Saturday, March 23, 2013
Quincy entered the university’s dining area and promptly slammed his hands on the table where Aster sat, multiple books open, studying for something or other- Quincy didn’t much care. What he had to discuss was way more important, and, quite frankly, more entertaining.
“Long-handled spoon,” was all he said.
“What?” Aster, looking rather flustered, was apparently caught off guard and, in a rare moment akin to spotting (insert something rare here), she had no witty retort. This did not please Quincy in the slightest. She came off as apparently having no idea what this meant to him, and as a best friend this was a travesty of travesties.
“Aster, I found the most amazing long-handled spoon at Gruffy Mart down the street.”
“I highly doubt it was that good of quality if you found it at Gruffy Mart, Quincy.” Aster finally understood what was going on and with that response, Aster assumed the discussion was over and went back to the books that lay in front of her, and the partially written paper that was taunting her, calling her name like the shadows the other night. She had procrastinated, once again, to the last second.
“I didn’t say it was good quality,” Quincy persisted stubbornly, “I said it was amazing.”
Aster looked back up at Quincy, wishing with every fiber of her being, nay, every fiber that made up the university, that Quincy would find something shiny to play with until she was done with her essay, when she would be more than willing to spend time with her BFF, and even bother him with some of her own pointless jibber jabber. But she just did not have time to feed his obsession with long-handled spoons.
She took a deep breath and gently folded her hands in front of her. If she would humor him, then maybe he would pay for lunch. “Was there a bear on it,” She started. “Was it amazing because there was a bear on it?”
Quincy scoffed as though a majorly important belief of his had been insulted. “Aster Archer, you know that bears don’t exist!”
Aster was now entertained. She loved having this conversation with Quincy. “What’s the reasoning behind that again?” She asked.
Quincy looked as though he were putting quite a bit of thought into the answer. If only he had put that much thought into his schoolwork, he would have had a better GPA. “Because- well, because. It’s like, in all the times we went camping, we never saw one. Not once. They’re a myth.”
“Quincy, we went to the zoo in Asheboro on the mainland last week. Didn’t you go to the bear house?” Aster had no idea what the bear habitat was actually called, probably just the bear habitat in fact, but it just felt right calling it a bear house as opposed to a bear tavern, habitat, shack, or, heaven forbid, cage.
With a deathly serious demeanor, Quincy responded, “Why would I go somewhere that was obviously a joke?”
“Right. Can we go again next week? I think we’ll do that. It’s a plan.” After finishing her paper, Aster would need a ridiculous trip to prove to Quincy that bears existed. Those kinds of trips were what she lived for- she chose her best friend well.
“I think Wakeman was going to go with Lucky. So no, no we’re not going.”
“Quincy, he borrowed your Nutella once without your permission while he was your roommate freshman year. Now I know Nutella is a sacred thing- I refuse to share it even with you, that’s why I make you buy your own- but I think it’s time you let it go.” She patted Quincy’s hand as though she were consoling a person who had recently lost their great-aunt Edna.
“I mean, I think he’ll solve the shadow-thingy case first if we go to the zoo.”
“You mean the Gloomies?” Aster responded rather nonchalantly, going back to her books with an ‘oh, is that all’ note to her voice.
Quincy started stuttering out of shock, horror, and resentment. “You named them without me!? Why would you do that? You know I come up with way better names for things than you do!”
“Sebastian Doegh wrote all about them in the latest issue of The Horrorscope. I’ve got it in my bag if you want to take a gander. There’s even pictures. You know how much I like pictures.”
Aster was rather fond of pictures, and it wasn’t because of her art minor. No, she believed that any sketch or doodle done in any notebook or canvas was a peek into a person’s truest soul, a piece of them that they couldn’t hide behind cheap masks reserved for Halloween and making good first impressions.
It didn’t take long at all for Quincy to flip through the dreadfully short article, and in his opinion it didn’t really give any new information- nothing that Quincy felt he couldn’t have figured out on his own. Apparently they hated light, being creatures of shadow and all, and the only way to avoid them in the streets was to stand underneath a streetlamp. But even that didn’t always work, according to the article. The real deadly nature of the Gloomies was how they drew out their victims. The entire pack would surround the person and start calling out their name, luring them out from the safety of the light. The brief article on the next page seemed a lot more interesting; it had a picture of a black-haired boy with headphones smiling, and underneath it the caption read ‘HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN? DREAMWALKER.’ Quincy didn’t have the patience to keep on reading.
“Well, now that disappointment decided to take up shelter in my soul, how is your day going? Is there any way I can crush it for you?” Quincy tossed the magazine on top of one of Aster’s medical books she was getting information from.
“I think I’d be pretty crushed if you told me I didn’t have to write this paper anymore. Hand to God. I’m not just saying that! I’ve put so much toil, elbow grease, hard work, witch doctor wisdom, poison, and happiness into this thing that if I got anything less than a mega A- yes, that mythical grade whispered about among academic nerds such as myself, a one-hundred-and-fifty-percent- I would draw and bring to life the grim reaper and have him threaten to take the souls of every professor here.” Aster took breath, pausing for the briefest moment so she could lean over the table and grab Quincy’s face and shake. “Happiness, Quincy. I somehow managed to put happiness into a paper about the Ebola virus. Do you know how hard it is to do that? Do you?”
“I, um. I think you need my happy long-handled spoon to hold and to sing some happy kid songs. No, scratch that, you’d make them sound creepy the way you are now. I don’t need that extra creepy. And you should let go of my face. Please?” Quincy wasn’t sure what to do; the longer they stayed in school, the scarier Aster tended to get with each big project. Why she wanted to be a doctor Quincy didn’t know; she had some silly notion of using her abilities to draw new limbs and organs for people, and Quincy always had to point out that the government would then abduct her and do intrusive studies on her person, but she was determined.
After staring intently at Quincy’s face, Aster finally let go. “Try the sandwiches,” Aster said, “they’re exceptionally delightful today.”
“Is there bacon in them?”
“Plenty of man candy, yes.”
“Perfect.” Quincy moved to stand up, and ran into what he would call a freakishly tall individual, the momentum of said encounter propelling him back into his seat.
“Sorry, are you okay?” The freakishly tall individual asked, his voice crooning with the sweet melody that was a British accent.
Quincy stared at freakishly tall British guy with wide green and blue eyes, mesmerized by his voice. His next words were not chosen very carefully at all.
“Will you be my new best friend?” Quincy asked in his stupor of wonder.
Aster choked back her shock rather visibly. “Quincy!” She scolded.
“What? You’re my lady best friend. I have room for a guy one, too.”
“This is how the whole Lucky fiasco happened.”
“But she was the love of my life, Aster!”
“For three days!” Aster leaned toward the British student to speak with him. “Please don’t mind my dear friend, I’m seventy-eight percent sure he has developmental issues which is more or less my fault.”
“No problem,” the British gentleman replied with a laugh. He held out a hand. “I’m Basil, by the way. You’d be surprised how often I get asked things like that as a foreigner. I’m just painfully mediocre back home.”
“Aster Archer. This fellow here is Quincy Tate.” Aster took his hand in hers and gave it a quick, firm shake; she hated limp handshakes and was pleased to see that he had a firm hand as well. Basil next went to shake Quincy’s hand, but Quincy kept on staring, but with noticeably less awe than before.
“Don’t mind him, he gets like this. Probably my fault, too.” Aster patted Quincy’s hand.
“Well, I hope I don’t keep him transfixed for the rest of the day. I don’t want to be the reason he doesn’t pay attention in classes.” Basil smiled, running a hand through his short blond hair. Quincy coughed. “Well, I’ll see you both around. It was nice to meet you both.”
With basil’s departure, Aster went back to her work. She didn’t give the encounter another thought for another five minutes when she glanced back up and noticed Quincy hadn’t moved in the slightest. She picked up a cold French fry from a tiny plate she had pushed off to the side and tossed it at his head.
Quincy perked his ears. “Smog was coming from his mouth. It was gross.”
“Doesn’t sound very attractive,” Aster responded, leaning out to catch a glimpse of Basil walking away, but she was too late; he had already vanished.
“I know, right? I bet kissing him would be like making out with a smoker.” Quincy stood up. “I’m getting a sandwich. Want anything?”
“Only the undying affection of a rich bachelor with all his own teeth and no more than three ex-wives. Oh, and a lemonade.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
As Quincy walked off, Aster thought about what it would be like to see things nobody else could. And she also couldn’t help but wonder, would seeing those things eventually drive the young man mad?
Basil seemed to appear more often than Quincy would have liked and he covered his mouth every time the British man spoke. Aster would always give some excuse; like Basil had terrible breath or Quincy was learning how to control what he said. And every time Basil laughed, or said something funny in reply, and every time Quincy would see plumes of smoke pour out of his mouth. It went on like this for a week, and Quincy couldn’t quite handle it.
“Aster, can we go to the zoo already? I’m tired of running into that guy,” Quincy whined before class one day. He sank into the seat of his desk.
“Day after tomorrow. I’ve got an art project due soon,” Aster replied, doodling on some paper. She was doing a basic outline of what she wanted to draw; a man in brown carrying flowers but whose face was never shown. She had drawn this man many times, a strange figure the two both remembered meeting once during their childhood, and often in the paintings or drawings his face was obscured by a black bar across his eyes, a balloon, or some other such thing.
Quincy sighed, and when Aster didn’t look up he sighed again, approximately five times as loud. She kept on sketching, only stopping to smudge something here or there and then to switch to a pencil with softer led. Quincy, exasperated, got up and left the class to get some water from the fountain down the hall.
On his way, Quincy said hello to Lucky and narrowly avoided falling head over heels for her again when she replied with her sweet Scottish tone of voice, completely ignored Blake Wakeman who, in all honesty probably wouldn’t have said hello to him in the first place, and finally arrived at the water fountain. And at the water fountain was Basil, chugging away until his thirst was quenched.
Swears nearly escaped Quincy’s lips. He turned to walk, but a hand on his shoulder prevented him from leaving.
“Quincy, how are you?”
Heavy smoke floated past Quincy’s shoulder. Accidentally inhaling some, Quincy began to cough violently.
“Careful now. I don’t want you to die before I can get a chance to talk to you.” Basil laughed politely, which struck Quincy as impolite. Large puffs burst out of Basil’s mouth with every chuckle. “I’d really like to get to know you better. You’re an interesting fellow, Quincy Tate.”
The more Basil spoke, the heavier the cloud that surrounded Quincy got until it eventually enveloped him. He hacked and coughed louder, harder; through teary eyes he spotted specks of blood on the hand he used to cover his mouth.
“Stop,” Quincy choked out, “stop talking, you freaking jerk.” Quincy couldn’t see anything. He didn’t even know where Basil was until an outline came through the smoke. Basil knelt down, bringing his face uncomfortably close to Quincy’s.
“You’re so blunt, that’s one of the things I like about you. You’re really wonderful prey. Too bad you don’t have more fight.”
Quincy lost consciousness.
Dreams had never been something Quincy was entirely comfortable with. They were ever-changing, and the most peculiar things happened in them. The current dream he was having involved floating geometric shapes, a few telephone poles, a brick wall with Aster’s doodle of the man in brown on it and a duck pond with no ducks. This greatly bothered Quincy as he adored ducks and saw no reason why his subconscious would want to torment him like so by not including them in his dream. He was, after all, just knocked out by a British man with smoke that came out of his mouth every time he spoke so Quincy really could have used the comfort.
Quincy sat on top of a picnic table next to a turkey dinner. With a quick turn to his right, he saw a young man around his age gently holding one of geometric shapes that glowed softly much like a firefly. The young man had short, nicely styled white hair and white clothing. It was a little blinding in Quincy’s opinion, but entertaining nonetheless.
“What in my subconscious brought you to life?” Quincy said aloud. He was expecting to at least startle the white-haired boy, but instead he rather calmly turned to look at Quincy with a solemn look on his face. His warm magenta eyes locked with Quincy’s blue and green ones. Quincy couldn’t help but feel the boy looked familiar.
“My name is Isaiah, and I’m afraid I’m not part of your subconscious.”
Quincy felt a strange warmth in his chest. It worried him.
“That’s cool, I guess. If you don’t mind, though I should probably wake up now.”
“If you’ve got something better to do then by all means, wake up. I’ll move on to someone else’s dream,” Isaiah responded, letting the geometric figure, a rhombus, float away. It exploded with an underwhelming popping sound.
“Well, Aster tells me if I start dreaming to wake up as soon as possible because whatever happens to me in dreams affects my body. It really sucks.” Quincy picked at the turkey next to him, but every time he touched it, that spot on the turkey began to rot. “I’m kind of in a sticky situation right now anyway, some British guy named Basil thought it’d be totally awesome to suffocate me with this weird smoke that comes out of his mouth whenever he talks. I really want to wake up before he tries dumping my body in the ocean. I don’t really like the water much.”
Isaiah, as if floating, made his way in very few steps to Quincy and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. “Trust and be not afraid,” he began in his soft voice, “the Lord will hear your prayers.”
The world starting stretching, making Quincy feel sick. He covered his mouth with his hand and began hacking once more. Isaiah lifted a glowing finger to Quincy’s forehead, and then he blacked out again.
Quincy Tate awoke with a start in one of the dorm rooms on campus; well, he assumed it was a dorm room anyway. The room, sparsely decorated, looked larger and nicer than the one he had shared with Wakeman his freshman year in Taffner Hall. Quincy tried sitting up, but he was tied to the bed with some rope.
“You woke quicker than I thought. Do you know how light you are? You need to put on some more weight.”
Basil came in through the door, closing it gently behind him. He walked over to a desk on the other side of the room and opened a drawer.
“If you’re saying I’m scrawny, then you’re wrong. I’ve got plenty of muscle, barely any fat on me. And if you untie me I can show you how much weight I pack behind my punches.” Quincy tried breaking through the ropes, but he wasn’t nearly strong enough.
“That’s kind of adorable right there. Better luck next time, eh?” Basil ruffled Quincy’s already fairly unkempt hair. Quincy tried biting him, to which Basil could only laugh. “Come on, now. Where was that fight earlier? I already caught you. This isn’t any fun.”
“What do you even want? I’ve got places to be, people named Wakeman whose lives I need to make unbearable, the usual stuff that I can’t do tied to a bed. Did I mention how creepy this is?”
“I want your eyes,” Basil responded coolly. This answer did not please Quincy in the slightest.
“They’re mine. Well, the left one is anyway. The right one belongs to Lucky. Or maybe it’s the left one. Listen, the point of the story is that they’re mine.” Quincy continued his struggle against the bindings, but was only giving himself rope burn.
“Only one is yours? How does that work?” Basil frowned. It was the first time Quincy had witnessed this. “Does that half your power?”
“Well, we fell in love. And when you fall madly, forehead-touchingly in love sometimes you switch an eye with that person. I think she was already sensitive to ghosts and psychic impressions so my eye just opened up my ability to her. I’m pretty sure my body took the eye I got from her and filled full of the same power, ‘cause I haven’t noticed any difference except sometimes I see what she sees.”
Basil quickly hit Quincy and covered both his eyes. Quincy swore loudy.
“What was that for?”
“I need to kill you and get out of here before anyone notices you’re missing. I can’t have that girl see where you are.”
“Idiot, someone has to notice that I’m gone by now,” Quincy shot at his captor.
“So I need to be quicker about this.”
“Why do you need to kill me?” Quincy hated not being able to see.
“If I’m going to gain your vision I have to kill you and eat your soul.”
“I don’t think that’s going to work. My soul’s artificial.”
Slowly, Basil removed his hand from Quincy’s eyes. His frown had only grown larger and the sight was so troubling to Quincy, being the first thing he saw after having been blinded for the better part of two minutes, that he let out a small yelp.
“Artificial soul and eye switching. Who are you?”
“Quincy Tate. I thought you knew that?”
Pulling out a knife from Quincy wasn’t sure where, Basil slowly caressed the blade with his fingers, looking like he was making a hard decision. Quincy assumed that’s what he was doing, anyone, because of the strange, almost sickly look on Basil’s face that wasn’t much better than the frown.
“Really, who or what are you? I need to know if I can risk eating your soul.”
“Well if you put it like that…” Quincy laid his head back, unsure of what to do next. Obviously he hadn’t been able to break free from the ropes, but he wasn’t about to admit that to Basil. He hoped he was still fooling the kidnapper into thinking he had the strength to break the bindings.
“Answer me.” Basil drew the blade along Quincy’s cheek, drawing some blood.
“This feels really cliché,” Quincy said bitterly. “What’re you going to do? Kill me? What’s the point? If you don’t eat my soul and find out later that you could’ve, you’ll kick yourself for not getting a straight answer.”
“Or I’ll go after Lucky.”
“Touché.” Quincy furrowed his eyebrows. “Well, when Aster was five she created me and I came to life and stuff.”
Basil leaned in, curiosity plastered all over his face. “Created you? She can do that?”
Quincy rolled his eyes in a ‘well duh’ sort of way that teenaged girls were expert at. “Yeah, it’s kind of sort of awesome. Get over it. It’s not like she could do it again, making a person with a soul drained her.”
Here was no response for a few minutes as Basil soaked all of the information in, tapping the bed frame with his finger. Quincy mulled the situation over in his head for the umpteenth time. It all felt pretty hopeless, but he Quincy was never very good at knowing when it was time to give up.
“Are you done thinking yet? ‘Cause if you’re going to kill me, get it out of the way so you have some time to creep on others and I can see what heaven’s like.”
“If I eat your soul you won’t get to see heaven.”
“Well, I’m not sure they would’ve let me in anyway.”
“I’ll take a chance on you,” Basil said with a cheery tune in his voice. “Throw caution to the wind, you know?”
“Oh, sure. You’ll have an easier time, but will it really be worth it?”
Quincy banged his head on the bed. He was stuck.
The murderous Basil lifted his knife in an arc, the blade slicing through the heavy air. His eyes met with Quincy’s. Basil licked his lips. There was a knock on the door.
“What?” Basil looked confused, which made Quincy feel a tad better as he had in fact not invited more creeps in on the ritual sacrifice to feast on his man-made soul. Basil placed a rag in Quincy’s mouth and went to the door, placing the knife in his back pocket. Slowly, he opened the door so as not to allow Quincy to be seen. He put on his best nice voice. “Yes? Hello?”
“Hi, hey, how’s it going? How are you?” Came the voice on the other end of the door. Quincy exhaled slowly; it wasn’t Aster. The voice belonged to a boy.
“Um, fine. May I ask why you’ve knocked on my door?” Quincy could see the smog piling out of Basil’s mouth.
“I’m dandy, not unlike a lion, thanks for asking. My name’s Bradshaw, Isaac Samson but just Sam is fine. I think you have a friend of mine in there. I’d be pretty dang happy if you’d let him out.”
Quincy had no Idea who Sam was but he wasn’t going to complain. A rescue was a rescue.
“I’m sorry, you must have the…”
Sam didn’t let Basil finish. He slammed his hand on the door and pushed Basil inside. Basil retaliated with his knife, cutting Sam on the cheek. Quincy watched as Sam dropped a piece of paper on the floor. Basil stepped closer to Sam, his eyes filled with an angry passion. He threw the knife and it stuck in the wall next to Quincy’s would be rescuer’s head. Basil leaned in close to Sam.
“I will kill you and eat your soul,” Basil said coldly, prying out the knife and sticking it to Sam’s throat. Blood started trickling down in little pellets that hit the ground in a melodic beat. Quincy knew Basil wasn’t kidding.
“Step a little closer. I couldn’t hear your empty threat.”
Apparently Sam had no idea that Basil wasn’t kidding.
Basil took a step closer, his foot landing right on the paper that Sam had dropped. Strange and obscure letterings and words, some of which Quincy recognized as French, crawled up Basil’s leg. He reeled back, grasping at his leg and trying in a desperate fervor to scrape off the words as they grew and spread along his body. Smog flowed out of his mouth, slowly at first, but the stream steadily grew larger and came out faster until it finally stopped and Basil collapsed.
“I’m wearing my favorite shirt today. I can’t die violently while wearing it. I’ve specifically told people I want to be buried in it, so it can’t be covered in blood.” Sam was out of breath, visibly shaking. He looked strangely familiar to Quincy, like a darker-haired version of the man in his dreams. Quincy also took notice of the man’s shirt; it was a light blue with a tiny, cartoon lion on it with a flowery mane. Underneath it said “Dandy Lion.” It slightly disgusted Quincy, and if Aster ever drew something like that and brought it to life he vowed to either never talk to her again or to kick the dandy lion into oblivion. Why anyone would want to be buried in that was beyond him.
“Hey, can you untie me?”
Neither Sam nor Quincy knew quite what to do with Basil once Quincy had been freed, so they locked him in the closet and left. Sam had said he had never used that spell before and didn’t know how long Basil would be out but assumed he wouldn’t try going after Quincy again based on the fact that Sam planned on telling campus police right after they found Aster, which was Quincy’s idea. Sam had wanted to go to the campus police first.
“Campus police don’t do squat. I’ll have Aster make a cage to stick Basil in,” Quincy said, sounding disgusted when he came to Basil’s name.
“Is she a metal smith or something? That’s kind of hot,” Sam responded, rounding the corner to the library with his rescued male damsel. “Would you hurt me if I suggested going to campus security first again?”
Rather than respond with words, Quincy put Sam in a headlock right in front of the entrance of the library.
“Hey, what’re you-? Stop!” Sam tried pulling Quincy off, but he kept a tight grip.
“What, didn’t you ever roughhouse with your older brother?”
“Wellington and I didn’t really wrestle,” Sam choked out.
“Older brother Alexander and I did this all the time.”
“Older brother always won, too.” Aster leaned on the door frame of the library, hugging her text books loosely against her stomach. She had that reserved smile on her face. “You make a new friend? Is he British, too?”
“Not especially, no.” Sam slipped out of Quincy’s grasp and held up a hand of greeting to Aster. “Sam. Nice to meet you.”
“Aster Archer. Nice to meet you, too.” Aster ran a hand through her tawny hair. “Quincy, you up for the zoo tomorrow?”
“Am I ever! Basil knocked me out and tried to kill me for my eyes, and Sam saved me. Basil’s locked in a closet right now.” Quincy added the last part as an afterthought.
“Hey, zoo. That sounds like fun.” Sam sounded a tad bit envious. Quincy knew he should be.
Aster stared at the two boys, unsure if they were joking or not. Quincy put Sam in another headlock, and that one nonchalant act convinced her that they were telling the truth. She heaved a little sigh and shook her head.
“You know what this means, right? Now I can’t marry a British guy. Basil ruined it for me.” She bit her lip, slowly shaking her head. “Sam, you’re not going to do the same thing to us, are you?”
“I’m not British. Or evil. So no.” Sam managed to slip out again and began dodging Quincy, who tried to catch him again. He feigned to the left and hid behind a pillar. Quincy squinted, trying to figure out the best way to attack.
“Good. We really like meeting new people, but things like this happen a lot.” Aster thought for a moment, and pushed herself off the doorway. “Quincy, head into the library for me. I think I forgot a notebook. The one with the daisies.”
“That was my birthday present to you! You can’t lose that!” Quincy rushed into the building without a second thought, leaving Aster and Sam quite alone.
“So,” Sam began. He drew out the so, which bothered Aster because it made the word sound awkward while signaling at the same time that Sam had something on his mind.
“I know, you’ve probably got some questions, and I do too. How did you find Quincy?”
“Quincy was knocked out and having a dream. I’m a dream walker. And stuff.” Sam scratched his head, then checked his fingernails. The conversation was a bit slow. “Quincy said that if he got hurt in the dream world it would affect his body. I’ve never met anyone like that.”
“That’s because I made him,” Aster replied.
“Like a batch of cookies?”
“I created him,” Aster said, hoping the rewording and new emphasis she placed on the words would help Sam get the idea.
Sam uncomfortably looked from the pillar, to the door, to the doorway then at Aster. “Like a recipe for a batch of cookies?”
“When I was five my older brother Alexander told me my imaginary friends weren’t real. So to prove him wrong I created Quincy. All I did was draw him on some paper and he came to life- but it took so much of my power at a young age, so now I can only bring small things to life. Nothing else with a soul.”
An ‘oh’ was all Sam could muster up.
“He’s got a few defects to him, but most people don’t notice. I should go find him, but let’s keep in touch. If a less cool guy girl group calling themselves the raincoats happen to find out that you’re a dream walker, ignore them and say you’re with us. They’ll get really jealous,” Aster said with a wicked grin.
“Ghost hunters, like Kristjan.” Sam smiled weakly. Aster wasn’t sure how to respond, only hoping that a third group of specially talented people wasn’t forming up on campus as well. It was bad enough having to deal with the raincoats and scary enough realizing with the introductions of Basil and Sam that there were a lot more people like her on the tiny island and any one of them posed a threat to her and Quincy.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
It was three past midnight and like most college students their age, Quincy and Aster were awake. Unlike most college students their age, they were not partying. In fact most people at Plumfield University didn’t really “party”. The best friends attended a small university on an island town in the east of the United States known as Plumfield; not so tiny that there was nothing to do, but not large enough to be particularly well known. It was also prestigious enough to where Quincy had no idea how he got accepted. Maybe it was an act of fate, happenstance, or just the inevitable, but he and Aster could not be separated.
The two walked casually along the streets of the town passing by old house after old house, making small talk about things they liked and enjoyed; baby otters, irrational fear of penguins, the school café’s lack of skill when it came to making a fine grilled cheese sandwich, and red balloons- Aster was especially fond of red balloons after going through a German music phase. They talked like this until they reached their destination, a cramped-looking palm-reader’s shop.
“Do you think the Raincoats are already here?” Quincy sounded antsy and his fingers were a little twitchy. He had a hard time focusing on the creaky little magic shop in front of him where he had heard a séance was soon to begin.
“Wakeman probably just left the library. He and I have a test in the Abnormal Psychology of Television Characters in the 80s. They’ll catch us here right as we finish up.”
A wicked smile crept along the boy’s face. “Good.” Aster rolled her eyes and boldly took the first step towards the shop, opening the door for a gracious Quincy. Most days she felt like the gentleman in the relationship.
Inside the shop the ceremonies had already begun. A black-haired woman in loose, earthy garb sat in front of a crystal ball, holding the hands of students Quincy and Aster had seen around the school - in total there were five victims holding each other for the spell, in the clutches of the scam artist death speaker. Except Lady Barkhurst really wasn’t a scam artist. She had talent, and Quincy could see it; She had caused plenty of trouble since Quincy and Aster had been at school, and they never quite knew how to deal with her.
As Lady Barkhurst spilled out word after word of her incantation, and as people failed to notice the presence of either of the newcomers, Quincy could see smog spewing from her velvet lips. It continued to flow, being trapped by the circle created by the hand-holding humans.
“Speak to us!” Lady Barkhurst’s voice was smooth and enticing. It was her special gift, like Quincy’s eyes and Aster’s hands.
Quincy had the unique, albeit disturbingly creepy ability to see things that did not belong. As vague as that sounded it basically meant he could see the supernatural tendencies of the world; every time a ghost vanished he saw the trail of where it went. Every time a ghost spoke, he saw the sounds and energy emanating, seeping through the air slowly and chaotically like a blood droplet falling into water, contaminating the world. Anything supernatural, he saw its essence. Both he and Aster found this quite useful for their hobby of ghost hunting, though not very effective as a party trick to impress large groups of people.
He inhaled sharply and at the same moment Lady Barkhurst threw her head back, her eyes turning white. Her mouth became grotesquely large to accommodate the large amount of smog that escaped from her pale figure, and it seemed too much for the poor woman to handle. When Quincy thought she was about to break, she suddenly stopped. The smoke gathered, condensed, and took shape. Quincy heaved out a tiny gasp of surprise.
“What is it?” Aster squinted her eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that was going on. She didn’t need to see with her eyes, however- right then she only needed her ears. An Earth-shattering scream, similar to a child in pain, filled the room quicker than the smog ever could. Aster covered her ears and looked up to shout a warning to those holding together the circle of arms containing the ghost, but her call was drowned out and never came. The circle broke as people covered their ears and Aster caught a brief glimpse of what Quincy had seen: A little girl in pigtails with blood red eyes and veiny skin. The next thing she saw was the ceiling, and she felt Quincy on top of her. The table everyone else was gathered around only a few brief seconds earlier flew overhead.
“Poltergeist.” Quincy pushed himself off his best friend, launching into the air and looking around the room for the noisy spirit that was causing furniture and papers to go airborne.
“Where is it?” Aster covered her head with her thin arms. She shouted again, “Where is it?”
“To your left!” Aster turned to her left and swatted the air in frustration. “I didn’t say it was right behind you!”
“Quincy, I can’t get to this thing unless you’re specific!” A chair flew past Aster. “And don’t get knocked out, or else we’re all dead.”
He gave a thumbs up, and the crystal ball Lady Barkhurst was using smashed him in the face. Blood rose gracefully up from his plummeting body. He met the ground’s not so warm embrace with a thankful thump that was his unconscious way of saying “Why thank you floor, I do feel welcome here. I will in fact stay for a quick snooze.” Aster swore loudly.
“Have fun,” Lady Barkhurst cooed gently, vanishing behind a door near the back of her shop. Aster felt the need to find and strangle that sly smile of hers off of her face.
With only a basic idea of where the poltergeist was, Aster couldn’t find a good solution of how to beat it. To take out her frustrations, she grabbed Quincy’s limp body by the shoulders and shook it violently and once she felt satisfied she dropped the boy, and turned back around to meet a short long-eared creature with nubby limbs grabbing a chair that was about to smack Aster. She narrowed her eyes.
“You’re sickeningly cute and macabre. You belong to Wakeman, don’t you?” The creature turned to Aster, gave an abnormally large sharp-toothed smile, and leapt away as quickly as it had come, leaving Aster a little flustered. She looked around trying to figure out where the creature’s controller was and after very little effort she spotted Blake Wakeman by the door, eating a candy bar. Oh how she hated the way he was constantly eating sweets. “Pig.”
Blake took a small bite of his candy bar and looked as though he was going to be sick. Tiny beads of sweat trickled down his forehead and across his receding hairline. Wherever he moved his gaze, his creature, which he called a Gimme Gimme, followed like a cat chasing a laser pointer. Aster was curious as to how Wakeman knew where to send his Gimme Gimme, but she caught a glance of a slender, short-haired young woman slightly taller than Wakeman standing off to the side, pulling down on her hat and smiling sweetly like a southern bell damsel in a cool summer breeze. One of her eyes was glowing; the one she had switched with Quincy. It was Lucky Avery, the other half of the Raincoats.
“Lucky, where is it?” Wakeman sounded rushed and not completely focused. Almost painfully he took another bite of his candy bar and forced the small chunk down his throat. Aster shifted her head from side to side trying to catch where the Gimme Gimme had gone but it kept on moving from point A to B, to C, D, E, F, G- Lucky couldn’t see as well as Quincy and was having a harder time tracking the spirit. She hadn’t realized it was in the ‘eye of the storm’. Aster’s hand made its way back to Quincy’s face and she plugged his nose and mouth- she ignored the blood that was coating her fingers. With her other hand she searched for a pencil.
Lucky pointed a finger at the veiny child poltergeist, a blurry white splotch on the canvas of the bleak black world that Lady Barkhurst had created inside the domain of her shop. For a moment the spirit flickered into focus and Wakeman took another bite of his chocolate bar, covering his mouth like he was about to vomit. The Gimme Gimme raced to it, easily ducking tossed furniture, making it to the eye of the vortex, jumping on top of the spirit’s shoulder and bearing large teeth, taking a bite of ectoplasm. The girl let out a shrill scream.
“You’ve got it!” Lucky exclaimed in a sweet Scottish accent. She jumped up excitedly, clutching her hat with both hands. Wakeman’s cheeks puffed out a little; his face was a bit green and he staggered for a minute. The girl thrashed around, trying to get the little creature latched on to her by its creamy white teeth off. She inhaled, and at that moment Quincy violently shot up, eyes dilating, inhaling large amounts of air. He looked at the crystal ball next to him then rolled his throbbing head to the girl and the Gimme Gimme. His special eyes witnessed the air moving into the little girl’s mouth, changing it into something ferocious.
“Move.” Quincy grabbed Aster, then rolled away from the crystal ball where moments earlier he saw something darker than black with six crimson eyes. The poltergeist girl let out the air in a shrill burst, the glass ball belonging to lady Barkhurst exploding and releasing a black mist that floated out in chunks almost as disgustingly as the smog that had been released from Lady Barkhurst’s mouth. It took the outline of a shadow man wearing a hat, the six beady eyes focusing on the girl. Quincy wasn’t sure if everyone else could see its ragged smile. “Aster. Aster, I think it’d be a really awesome idea if you got the hat man first.” He spat out blood with every syllable.
Aster pushed Quincy off, grabbed a sheet of blank paper, and swiftly drew four rough, cartoony arms on it. The hat man made of shadows took no real steps, slowly gliding across the floor. It may have moved a good distance, but Aster didn’t go running after it, instead setting down the sheet of paper she drew on and letting those same four arms burst out of the page and grasp the hat man. With a great deal of force the arms started dragging the shadow towards the page. Its tiny dot eye shot to the size of apples, engrossing its face only to be pushed back by a menacing pointed smile that revealed a vast grayness inside. It tried to ooze out but the hands wouldn’t let it. They dragged the monster into the paper, and the paper went up in flames that faded into fireflies.
Aster Archer’s hands were blessed. Anything she drew would come to life, and anything she captured on paper would stay there, trapped. She was both a creator and a destroyer; she could draw Quincy a flower or trap a disgruntled soul in the pages of her binder, and then hang them up in her room for decoration if she so chose. Some would call her a whimsical witch with great power, but she referred to herself as an artist.
During this time the Gimme Gimme had grown larger from feeding on the spirit’s negativity. The effect the spirit child had on everything soon diminished. Objects fell back to the ground, the heaviness in the air drifted away- and so did the little girl. She drifted away in a flurry of small lights and not even Quincy could see her vanish into an afterlife. Wakeman dropped his candy bar, allowing the Gimme Gimme to gradually fade away. The four of them went around to the people who were in the circle, helping them get up and sending them out the door.
Aster and Quincy ignored Lucky and Wakeman. They had ended in a draw, defeating one ghost each. That’s what a lot of the ghost hunting and chasing around was to them, a competition to see who’s group was better- Aster and Quincy’s, or Lucky and Wakeman’s, the Raincoats as Lucky so lovingly called them as they protected the island from the rain of the supernatural. All Aster could remember about the rivalry was that it had started during their freshman year when they, as the campus supernatural investigation club, had split down the middle and dissolved into two separate groups over some ridiculous argument no one was willing to admit they couldn’t remember. The only thing Quincy was willing to admit was that he was jealous the other group had a name and they didn’t. He could only take solace in the fact that he thought he and Aster were much cooler and more fun to be around and that both groups had only two people; he’d die if someone else joined the Raincoats, assuming the two of them were more likeable than he and Aster.
“Did Lady Barkhurst get away again?” Lucky asked.
“Yeah. Next time I see her, I’m gonna…” A regular color had come back to Wakeman’s thin face. He ran his hands through his short, thinning chestnut hair.
“Gonna what? You can’t legally do anything about her. At least she has to clean up this mess herself.” Aster threw herself into the conversation, professionally moving towards the Raincoats with Quincy right behind her, his strong but kid-like face still caked with dry blood.
“Let’s start taking her grimoires,” Lucky said wistfully, gazing wide-eyed at the different artifacts Lady Barkhurst kept around the store.
“She could call the cops on us,” Aster responded.
“Oh…” Lucky looked down at the ground, fidgeting with her hands.
“Try not to worry too much about her. I’m more curious about how The Horrorscope knew this was going to happen.” Aster thought back to the newsmagazine she and the Raincoats received monthly, a queer little thing that had all the latest information about the supernatural things that went on in the US and UK. He favorite writer was one Sebastian Doegh, who had the most wonderfully written, witty articles. “Lately Plumfield has been in there a lot, but I haven’t seen anyone that could be a writer for the Horrorscope.”
“What, you think they have a certain aura about them?” Wakeman pointed out, almost delightfully. Almost. Quincy didn’t believe he could actually show any real emotion because he was so painfully bland.
Aster made her way outside, and the others followed her slowly keeping up boorish conversations that had stemmed from their discussion of Lady Barkhurst. They made their way out the door into the blackness of the night.
The unnatural blackness.
“Dude, did the moon take a smoke break?” Quincy said, trying to figure out what was going on with the lack light. It was times like these he wished he carried a portable nightlight. In response came a chilling cackle, almost human. But not quite.
Quincy stepped back, his eyes adjusting to the dark. Lucky was trying to do the same, but long before she could Quincy saw the round, glowing red eyes. Some of the shadows began to move apart, circling the entrance like a pack of wild animals. There was another unnatural cackle, a demonic shriek, and then words.
More cackling, then more unnatural voices.
It became a taunt, a jeer, the voices sneering the names. Lucky clutched Wakeman’s arm and began shivering. Wakeman used his free hand to locate another chocolate bar but couldn’t find one- he wouldn’t be able to summon his Gimme Gimme. Aster had no paper on her, but even then she wouldn’t know what to aim at to trap. All Quincy and Lucky could do was look, stare at the red eyes until the shadow that hid them slowly moved away, leaving dismembered body parts of two of the people who had been I n the circle. Lucky covered her eyes. Aster thought she heard her stifle a yelp.“Well, I feel a little left out.” Quincy looked at Aster, disappointed his name had not been called.