’s not polite,” Renee grabbed Kristjan’s arm and tried forcing him to let go. She had never seen him so angry. He eventually did, allowing Lady Barkhurst to continue.

“You shouldn’t have let me finish.” Lady Barkhurst flipped over the final card; it was inversed, containing a crude drawing of a man in glasses with a scythe. It read ‘The Reaper.’

Gusts of wind picked up in the store, forcing Renee and Kristjan to brace themselves. The wind gathered itself in a small whirlwind next to Lady Barkhurst, culminating into the form of a large red man in a white mask carrying a spear. Two feathers were strung to his ragged black hair, and a birdcage hung from his weapon. On his chest was a small black heart.

Renee stared at the single eye drawn on the mask, mesmerized by it. It reminded her of the masks the Empties wore in the Dreamscape.

“This is my pet, Grimshaw. He was a Reaper once in the Afterlife, he may have even known your man in brown,” Lady Barkhurst explained coyly, her voice seeping into the air around them like smoke. It felt so omnipotent to Renee, it reminded her of the first time she had met Kristjan.

“So you do belong to the cult of No One,” Kristjan accused, standing up and pushing back his chair. Grimshaw’s wasted no time in thrusting his spear at Kristjan, cutting his arm. Kristjan shrunk back, holding his arm. Renee was curious to see if he could actually bleed, but before she could catch a real glance Kristjan had already grabbed her wrist and spun her around. “We’ve got to get out of here. I wasn’t prepared for a demon and a French harlot.”

Renee was sure Lady Barkhurst had allowed them to escape because Grimshaw did not chase after them as they went through the door a final time, down the street, around a corner and down yet another street. Before they had stopped they were near the campus of Plumfield University.

“I liked your T.S. Eliot reference,” Renee said after an awkward silence between her and Kristjan. She was in good enough shape to where the escape handed winded her, but Kristjan was still panting. This surprised her, and she inhaled sharply when she saw the bleeding wound on his arm.

“It ruined my favorite shirt,” Kristjan said through his light, hurried breathing.

“Didn’t you say that about the shirt you wore yesterday?” Renee tried touching Kristjan’s arm, but he only withdrew.

“That was new favorite, this is good ol’ favorite.” Kristjan finally allowed Renee to touch his injured arm. Blood got on her white clothes, but she barely noticed. “You know, when I was a kid I went to a palm reader with my aunt- The French Canadian one, of course- and I don’t remember her having a familiar spirit, or whatever that thing was. Ah-h-h, maybe you shouldn’t touch that. Why isn’t it healing?”

“Do you heal quickly?” Renee asked, tearing off a piece of her blood-stained skirt and wrapping it around the wound. Kristjan nodded in response.

“Very quickly. Almost instantly. I forgot I could bleed.” Kristjan slumped down on the curb of the sidewalk, underneath a street lamp, controlling his breathing so it would return to normal.

Renee joined him on the curb. “Sitting on the curb is a lost art,” She said. Kristjan laughed, and Renee slid her arm through his. “Well, before we head back to the house I think you should be a gentleman and escort me to a pizzeria, then we can discuss what happened. One should never discuss important things on an empty stomach.”

“As a Canadian gentleman king, I insist that my personal chef, dear Adam, cook you a homemade pizza instead.” Kristjan stood up, lifting Renee with him, and tried to look as dignified as he could.

“You had me at Canadian,” Renee said teasingly. Before they turned the corner she thought she heard someone call her name, and, turning around she caught a brief glimpse of a dog’s shadow receding from the glow of the old street lamp. She shrugged it off and walked with Kristjan down the street into the night.

Part 04: Fears That Come in Three

The creepy little house on the hill stared longingly at the blue-roofed duplex down the way. It had the perfect view of the building that looked like it had been crafted with such love and the creepy house wanted ever so terribly to meet it, for it got lonely from time to time while its residents were away. But the creepy little house knew better; the duplex could not love it back, for as far as the creepy house new, it was the only house in the world with a soul.

The house laughed silently at the thought; it, a creepy little house, had a soul that it had gained through a spell Joel Moomaw had cast when the house turned one hundred. It had heard Rachel talk of this before, how some cultures believed objects gained souls after a hundred years, but it made little sense to the creepy little house. The house wasn’t even sure Rachel, or anyone else for that matter, knew it had a soul. The things the house chose to pay attention to were the tender moments where the residents thought they were alone.

Some days the house would catch Rachel sitting on the porch playing guitar, just like Joel had taught her, pretending she was Holly Golightly. She sang the most beautiful songs, but they always left the house feeling sad; it was only when Adam joined in singing the harmony that Rachel seemed happy, and it made the house happy, too, reminding it of when they were children and their mother, Esther, would play guitar for them, teaching them how to harmonize. When she died Rachel didn’t touch the guitar for years, but Adam, usually in his underwear, would practice in secret in his room. When he got good enough he would sit in his windowsill and play for Rachel whenever she was down. It was his way of thanking her for always leading him by the hand when he was a child, keeping him safe from the crumbling world.

The house witnessed Adam knitting, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and recently the house even saw him studying grimoires so he could help Kristjan and Rachel. Adam took such good care of the house, and the house thought that if it could, it would do something kind for the boy. But, alas, all the house could do was to give him a place to live. It wanted to do so much more. The house was so happy when Adam had met Sebastian; Adam had gradually become stronger, less depressed. Sebastian was an answer to the house’s prayers for Adam.

When Kristjan arrived at the house, during those first few weeks, the house would hear him cry, and see him hugging his knees. He was so insecure, and still was, but would never let on how terrible his trials were to the Rachel and Adam, no matter how close he got to them. As time went on he cried less and less, but the house would still catch him swinging, deep in thought, looking rather melancholy. He would always lighten up when he saw Rachel.

The house chuckled silently, breaking away from its flirty glances to the duplex with its swimming pool and neatly trimmed garden. The house didn’t need the love of another building. No, the house was happy with what it had, and rest assured with the thought that it would never be lonely so long as it was blessed with its residents.

But perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if at least once the house could meet another building with a soul. It would have very much appreciated being able to talk to something- the squirrels that lived in the tree made terrible company while everyone was away.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Monday Night Chinese: Part 5 (FINAL)

Part 05: An Afterthought

It had been quite some time since the incident with Raphael, and every now and again Levi, Alice and Blue would discuss those events. They would talk of how No One escaped from Astoria, where his other minions might be and when, if ever, they would show up once again in the Afterlife. Blue was of the opinion that No One would focus on the two planes of existence that weren’t filled with able bodied spirits who knew what to look for now (the Dreamscape and the living world), but Alice was uneasy all the same. She spent more time after that out in the living world fighting and tracking down demons to better her combat skills and from time to time Levi and other Listeners such as Uriel would accompany her or Laura to track down the missing Afterlife workers. A few had been found, but many, such as Grimshaw, were still missing.

The black hearts had vanished, and for a brief while only the ordinary, easy to work with demons were all Levi received. He worked as peacefully as he could, now that he had grown slightly more paranoid of his own surroundings. He began spending more and more time cooped up in his restaurant, thinking.

On one particular occasion that Levi found perfectly appropriate to stay in his favorite booth (third from the front on the left side, it had the best feng shui), Blue had decided to pop in for a chat. He slid into the booth opposite Levi rather cheerfully. Levi said nothing for a while; he only stared at his zodiac calendar placemat. Blue took the initiative and spoke first.

“You still haven’t told me who cooks for the restaurant,” He said playfully, resting his arms on the sturdy table and leaning forward. Levi didn’t respond. Instead, he folded his arms and began stroking his chin. Blue didn’t stop smiling, not even once. “You know, I heard Alice say she’d be by later. I think there’s someone else looking for you, too.”

Alice’s previously frequent visits had occurred less and less in the year and a half since the event, due to her increasing trips into the living world. Levi wouldn’t admit it, but it affected him not having her around and he never enjoyed the few and far between trips he would take with her into the living world to search for the still missing employees. He had tried filling the void of her friendship with his love of the idea of Laura, but after two dates their relationship hadn’t taken off, but they remained friendlier than they had been before. She, along with Blue, would stop by the Chinese restaurant to check up on the ever withdrawing Levi and make sure he got out at least once in a while.

“Are you thinking about Kristjan?” Blue’s voice cracked through Levi’s thoughts, and he finally glanced up at the young man.

“Yes. What happened to him was… something that should have been prevented. Had he simply died and become a black heart, I wouldn’t feel so bad. But I couldn’t fix him. I wonder if Merrill was really able to stop his pain.” Levi set the hand he had been stroking his chin with on the table. Blue leaned further in, apparently trying very hard to invade Levi’s bubble.

“I really dig your British accent, you know that? You should never have hid it,” Blue said, backing off a bit.

“I sort of forgot it had even existed to begin with. Once you’ve been dead as long as I have, you start to forget who you were in your past life.” Levi tapped on the table. Blue had a peculiar look of confusion and disturbance that caused his face to wrinkle, creating aged lines of experience his features were too young to have. He may have been dead, but mentally he was still growing and maturing.

The door to the restaurant opened and LeRose, the model thin female Reaper with the most delightfully disturbing ruby hair stepped in. Everything about her demanded the attention of the boys in the room, from her snarling face to her clothing choice of Daisy Dukes and a dark tank top. Behind her in the hallway was a giant black blob with four spindly legs popping out. It was covered with hundreds of beady green eyes that were looking at everything around it. It secreted a noxious steam every time one of the eyes would blink. There was a chain wrapped around it and Charles, tall and thin with nicely parted sandy hair and clothes equally as nice, held on to one of many chains that secured the demon, preventing it from running amok. He looked bitterly uncomfortable.

“What is that?” Blue asked intently. Levi could see the ‘this is so totally awesome’ look on Blue’s face take over.

“Order up! Got another one for you. Friggin’ Charlie didn’t want to go near the thing like usual, but at least he’s still a better partner than Grimshaw. I just wish he’d man the hell up.” LeRose said with her typical scowl, holding on to another chain that wrapped around the demon. Levi was convinced her face was frozen that way as he had never once seen her smile. Oh how it pained Levi to hear her speak with her crude tone as well. He was at least somewhat thankful that he rarely saw her as she spent much of her time with her new partner, Charlie, who had recently come to the Afterlife. They were just similar enough that they got along. And when they did bicker, it was over such petty, trivial things that they often forgot what they had been arguing over five minutes after they had started fighting.

“Just another face in the crowd.” Levi stood up and walked towards the creature that dwarfed him; it strained against the chains to greet the Listener, every single one of its eyes shifting at once to focus on the man. Levi noticed a few black hearts that replaced the black blob’s pupils.

Levi allowed the L noise to wash over him. “If you felt you were justified, then you were. Ignore what anyone else says. If they deserved to die, then they did.”

The demon exploded in a flurry of steam, revealing a strong young man with a shaved head. He held a wicked grin, and a broken heart was tattooed on his forehead. He made a lunge at Levi, but LeRose kneed the man in the gut.

“LeRose, always the delicate flower.” Levi ran his hand through his wavy hair.

“Shove it,” she said as indelicately as Levi imagined she could.

“I think you deserve to die, too.” The man coughed out. Levi touched the cracked heart on the man’s forehead.

“I’m already dead. The people you killed didn’t deserve it. And you don’t deserve reincarnation.” Levi rapped the knuckle of his index finger on the heart. “Sometimes Listeners have to lie to get the job done.”

“Little boy Blue, follow me up to the river. He’s your business now.”

“Guess we have to trap him in the river. Later, Levi.” Blue stood up and ran out the door, shoving past Charles. “Race you there, LeRose!”

“You can take all the head start you want, you know you’ll get winded after fifty feet!” LeRose shouted after Blue, taking her sweet time walking out of the restaurant while dragging along both Charles and the bald man.

Levi sighed heavily, leaning against the doorframe of the restaurant entrance. He peered out into the hallways of the Afterlife, gazing at his coworkers as they passed by. With great effort, he separated himself from his little area, and set out to see something. Maybe, if he were lucky, he’d run into Alice.

That was not the case. Levi had gone quite a ways away from his little nook, wandering ever closer to the shores of Acheron, the place where the halls shifted into caverns, following the others who had left his restaurant. He had rarely gone this way; the last time he had seen the shores was probably fifty years prior, yet he felt drawn there.

As he arrived he noted how not much had changed, boats came and went frequently and Levi waved to the people he recognized, and stopped when he found Blue walking into the water, followed by LeRose and Charles, who held the tattooed man on either side. He thrashed violently, kicking up a spray of water.

Blue grabbed the man’s face and began chanting. Levi couldn’t understand the spell, and soon enough it was drowned out by a haunting scream that everyone seemed to ignore until suddenly it stopped. It stopped, and slowly the man sank in to the waters, Charles and LeRose letting go of him so he could be eaten by the river. There was a faint glow, and then nothing; his soul had become one with Acheron, trapped by the sins he committed before becoming a demon. Levi would have continued to ponder the man’s fate had he not heard the word Monday shouted at full force. Levi looked around.

It was Friday. Friday? Friday!

Certainly spotting Friday was the last thing that Levi had expected, but nonetheless he was surprisingly excited to see the Guardian. He walked briskly towards Friday, who waved in broad strokes with his arm.

“Monday, my dear, dear long lost friend!” Friday embraced Levi. “I have news!”

“Good Friday, Black Friday, what brings you to the Afterlife?” Levi felt his speech shifting in tone to match at least part of the ridiculousness of Friday’s.

“Well if you’d let me explain instead of asking silly… no, now it’s gone. Like a bubble. It just popped. Maybe if bubbles were made of paper they’d last longer?”

Levi laughed. He wasn’t even irritated, just strangely calm. He felt peaceful, and started to daze.

“Oh, now I remember. We’ve had a hit on No One!”

Just like that, Levi was snapped out of his daze. “What?”

“No One temporarily found a body and was invading the Dreamscape, but HR says he was stopped. Funny place to invade, it’s always changing, it would give me a headache.”

Levi stroked his chin, frowning. He chewed on his lip, not wanting to let on to the grotesque feeling that was churning in his gut at the news. “Well then, the game is afoot. Let’s make a plan.”


See you on Tuesday :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Nagging

It was twelve-thirty in the evening and Anna-Marie Tufton, as per her usual agreement with her unspoken wedding vows, was troubling her husband. It was not the usual hum-drum bothering a typical nagging wife would chide her husband with such as changing the car oil or not leaving crumbs in the bed. No, these naggings were much more painful and involved Anna-Marie telling her husband Franklin-David Tufton III to pluck his eyebrows, wax his body because his hairy chest made her convulse, and to clip his toenails daily (she always complained that in bed at night his toenails would scratch up her legs). Franklin-David was going to kill her.
Gruffly, he shoved the well-worn plugs into his ears and kindly reminded his wife Anna-Marie to take her sleeping pill, then with a weighty suspiration rolled over to sleep. Anna-Marie scoffed and swallowed her single rouge pill, wincing at the bitter taste of the water in her cup. She concluded right then and there she would simply have to remind Franklin-David to either change the water filter or buy more of the liquid in bottled containers.
Late that next morning, Anna-Marie found herself wakened by the aroma of bacon. She was for once pleasantly surprised rather than irritated her husband had decided to use the kitchen. She always assumed Franklin-David was a clumsy oaf who would put cereal in the microwave given the chance, but the maple-y smell of the pig soothed her. She lazily made her way down the stairs and sat at the new kitchen table she had to remind her husband over twenty some odd times to get, waiting for him to take notice. When he finally turned around his face morphed to a ghastly, chalky color. His grip loosened on the frying pan of bacon, allowing it to slip between his large fingers and hit the floor. Anna-Marie groaned; she would have to remind him to change that tile if it left a crack.
Over the course of the next baker’s dozen worth of days, Anna-Marie noticed her husband’s demeanor greatly alter. His eyes grew dark circles underneath them; his face became gaunt and never lost that chalky color from the morning he dropped the bacon. He would barely eat the food Anna-Marie would slave over (or so she’d claim), and he refused to touch her. Then there was also that hideous smell that followed her wherever she went, despite her frequent bathing and use of perfumes. Anna-Marie was about at wit’s end until one day she could stand it no longer. She decided to confront her husband and found him by the side of the house where she had reminded him earlier to rake the leaves. She got behind him and shouted his name. Startled, Franklin-David spun around and hit Anna-Marie in the skull with the rake.
Her head flopped into her hands.
Anna-Marie contorted her face, staring up at her stout neck and shoulders. After the briefest of pauses, she allowed herself to speak out loud the question that plagued her mind, asking, “Am I dead?”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thursdays United, Part 1: This Is Not A Love Story

“Aster Archer, I want to fall in love,”

And so started another day of classes, with Quincy Tate telling his best friend Aster Archer exactly what he wanted from life.

“That’s nice, Quincy.” Aster Archer, a bodacious blond in her early twenties with beauty barely bearable to the average man, was quite used to the day by day babblings of her childhood friend. It was a special bond they had- Quincy would exclaim with great pride and surety what he felt he needed right at that very moment and Aster Archer would shoot him down back into the confines of reality. This near perfect unity had been in existence since they were seven.

“Aster Archer, don’t deny me this! I really mean it, I want to be in love and do that weird forehead touching thing people in love do! You know, they show it in movies all the time and stuff.” Quincy’s pleading was useless. Aster, who wasn’t even looking at Quincy while they were ‘conversing’, flipped through her college textbooks, turning each page over sloppily like she was doing a rush job on cooking some pancakes. Much like pancakes, Aster did not care for the majority of her textbooks, no matter how much they cost her each semester.

“Let me break it down for you, Quincy. Do you have a trust fund?”

“No, but-”

“Then you’re not getting married anytime soon. Besides, remember what happened the last time you fell in love? Here, help me with this question. I can’t find the answer in this book.” Aster Archer was, of course, referring to Lucky Avery, a girl (or rather, THE girl) Quincy had fallen truly, madly, deeply in love with at first sight. She had felt the same way and in the process they had exchanged a single eye with each other, leaving both young adults heterochromnic from that point forward. They lost interest in each other three days later.

“You always do better on these problems than me anyway. I hate math.” Quincy enjoyed pouting almost as much as sulking, which was second only to him loving being outside, which was second to his love of long-handled spoons, which was, once again, only second to him treating Aster as his own personal diary. “Hey, aren’t girls supposed to suck at math? I remember hearing that from like TV or something.”

“You should learn a dirty lie when you hear one, Quincy Tate. Don’t believe what you hear on TV without researching the darn subject to death. If you’re not careful, you’ll get tangled in the world’s grotesquely unkempt hair of deceit.”

“Is that like a web of lies?”

“Trying to be creative here, Quincy.”

“Make me a flower and I’ll forgive you.”

“You’re such a girl.” The rare specimen known as Aster Archer’s smile found a way to ooze out of her dead pan face, her tiny mouth forming an expression of love she kept around in a box marked and reserved almost specifically for her times out with Quincy. She finally looked at him after carefully bringing out her one prized possession, and once Quincy saw it he smirked in retaliation, proud of himself for bringing out that fresh expression. “After class when no one’s around, alright? And if you finish your homework, we’ll see about stepping into Raincoat territory tonight.”

“Hell yeah, I love stepping into Wakeman’s territory! The Horrorscope says Lady Barkhurst’s been doing weird séance-y crap, we’re going to see some great stuff tonight.” As a hobby the duo went ghost hunting, but their real passion was doing it at the same time as a group of other students who called themselves ‘The Raincoats’, simply to annoy them with a nonchalant attitude of the entire process of exorcising ghosts from the places they haunted. People who took anything too seriously, especially themselves, tended to never have fun. Aster and Quincy decided long ago that life was a game, and what could you do but play the game with a bit of class and panache? The glass to others may have been half empty, but they were going to make that half a glass last as long as they could.

No one could ever explain how or why they were connected to someone, and Quincy could never quite explain why he felt so connected to Aster. Her parents used to refer to them as their own gaggle of geese, two birds that only needed each other to soar through the empty skies. In fact, sometimes it felt to Quincy he didn’t exist without her, his best friend.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Monday Night Chinese: Part 4

Part 04: Anti-Studies

“Come on, LeRose.”

“Grimshaw, I’ll punch your nose in again.”

“Just this once?”

“Do you like it when I break your nose?”

“It heals after a few seconds, and it’s worth it if I get to touch you.”

“You’re disgusting, you know that?”

In front of the doors of his Chinese restaurant, out in the hallways of the Afterlife, Levi stood and witnessed the droll arguments of the Reaper duo Grimshaw and LeRose. LeRose always sounded so much rougher than she looked, and it pained Levi to hear her speak; often she was crude, and she was also fairly narcissistic, vain, and shallow. Grimshaw wasn’t much better. He was obsessive and a little unstable, in Levi’s good opinion, and somewhat of an idiot lacking basic common sense. He loved poking fun at the two of them.

Grimshaw attempted to touch LeRose’s face and she punched him in the nose, resulting in a loud crack. As she turned to leave, LeRose finally took notice of Levi, rolling her eyes.

“Friggin’ prick. He has to be a masochist.”

“Victoria. Robert. How nice to see you both. What do you want?” Levi slipped past the Reapers and into his restaurant, not bothering to hold the door open for either one. Frankly, he had no desire to speak to either one, since neither had a demon to give to Levi. Ever since word had gotten round about his little trip to Astoria, his coworkers had tried cornering him to get details about the town and the Guardians as well. It was because of this that he avoided staying in any one location for extended periods of time, so people wouldn’t be able to track him down.

“Why can’t you show us some respect and call us by our work names, Levi? We don’t see you calling Blue by his living world name.” Grimshaw pushed himself through the door after LeRose, his nose already healed and showing no signs of the break LeRose had caused a minute earlier.

Leaning against one of the restaurant booths, Levi responded, “That’s because I actually like Blue. Oh, and Blue’s his actual name, hand to God. Blue Taylor Averett, all-American boy. Now what do you want?”

“You’ve turned into a real douche ever since you decided to go British,” LeRose spat, simultaneously taking that time to put her rouge hair in a ponytail so Grimshaw would stop trying to play with it.

“LeRose, how many times have I told you not to use such coarse language?” Levi nodded his head at the female Reaper. “Is that what they’re wearing in the living world now? I might have to change my wardrobe.”

Levi was referencing LeRose’s skinny jeans rolled up at the bottom and the oversized plaid button-up shirt sleeves she wore over a black tank top. Grimshaw’s style was similar, with tight pants and a slightly large striped v-neck and black-framed glasses. Because of his infrequent trips to the living world, he got a lot of his latest clothing ideas from Reapers who, for some reason or another, still tended to keep up with modern fashion.

“HR wants to see you, and while you’re at it could you tell her to give Grimshaw to some newb? I’ve been here thirty years, and nobody shows me any respect.” LeRose swatted Grimshaw’s hand and he gave a low laugh. Levi winced at this; Grimshaw made him uncomfortable.

“We’re supposed to be in pairs thanks to the disappearances, LeRose. Speaking of which, where’s your partner, Levi?”

“Uriel got bored, so I dropped him off at his playground with Blue. You try keeping a ten-year-old occupied.”

“How’d the kid die, anyway?” Grimshaw asked, leaning in closer to catch any details.

“Old age,” Levi responded, using his index finger to push against Grimshaw’s forehead. Grimshaw looked perplexed. “When you die and work for the Afterlife you can choose whatever age you want for your appearance. You know, whatever age you feel would be most appropriate for your position. Now what does Human Resources want with me?”

Grimshaw brushed Levi’s hand aside. “Probably wants to talk about your attitude. Or Astoria.”

“I was afraid of that,” Levi said. He sighed. “No use prolonging my departure, then.”

Levi pushed Grimshaw out of his way and headed for the door. He did so hate spending so little time at his restaurant, but it couldn’t be helped. He pushed open the door and held it open for Grimshaw and LeRose.

“Come on you scamps, out you go.”

With a disappointed groan the two Reapers went out the door, Levi following suite.

HR was a Listener like Levi, but had been around for at least an extra hundred years. Lately he wondered if she remembered her past at all, since Levi could barely remember his own. She was the official head of the Listeners department and the one who assigned Levi most of the black hearts. He hardly ever saw her, and preferred it that way; most people were only ever called in to see HR if they were in trouble or given special tasks, neither of which sounded particularly pleasant to Levi at the moment.

He entered the coffee shop, HR’s special area in the Afterlife, spotting the short-haired blonde woman instantly. She was the only other person in the restaurant, sitting at the counter and holding a mug of coffee. As Levi drew closer he could make out the writing on the mug; it read World’s Best Boss. He took a seat next to her.

“Levi, I haven’t seen you in a while. I hear things have been a little tough.” HR’s voice was smooth like Levi’s, having had even more practice than him at sounding calm, reassuring and in control. Was this how others felt talking to him? He hated it.

“Hmm, you undershot. The answer I was looking for was problematic, but you do win a consolation prize of a banana.” A cup of coffee had appeared next to Levi. He stared uninterested at the dark liquid in the mug.

HR smiled. She looked so sincere and so casual in her teal cardigan, sun dress and sneakers. “Have you seen Laura since you’ve been back? I spoke with her when Blue and Alice brought her in, to make sure she was good to come back to work. You did a fantastic job reverting what the man in gray did to her.”

“Raphael,” Levi said, swirling the coffee in his cup.


“The man in gray. Friday Panache called him Raphael.”

“Knowing Friday that name could very well be made up.” HR laughed, and Levi couldn’t help but laugh with her though he didn’t know if it was willingly or part of some spell of hers.

“Alright,” He said, “you broke the ice. But just a little. What did you ask me here for?”

“I wanted to talk about Astoria,” HR replied.

Not particularly wanting to talk about his time there, Levi froze up.

“I already know everything that happened. I received a very colorful report from Friday.”

“Then do you know why he calls me Monday?”

“No clue.” HR daintily took a sip of her coffee and when she was finished she smacked her lips a little. Levi found it a little endearing. “You know the stories of No One. I’m here to fill in some blanks.”

Levi turned to completely face HR now.

“Raphael is more than likely an agent of No One. Working as an Anti-Listener, he can turn perfectly normal souls, including Afterlife workers, into demons. He probably does this for No One, so he can feed.”

“We must make a lovely target, a group of souls all gathered together in one place like this.” Levi tapped the countertop with his knuckles.

“Indeed we do. Having everyone stay in pairs won’t be enough if Raphael decides to come back.”

Before Levi could respond, he heard a tapping on the door. He turned, and saw Raphael, waving with his one good arm. Levi swore loudly, leaping off the seat and rushing towards the door. Before he left, he shouted, “Call Alice!”

Down the hallways Levi went, chasing Raphael until they ended up back in front of the restaurant, where Grimshaw and LeRose still happened to be. Raphael was behind Grimshaw, whispering into his ear. Grimshaw’s eyes grew steadily larger and when LeRose noticed Grimshaw wasn’t right next to her, she turned and saw Raphael.

“Oh no you don’t!” She shouted, running up and punching Raphael right in the nose. He fell back, and Grimshaw turned around, holding out his arm and allowing a spear to form in his hand. He thrust it at Raphael. Raphael grabbed the spear and swung Grimshaw into a wall; LeRose, now holding a scythe, slashed downward but Raphael dodged to the side. Grimshaw tried once more to skewer Raphael, aiming for his chest, but the red mouth on Raphael’s shirt bit the spear, snapping it in half.

“Both of you get out!” Levi shouted. LeRose did not take too kindly to that and started shouted at Levi. “LeRose, shut up and help Grimshaw, he doesn’t look too well, get him to HR before-”

Grimshaw started to convulse. In a matter of seconds his skin turned red, black spikes protruded from his spine, and a white mask formed over his face with a single eye drawn on it. Raphael smiled, rushing up to the demonized Grimshaw. He pulled out one of his eyeballs, smashing it into dust. The dust reformed into a door behind him that opened up. He grabbed Grimshaw and leapt through the door.

“Don’t think, just follow.”

Alice came from behind, grabbing Levi’s arm and rushing for the door. He could briefly see Blue behind them trying to catch up.

“Hey- take me, not the Ferryman!” LeRose shouted after a moment’s hesitation, but the door closed before she could move.

The three stood on the side of a poorly lit road in the living world, right underneath a flickering streetlight. Levi took a wild stab and assumed they were somewhere in Canada due to the moose he saw crossing the street, but said nothing. The words he was really searching for would involve him telling off Blue for following him and Alice.

“What’s the plan?” Blue asked, sounding a little too eager.

“We kill him,” Alice replied quickly. “It’s death and kisses time, and I’m out of kisses.”

Leaning back against the streetlight, Levi scoffed, responding in his British accent, “Oh, is that all? We just kill him? Wish we would have thought of that sooner. And what does death and kisses time even mean?”

“Shut up, something’s coming,” Alice lowered her voice. Raphael stood in the street as a car approached. The driver probably couldn’t see him as it didn’t slow down, but right before it ran into Raphael, he kicked it. The car spiraled out of control and smashed into a tree, making some rather disheartening crunching noises.

Levi started, “Do you think…?”

“Every day, don’t you?” Alice shot back.

“I think he just killed someone!” Blue shouted in dismay.

The next thing Levi knew he was up in the air with Alice holding on to him, soaring over the street and then landing on the hood of the car. Through the windshield they saw Raphael whispering to the blond man inside, placing his hand inside the blond man’s chest and pulling out his soul. Alice, using the agility granted to her as a Reaper, kicked through the glass, hitting Raphael right in the head before he went any further. Her foot withdrew and she reached in, pulling Raphael out of the car. Levi had gotten off the hood of and opened the driver’s door, saying whatever came to mind to calm the soul that had been partly ripped from its body.

“You’re not dead, but… you’re not living. I’m really not sure how to properly us the L noise here…” Something hit the car with a loud thunk, and Levi turned his head in reflex. It was Alice. This wasn’t exactly what he wanted to see, Alice getting tossed around by Raphael. Levi prayed the demonized Grimshaw wouldn’t pop up to help Raphael. Maybe if she had Friday to help, that ridiculously strong man, things would go quicker. Or Blue. Blue. What had happened to Blue? Levi started stuttering.

“Levi, focus! Alice is doing fine!” Blue popped his head in through the driver’s side window. This startled Levi, who ended up hitting his head on the ceiling of the vehicle. “She’s using her weapon thing, it’s okay.”

Levi caught a quick glance of Alice holding a scimitar, charging the man in gray, slicing him. But no blood came out, only little mists of energy. Blue snapped his fingers to get Levi to focus. Levi thought back to what it meant when he had done that to Friday, scrunching up his face at the thought that Blue saw him as being unfocused, like the guardian.

“Blue, if you ever do that to me again I’ll drown you in Acheron.”

“Top ten reasons why that’ll never happen. Number ten-”

Levi shoved a finger in Blue’s face, shushing him. “If you shut up now I promise to tell you who cooks the food in the restaurant.” Tiny little vibrations crawled through Levi’s body as he found the right frequency to speak to the blond man’s soul. Words started forming in his mind, he could feel the man’s given name come to his mind, and he spoke, saying, “You have the potential. You’re… you’re a saint, and because of that you’ll survive. You’re a saint, but you haven’t fully awakened yet. You will, though. You will. This is your entryway, Kristjan Rupert Callier. This is your entry, not your end.”

The soul began to stir, showing more signs of self-awareness and sinking back into the body. Levi backed away from the body; he had prevented any trauma, he hoped, from the experience, and the soul was returning to the body that wasn’t yet dead and could still house it.

Off and away, Levi heard Alice swear loudly. Turning his head, he saw the mouth on Raphael’s shirt snapping off the tip of Alice’s scimitar. He was about to say something when he heard a terrible shriek coming from the seat next to him. The blond man was convulsing, shrieking at the top of his lungs, writhing and twisting and turning, body parts bending places they were not meant to bend. Blue tried holding him down and got smacked in the face; he ignored it and kept on trying.

“Levi, make him stop!”

“Do you want to do this?” Levi responded, frustrated.

“Kind of, yeah, but sadly instead of your metaphorical tuning fork I got stuck with a boat oar!”

“Then smack him with it!” Levi pushed down on Kristjan, the L noise no longer helping him. Panic ran through his body, his teeth ground against each other. Raphael, even with only one arm, was too much for Alice. Each of her cuts would leave a wound that would allow energy to seep out, which worked perfectly fine with demons as it would drain their energy from anger as well, but against Raphael wasn’t a demon and as far as Levi could tell the cuts weren’t slowing him down any.

A soft light broke through the dark, illuminating the front of the car. Levi and Blue looked forward, momentarily forgetting Kristjan’s seizure-like state. There, emerging from the darkness, was an old wooden door with sygils, magical symbols, drawn on it in gold. It was a gate to Astoria.

The shadowy form of a woman with wild hair as long as her tall, slender frame walked out of the door accompanied by smoke. She held Levi in a spell, he could not keep his eyes off of her, and he would have kept staring had he not heard an animalistic cry that differed from the ones Kristjan had been making earlier. Levi shot his head to the side; Alice must have produced another weapon, a sickle, because she pulled the blade of one out of the neck of Raphael.

Raphael stumbled to his knees, clawing at the wound on his neck where thick black ooze spewed out, saturating his body. His heterochromnic eyes burst, spewing white ooze that covered his face forming a mask with a single eye on it. When his wound finally sopped gushing, all that remained was a cloaked, masked mass with two tiny, broken wings.

“The Empties are learning to cross over.”

Levi slowly turned his head to peer at the shadowy lady. His body further tensed up. If a bullet it him, it would undoubtedly shatter because of how tightly every inch of his body was clenched.

“You’re the Listener who walked the streets of Astoria. Friday told me about you, Monday.” No mouth on the shadow body moved. Was that normal? Levi relaxed just a little; Friday had obviously sent his superior. “He regrets being unable to come himself, but I was expecting you to be in the Afterlife.”

“Plans change. You must be one of the Guardians. I’m Levi. Now that we know each other I think it’s a wonderful time to start asking favors. That’s what friendships are based on, after all. Owing one another and whatnot.” Levi began regaining his cool composure; ‘negotiating’ was what he did day in and day out, and she was obviously there to help anyway.

The shadowy woman didn’t speak at first. Levi noticed Alice now stood next to Blue, and he saw strands of the shadowy hair creeping towards the vehicle, climbing up it, through the broken glass, and wrapping around Kristjan’s body that had stopped moving a bit ago. The hair lifted the body up, and dropped it gracefully in the woman’s arms.

“I am Merrill Collingwood, Guardian of the In-Between.” A pale, porcelain face broke free from the shadow surrounding Merrill. Her eyelids opened, revealing large and mesmerizing emerald eyes that looked eerily similar to Levi’s. She began speaking in a proper British tone. “You saved him before he could become a black heart. However, damage was done to his soul and it won’t rest inside his body. I’ll have to remove it and his magical properties from his body.”

“What will that do?” Levi gulped. He swore he could hear the faintest ticking noise ringing in his ears. It sounded like an old grandfather clock.

“He’ll be physical, unlike a spirit; he won’t be able to hide himself in the living world like you or I, either. This one here, this saint, will grow faster than we could imagine, though. He’ll be an asset when No One rises.”

Levi ignored the stares he knew he was getting from Alice and Blue; he would have to explain everything about No One and his inevitable uprising to them later. He began speaking again, saying, “Where will he stay?”

Merrill paused thoughtfully, gazing at Kristjan. “I know of two saints nearby in a magical house. They’re father has interacted with Afterlife workers such as ourselves in the past, they will help if we ask.”

Levi nodded slowly. “Then do it.”

Merrill’s face sank back into the shadows, and like a ghost she was gone through the door, shrouded in eerie smoke. Every trace that pointed to her being there was gone. Levi collapsed onto the seat, still able to hear the incessant ticking noise in his ears that refused to leave him alone.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


(Surprised I haven't posted this one yet, I wrote it nearly 3 years ago)

Come on Allie
Come on Allie
Don’t die for Eugene
In the wake of war
You gotta make your choice
She’ll sing the song for you
Mr. Eugene
Mr. Eugene
In the wake of war
He never knows best
Just call him misery
He’s just a joke, (yeah)
You have to realize
Come on and find her
Then just stalk her
Who do you think you are,
Mr. Eugene?
He dug himself so deep
That now he has no light
Only resistance to mature
Because his tomorrow is
Always a day away

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Monday Night Chinese: Part 3

Part 03: Le Beau Rien Sans Merci

There were stories of how Astoria used to be, whispers of how it worked now, rumors of what it looked like. Levi had heard them all. One of the Afterlife jobs possible was in fact guardian of the gates to Astoria, and Levi knew that they were stationed both outside the doors on the banks of Acheron and inside as well, in the actual melancholy town where no one ever smiled. He wasn’t sure what that meant, a town where no one ever smiled, but he knew the time when he would understand was drawing closer, and closer.

Darkness seeped all around Levi, who kept running, running, running, trying to catch up to the man in gray. He felt as though he had been at it for ages before the darkness began to fade away revealing pure white, and another door, one that was wide open. Levi stepped through onto the cement of a darkened, empty city. The door behind him shrank down into the same eye the man in gray had torn from his own socket; it stared at Levi then floated away before he could grab it.

“He created the gate himself. That’s why there wasn’t a Guardian,” Levi said quietly to himself, taking in the city’s drab gloominess.

It was cold, unwelcoming, a dark sort of sterile. Levi walked alongside the empty streets halfheartedly. He could feel the city draining his energy little by little and he began to feel overwhelmed. The city seemed so large; how would he find the man in gray? He tried to focus and see if he could feel any sort of noise coming from the man in gray, but nothing came to him. He was so terribly lost.

“I suppose you’re feeling terribly lost,” Came a voice from the hollow emptiness of Astoria. “I would too. I mean, you’re not used to the empty streets. Why would you be? It’s not like you’re supposed to be here or anything.”

Levi wasn’t quite sure how to react. Maybe if he ignored the voice it would go away? But what if the voice was a guardian? That meant help in tracking down the man in gray. A little hope returned to Levi.

“Stop walking.”

Levi promptly obeyed, burying his hands in his pockets and waiting patiently, looking at the skyline. He hadn’t seen an actual city in a very long while since he rarely traveled to the living world but from what he could tell Astoria was much like any other city. What a peculiar place, he thought, to transport souls to in order to prepare them for reincarnation. Where were they even kept?

“Okay, now… about face?”

Levi obeyed as it was the polite and intelligent thing to do, though the voice sounded unsure of itself. But on the off chance that the voice belonged to someone incompetent, Levi knew it was always a bad idea to anger a potential idiot.

“And… good! Hello good sir. You do not belong here and therefore you must be Monday!”

With that terrible logic in mind, Levi turned around, looking over the gentleman. It was a term he used loosely here, from his scraggly black hair to his un-shined shoes. At one point Levi was sure the young man had looked nicer but the Guardian’s slim-fitting clothes looked so untidy. His white-collared shirt was un-tucked, un-buttoned at the top three buttons and wrinkled, as were his khaki pants and his checkerboard skinny tie was loosened a great deal. He looked like he had slept in those same clothes for a week.

“Levi Brickner.” Levi would have said more but he hesitated at the sound of his voice; his British accent, something Levi completely forgot he had, had returned. The terrible thought came to Levi’s mind that being in the Afterlife so long had caused him to forget who he used to be, when he was living.

“Oh, well, how do you do then, my good Monday.” The Guardian held out his hand and did a little bow. “Good Monday, I am Mr. Friday Panache the Guardian of Astoria, Red Light District.”

“My good Friday, I am Levi, a Listener- red light district?” Levi was taken aback.

“What about the red light district? Oh, oh no, this is the shopping district. I’m the guardian of this section, you know.”

Levi wasn’t able to tell if he was being had. He felt a great deal less confident in any help he might receive from Friday.

“I’m looking for a man-”

“Try the red light district.”

“A man in gray, he passed through here. Well, I suppose he looks more like a teenager once you get a really good look at him. Do you think you’ve seen him? You could call him an anti-Listener.” After the briefest of pauses, Levi felt the need to elaborate a little further for Friday’s sake. He came off as such a bunbury. “He’s not an Afterlife worker, of course. Why would we have an anti-Listener? He found some way to get here with his eye.”

Friday had stopped paying attention and was now examining the architecture, as far as Levi could tell. He snapped his fingers at Friday to get his attention.

“Oh? Sorry, I was thinking about long-handled spoons and how I could really use one right now to eat some grapefruit or a milkshake.”

Levi took deep breaths and successfully counted to three instead of the recommended ten before speaking, articulating his words very precisely so Friday would understand everything he said. “To eat a grapefruit you need a serrated spoon. And why would you eat a milkshake? Everyone knows you drink them with a straw.”

“Not true. People eat them with spoons too, especially the really thick ones.”

“I take it you’re one of those people who dips your chips in them as well?”

“My what? Excuse you kind sir, but that is disgusting. It’s my French fries that I dip in the milkshake.” Friday began cleaning his fingernails. “The fear of ghost cows is referred to as bovinospiraphobia, isn’t that a hoot? Why would anyone think a ghost cow would haunt them? They’d obviously haunt other cows. You don’t hear about people haunting dogs or leopards or crows, do you?”

Levi agreed that Friday did in fact make a wonderful point about ghost cows in relation to haunting individuals, but he was wasting an opportunity to figure out the mystery or what have you of the man in gray. He decided to leave.

“Good Friday, I bid you adieu.” Levi turned about face and proceeded to walk away. Friday did not take too kindly to this and started walking after him, so Levi began to walk faster. “I said adieu, Friday, now leave me be!”

“No! You’re not supposed to be here, so I’m your… um…” Friday started stroking his chin in thought whilst chasing after Levi.

“Escort?” Levi responded, turning his head briefly to respond.

“Red light district.” Friday said, pointing to his left with his right hand.

Taking no time to think about it, Levi turned the next block corner sharply, sprinting along the cross-walk and ducking into an alleyway all in an effort to escape Friday. It worked, for as soon as Levi stopped he could no longer see Friday and did not hear him running in pursuit either. All was right with the world again, except for the glaringly obvious fact that Levi was even more terribly lost now than he had been before and now had no escort.

The next plethora hours were spent dilly-dallying around the vacant city and sight-seeing, for there were a great number of things to see other than the architecture, which was a mix of rustic, gothic, and many other styles; in fact, Astoria had a little bit of everything depending on the district. The first Levi had been in reminded him greatly of London, but as he went deeper, the second district he had more Greek architecture than anything, then the third reminded him of a posh European village. Further on he even found windmills, and was surprised that he had not seen them beforehand as each one appeared to be roughly as large as some of the skyscrapers.

Levi needed to rest, the aura of Astoria weighing greatly on his being. He chose to sit on a bench in a town square, the center of which held a fountain with an angel on top. Levi found the statue quite queer and disturbing, as the angel seemed to be clawing at its own throat. If Astoria looked so nice, why did it have to feel so dismal?

Hours dragged by and the pressure affecting Levi only grew stronger, yet he chose to sit still, staring at the angel. He refused to let the pressure of the city make his choices for him. If he wanted to sit on the bench and take in the sites, then by everything he held dear and precious (his restaurant), he would! That, and he felt utterly alone and hopeless. He had not run in to the man in gray or another Guardian. What were they all doing? Were they inside the buildings?

The buildings. The entire time Levi had been there, he had never once thought about entering the buildings. Strange, he thought, and roused by this newfound curiosity he allowed himself to stand and wander Astoria once more. Which building would he enter? Did it really matter?

“Dear, sweet, Monday! My lost lamb! It’s dangerous here at night!”

Panic struck Levi and he entered the door of the first building he saw, an apartment complex. He inhaled deeply once inside, looking around shiftily.

“Hello?” He called out once he had climbed the first flight of stairs. Cautiously he made his way through the door at that first landing, inching his way down the hallway, step by step, looking over each apartment door once, twice, three times over. What were behind these doors?

Carefully he grasped a door handle, counted to three, and turned sharply, throwing open the door. There, in front of him, were the frozen images of a young Asian man in a suit standing at a table and a middle-aged woman in a gown standing on the couch. Their images flickered briefly and their faces went from blank to shocked, and from shocked to angry without showing any of the in-between facial twinges and movements. Levi backed out of the apartment, hitting the hallway wall, absently grasping at it. Fear was the first emotion to cross his mind, his first impulse to run, but he could only seem to stay put. He waited for the images to draw closer, but they never did. They only stared.

“They’re in a stasis, you know.”

Friday stood at the entrance of the stairwell, picking at some unseen thing on his arm. Levi opened his mouth, but no words came out.

“The spirits stay in these buildings, almost completely frozen. Until it’s their time to be reincarnated, of course, and one of us Guardians leads them to the special gate.”

“Of course,” Levi choked out. He heard a slam and looked back at the apartment, the door now closed.

“You know how soda always seems so appetizing but as soon as you drink one you realize it’s actually kind of gross?” Friday had gone on to trying to slick his hair back by first licking his hand and then running it through the black mass on his head. Levi let out a soft laugh.

“No wonder Astoria feels so sterile. Most life is frozen. Anyone would go crazy here, you poor man.”

Friday shrugged. “Do you know any good poems? The Wasteland’s my favorite. I’ll give you a cookie if you can quote it.”

“Maybe some other time, Friday. Let’s move on.”

Time had made little impact on Levi’s life, for the most part, since his arrival in the Afterlife, in the sense that it could quickly pass him by and he wouldn’t notice or care. As far as he knew he had eternity to enjoy. It was because of this that Levi had no idea how long he had actually been in Astoria, and it could very easily have been days. In Levi’s mind it meant he should also have been nominated for a patience award in having to deal with Friday leading him around the city, showing off all the architecture and giving very lengthy explanations that mainly dealt with things like the odd places hair grows on the body, the effectiveness of q-tips and lint. Levi was expecting Friday to lead him to a gate back to the Afterlife, but he suspected the Guardian was enjoying the company so said little in the way of reminding him that Levi did not belong there.

“I wonder if the man in gray is even still here,” Levi mused.

“Well, if you’re looking for a blandly dressed man,” Friday started before Levi interrupted him.

“I will not check the red light district.”

“No, no, if you’ll look behind you, Monday, you’ll see Raphael. He’s a blandly dressed man.” Friday pointed, and Levi turned.

Not but a few yards in front of him was the man in gray.

“We’ve been having cartwheel contests,” Friday politely explained. He smiled, then proceeded to clean his fingernails.

The man in gray looked rather malevolent, hovering above the ground, aided by two tiny demonic wings. He wasted no time and flew right at Levi, who dodged to the side, leaving the clueless Friday to take the brunt of the impact. Except Friday didn’t take the brunt of the impact. Instead, as soon as Levi moved, Friday nonchalantly grabbed the man in gray, Raphael, by the wrist, and tossed him into a building, ripping off the arm in the process.

“So far I’m winning.”

Was Friday being wry? Levi ignored the debris that flew out of the damaged building and instead stared, awestruck, at Friday and the arm he tossed over his shoulder.

“Raphael does wear a lot of gray, doesn’t he? He’s very bland. I told him if he’d start dressing brighter and leaving Samml alone that I’d consider letting him stay, but instead he keeps on wandering in and out of Astoria without using the official gates. In-Between, bless her heart, has no idea how to keep him out.” Friday seemed decently lucid, which Levi was thankful for, but how long it would last he didn’t know or want to think about.

“Good Friday, please don’t kill Raphael. I need to find out what he did with the others…” Levi trailed off. If Laura had turned in to an ogre, than chances were the other missing Afterlife employees had been transformed as well and were wandering around the living world. It would be ages before all, if any, would be brought back and returned to normal. What a terrible time for Levi to realize that. “Friday, how’re you-”

“So good looking?” Friday beamed. Levi swore he saw sparkles around Friday’s face for the briefest moment.

“How are you so strong?”

Friday paused thoughtfully, watching Raphael rise from the rubble. “You know saints, right?”

Levi nodded, keeping an eye on the struggling Raphael as well. “Those in the living world born with special talents like telekinesis, or having familiar spirits. Anyone can use magic if they find a grimoire, but saints don’t need to use magic to cleanse the world of demons. I myself could see spirits when they tried to hide themselves. Much like this little boy I met named Quincy.” Levi wasn’t quite sure if he should run or not; would Friday protect him?

“All Afterlife employees were saints. Listeners and Ferrymen had the more passive abilities while Reapers and Guardians were more physical. Parts of that carry over. Oh look, he’s going in for another round! Watch after my things, will you?” Friday looked on gleefully at Raphael, who, through much struggling and effort as he only had one arm to work with, had removed his jacket. Underneath he was wearing a black shirt with a jagged red design that started moving up and down; Levi assumed it was a mouth. “I’ve never seen him use that before. Do you think he could really, honestly eat me? I wonder what that would be like.”

“Spoiler: It probably could eat you.” Levi grabbed Friday’s arm but let go just as quickly as to cover his ears, for a high-pitched noise began reverberating through the air. Friday didn’t seem to notice, but Raphael turned his childish face to the left, craning his elegant neck. With help from his wings he lifted off the ground and flew away, wisps of energy escaping from where his arm once was. The noise stopped.

“That’s the center of the city,” Friday mused, stroking his chin, following with his eyes the path Raphael took. “He must be going after Samml again.”

“Who? Samiel?” Levi tried snapping his fingers by his ears to see if he could get the ringing to stop.

“Oh, you know the stories. Samml Akriosk, the fellow who used to host No One in this realm.”

“Good Friday, take me there this instant. I will not lose the Anti-Listener again.”

Friday stared at Levi blankly. He reached out his hand, the same one he had used to tear off Raphael’s arm. “Howdy! I’m Mr. Friday Panache. And you are?”

An old Victorian mansion lay in the very center of Astoria, iron gates with twirly designs preventing the non-existent residents of Astoria from getting in. Levi thought the gate a little much, but the Guardians felt it had been necessary to include so he went with it. Friday pushed the gate open without a key. Levi decided it was apparently just for looks.

“Tour guide, lead away,” Levi said following Friday in.

“Tour guide? I thought I was Good Friday.” Friday appeared to be genuinely confused. Levi let it slide; he had to, or nothing would get accomplished.

Into the house they went, down a hallway, up some stairs, up, up, up- the spiral stairs were grand, elegant, endless. Time passed in a painfully slow manner. Levi refused to spark up conversation with Friday for his own sanity. They arrived in front of grandiose wooden doors. In gold lettering was printed SAMML AKRIOSK, THE SILENT ONE. Levi pressed his head to the doors, closing his eyes. He tried to use the L noise to feel for anything at all, but he could sense nothing behind the door.

“No One is the boogeyman, Friday. He creates chaos, and he feeds on souls.” Levi spoke softly, clearing his mind. He had no idea what he was going to do once he opened the doors he was currently using for support.

“Well that’s just ridiculous. You can’t destroy a soul.”

“You can weaken it by feeding off of its energy. No One, according to stories, manipulates this; he transforms normal souls into demons, and feeds off of the hate they produce. I see it all the time, the endless, monstrous supply of hate that a single spirit can fabricate from an overblown emotion. Egos are fragile, one wrong word and a torrential flock of emotion can overwhelm you, seep into you and alter you. That’s probably the one thing I like about you, Friday. You’re simple; nothing I say could offend you.”

“You’re welcome.”

A soft smile parted the Listener’s lips. “Good Friday, the idea of Raphael having anything to do with No One’s former body is really quite frightening.”

Levi couldn’t tell, but he imagined Friday was scratching his head curiously. Either that or he wasn’t really paying attention and had started admiring the architecture again.

“The vessel he was using to terrorize worlds like the Afterlife and the Dreamscape hundreds and hundreds of years ago is behind this door. The bodiless entity, the real No One, abandoned Samml and nobody knows where he went.”

“Where is he?”

Levi turned to look at Friday, leaning against the wall coolly, playing with his tie. “What do you mean?”

“Is No One in the Afterlife, the Dreamscape, Astoria, or the living world? If he has no body, can he travel between them?” Friday let his tie drop, using his hands instead to push himself off the wall. He glided to the door, placing his own hand on it.

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s what scares me the most, knowing one day he could come back and feed off of me for eternity.” Levi’s emerald eyes looked directly into Friday’s hazel ones. “Let’s go in, shall we?”

Together, with greater effort than Levi imagined they would have needed, they pushed open the door. It creaked and groaned loudly, but it opened and they entered the room. At first, there was nothing. Then there was a single light. Then another. The tiny lights, floating candles, multiplied. They gave off a glow that made everything in the interior of the pale red room feel smudgy, like dried blood. In the center of the smudgy light, chained to the floor and ceiling, was Samml, dressed in royal purple clothes, his head hanging down. Indeed he was a tiny fellow, and when he looked up Levi examined his boyish face, placing his physical age at roughly seventeen. Burgundy hair fell around Samml’s face. Black took the spot of where the whites of his eyes were meant to be. He scrunched up his nose, bearing pointed teeth, pulling against the chains which stopped him inches from Levi’s face. Samml proceeded to back off.

“You’re a rather disturbed soul. I don’t need the L noise to be able to tell you that.” Levi whistled. He took a moment to look around the room, taking note of all the magic circles and spells drawn and written on the walls, he imagined, to keep Samml in place. He allowed the L noise to wash over his body as he got a better read of the chained man. “He wasn’t a natural soul to begin with, Friday. Once No One left him, he became even more screwed up; parts of him must have been repressed, leaving him like this.”

Samml gave off an animalistic, gruff air. It made the hairs on the back of Levi’s neck stand on end.

“I wonder if Sammly is a corruption of Samiel, the angel of death. It wouldn’t be completely inappropriate. But enough meandering; Raphael, if you’re in here, please come out. I’d like to get home.”

There was silence. Then, from the shadows, Raphael slithered out, grabbing on to Samml with his one good arm. His lips curled up. He began moving them, mouthing words that Levi could barely make out. He looked at Friday for support.

“He got tired of the cartwheel contest. Says I cheated. Now he wants to play duck, duck, goose. You’re the goose.”

Silence fell on the room, the kind that preceded what was inevitably to be an overbearing noise, and a special event. The calm before the storm, the cliché that explained it so well, the only words Levi could think to use despite his hatred for such common phrases. Phrases so overused that half the time they lost their meaning. And Levi was still trying to find meaning in every event that had occurred leading up to this very point, where he came face to face with the figure that had taken so many of his colleagues. He thought about what he would have done if Raphael had taken Alice, or Blue; what the Anti-Listener would have done to them, what Levi would have had to say to them to get them back, if he found them.

Raphael removed his black eye, crushing it. A door appeared, thrusting open and swallowing the man in gray.

“I guess I am it, then.” Levi ran at the door, only for a brief second looking back at Friday, who waved goodbye with his entire arm.

“Good luck, dear Monday! Don’t die, and don’t come home unless you win!” He shouted at Levi.

“Thank you for your help, Good Friday!” The door swallowed Levi, and Friday faded from his sight. The Listener pondered about the Guardian, thinking how unfortunate it would have been had Raphael turned Friday as well.

The door spat Levi out inside of the Afterlife, rather uncomfortably, right in front of his Chinese restaurant. He rose from his knees, but fell back on them after he received a slap to his face.

“Know your place, knave. I am the good knight and you the squire. When I tell you to do something, like, say, don’t go to Astoria, you do it. Now make me a sandwich, throw it away and make me a second one because the first won’t be good enough.” Alice’s voice was cool, serious, haughty, and above all bitter and commanding. Levi lifted his head up; she would have been more intimidating if her hair wasn’t in pigtails. Blue popped his head over Alice’s shoulder.

“Dude, you’ve been gone a while. We were just stopping by to see if you made it back. How was Astoria? Did you bring me back something?”

“Doubt it, Blue.” Alice roughly grabbed Levi’s arm and hoisted him up.

“I was chasing Raphael, did you see him?” Levi stuttered, struggling with his accent and getting over the shock of being slapped.

“You have an accent?” Alice and Blue asked in unison.

Levi stood up and pushed the two aside, seeking out Raphael but not seeing him anywhere. “Raphael- I mean, the man in gray, where is he? He’s missing an arm now and wearing a black shirt, you can’t have missed him.”

“The man in gray wears black? That just blew my mind,” Blue said.

Alice narrowed her eyes and turned Levi around, bringing her face closer to his, which made him rather uncomfortable. “Are you positive you saw him come this way? One hundred percent, cross your heart hope to die?”

Levi sputtered out a yes. Alice looked over Levi’s face a moment and broke her position, frumpily placing her hands on her hips. “We didn’t see anyone come out of that door but you. Sorry.”

A guttural groan leapt out of Levi’s throat and into the air. All of that work, and Levi was rewarded simply with a slap on the cheek and no Raphael.