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.

No comments:

Post a Comment