Nobody could say that it’s always cold here.
There are those rare days around mid-august when the sun puts in some extra effort and occasionally you only need one layer of clothing when going about your business.
But it wasn’t mid-august and I was wearing a heavy raincoat as a result. December had been and gone and February was letting out a slow death rattle in the form of gale-force winds. I wore my hair short which meant is wasn’t snatched this way and that like most of the people I had passed today but my earring had had to be removed before the wind did the job for me.
Somebody said to me once that it’s only ever windy or cold; never both. This friend of mine had never been to the city however, so I let them keep believing it.
The wind would have given me a good excuse to stay inside but when I’ve a job to do I try my best to see it through as soon as possible.
Get it out the way, so to speak.
That in mind I had been staring at the front of the pub for quite some time.
It was more a reluctance to go inside than to do the job – I’d made all the effort to be warm outside that I’d be boiled like a lobster the moment I went inside. That was the problem with this city; you could only be too hot or too cold.
The pub itself was in a very good condition compared to the buildings that surrounded it. When you serve the locals around here you were bound to make quite a lot of money. It was painted mainly in reds, though the window sills were matte black as was the sign above the door. The Splayed Drifter it was called and in my mind it was only named that so you’d never forget it. I could hear the sounds of subdued Sunday carousal inside but the thought of other people was never a tempting one. But I knew I’d have to go in eventually or my client would leave. So I braced myself and pushed my way inside.
There was a football match on the corner set. Funny, it was one of those old-fashioned televisions you’re always surprised to find still existing. Considering how well the place was doing for itself I would have expected at least a flat screen but then maybe that was the attraction, that sense of nostalgia. Most of the regulars were well past their sell-by date and sitting here pretending it was the good old days was often the only barrier between them and a quiet, miserable end to life. I didn’t raise a comment when I entered and no awkward silence descended. I wasn’t the only non-regular after all and I was barely noteworthy material in the first place. Apart from my eyes of course but that goes without saying really.
Not seeing my client straight away I sat down at the bar.
A woman in her forties came over to me as soon as she was finished chatting with one of the other patrons and pulled a pint glass down, before looking to me with a smile.
“What’ll you be having, dear?” she asked.
“Coffee, please. Black three sugars.”
“No thank you.”
“Everybody wants beer.” I sighed.
“Not me. These days absinthe is all I really touch. Or the coffee I just asked for.”
“Everybody wants beer.”
I looked her in the eyes and she froze up a little. She quite clearly wanted to look away but true to form she just couldn’t. I’ve never been able to explain the phenomenon other than the guess that my gaze is just as fucked-up strange as I am.
“Coffee. Black. Three Sugars. Please.” I said as gently as I could.
She nodded and I looked away. Relieved, the woman walked off to the machine.
I relaxed and looked around the room, trying to pick my client out from the crowd.
It was easy enough to be honest. All I needed to look for was those green stains we can’t help but leave behind us. Normal folks don’t and I don’t, but the ladies and gentlemen moving in my circles had no choice. You have to be out of the ordinary to see it but the stains are often everywhere. Faint and pale usually but always prevalent.
Sure enough there was a man sat with a small group of others, telling a story. They crowded around him looks of mirth on their faces and raucous laughter filled the place as he reached a punchline.
He briefly looked up and I beckoned him over. He double-took and his face went rapidly to concern but he masked that almost as soon as it showed. He made some excuses and headed up to the bar, a rough type clapping him heartily on the back as he went.
He got to the seat next to me about the time my coffee arrived. He pushed a note into the bar woman’s hand and she thanked him before walking off to serve others.
I took a sip of my coffee. Burnt, damn it.
“No.” I replied. “I called you over so I could knock you out and steal your kidneys. The hell do you think, Seamus?”
He gulped and his face flushed a little. He didn’t say a word for a moment or two before it hit him.
“I never told you my…”
“Not the only thing I’m not supposed to know. It’s the circles you move in now.”
Actually I had just run a background check on his picture but the new kids on the block were always easy to play with. They didn’t understand that having some contacts with the police and knowing a decent hacker did more than mystic tomes and summoning abominations ever could.
“So Seamus.” I said taking another sip. “What is it you’re paying me for?”
“I, uh… kinda let something happen.”
“So does everyone. Be blunt.”
“…I think it’s like a ghost or something. It’s in my house.”
I sucked my teeth.
“Well that’s certainly a downer for you I’d imagine.”
“Someone told me you… do things about it.”
“Did they tell you my price?”
“I guess so.”
“And you’re willing to pay?”
“I can up front if you like.”
He reached into his pocket and brought his wallet back out, tugging at the zip on the side. I brushed his hand away and shook my head.
“No. Leave it until the job’s done.”
He put it back in his pocket, confused.
Now for the important question.
“Seamus, how much do you know?”
“What… what do you mean? The ghost-thing acts kinda like-“
“No, no, no, no, no. Not what I meant at all. How much do you know? And how long have you known?”
He thought about it.
I waited and finished my coffee as he thought.
“Not much. I think I first found stuff out last year. The first lot I met tried talking me out of it all.”
That was all I needed.
I thanked him and bought him a drink. No need to ask directions, I already knew the place.
Anyway, I had some preparation to do first.
All the lights in Seamus’ house were properly fucked.
I flicked every switch I came across and nothing. I had a maglite so it wasn’t an enormous problem but it would have been a lot nicer.
The place was dusty; he hadn’t been here for a week or more at a guess. Cluttered too. Seamus clearly did not concern himself with tidying up very often.
Other than that it was pretty clear that he had a good amount of money. Top of the range electronics – dead as the lights if you were wondering – rich carpets on most of the floors, an especially fancy bathroom and even a large collection of antique books.
I groaned. It was always sodding books. You never found somebody who’d pulled back The Curtain via a skiing accident say, or by dancing unknowingly an ancient summoning dance or something. No, people always had to find some tome not meant for mortal eyes blah, blah sodding blah and then next thing you know I’m breaking into some idiot’s house to see why he disappeared after screaming to his family about the tentacles.
It was just so damn cliché.
But ours not to reason why and all that. I’d have checked the books out but in all honesty I couldn’t care less about them and I had better things to do.
Like figure out where the dead-thing was watching me from.
I’d felt the eyes on me from the moment I opened the door but so far nothing. Some of the stains in the house were so dark green they may as well be black so it had definitely been hanging around. It had dropped the temperature a few degrees after I’d checked the bathroom but I think that was more because of how long I’d been here rather than where I’d explored.
I hate it when you know that something is watching you but you can’t see it. If there was ever a better way to unnerve someone it clearly fell out of fashion some time ago. And this dead-thing was a patient one in all likelihood. In most cases they had to be.
I remember this case from a few years back, not one of mine you understand. This family felt they were being haunted and called in all manner of people to check it out. Vicars, “ghost speakers”, witch doctors and exorcists passed through the place like a tourist destination. It was quite a sensational case because whatever was haunting them was clearly malevolent. Get out scratched on the walls and scars on the children, you know the stuff. But whenever a quote-unquote professional took a look there was nothing to see. Proof of the activities was everywhere but there weren’t any activities at all when people other than the family paid attention.
So eventually the media lost interest. People stopped discussing it by water coolers. And one by one the family were picked off and eaten alive in the space of a day and a half.
Because that’s how dead-things operate. They let you know they’re going to get you but they never do until you stop expecting it. They’re not even playful, it’s just part of the mentality.
If I recall correctly the police broke into the place a few weeks later and found what was left of the bodies stitched together and rotting on the family sofa, television remote clutched in one half-eaten hand.
They pinned it on a serial killer thankfully. I have no idea how hard the local Guardian worked to achieve that piece of magic but they have my eternal respect.
Finally something happened – a cup flew from the kitchen table and shattered against the wall. A fleck of crockery stung my cheek and I turned smiling. Obviously there was nothing there but it was or had just been in this room. I saw a flicker. I started to whistle and pretended that I hadn’t. These things work easier if the target underestimates you.
I wandered nonchalantly through the kitchen into the large front room. The door on the cupboard the television was sat on was hanging from its hinges. It was covered in green stains that hadn’t been there last time I was in the room.
I reached into my coat and pulled out an old-fashioned yo-yo. I can’t remember the last time I saw anybody else with one, I think they stopped being popular not long after I was born. But they were excellent for making one look innocent. They also made good garrotte wires in a pinch given you have the right string. Don’t ask me how I know.
I carried on acting uninterested and stupid as I wandered through the house playing with my yo-yo. I still looked like I was looking for a ghost but I was looking the same way a presenter from some god-awful “documentary” on the paranormal would.
I had a notion that it was now in the bathroom. I climbed the stairs and made my way there. It had decided to reveal itself, I think.
There’s always the game before the catch, a compulsion we’ve already discussed. But this one could probably smell that I was different. And that was what made me attractive.
But I’d be ready. My plan was simple – I’d walk in and when it manifested I’d thwack it with the yo-yo.
That was the big secret about dead-things; they’re completely corporeal. Sure they’re the basis for ghosts but the myriad reasons for that is a subject I could probably write a book on if I ever found the time.
I walked in and there was bloody writing on the mirror, of course.
You should not be here. How original.
I felt a cold sensation behind me. A sort of hissing noise too, not so you’d notice if you weren’t expecting it.
Lazily, I turned. And my mouth dropped.
Before me stood a gaunt figure. It was partially covered in chitin and it rubbed two long hands together in a beetle-like fashion. Its eyes were plentiful and should have been on its head rather than torso but we’re not all perfect. It had no face. A mouth, eyes on the torso but the head was essentially a blank dome. Blood dripped from a gaping wound on its side and there were more eyes on the inside of the gash.
It wasn’t supposed to look like that.
“You’re not a dead-thing.” I said.
“Very astute.” It smiled.
Then I was asleep and I couldn’t tell you why.
I was bound to a chair in the kitchen when I opened my eyes.
Seamus was there and so was the monster, they were stood side by side. Seamus looked almost reluctant but there was a hunger in his features too.
He had a melon-baller dangling loosely from one hand. He looked to the creature and it nodded. He walked over to me and its eyes span and followed him.
“I lied at the pub.” He said, almost apologetically.
“You certainly did.”
“I… we needed you.”
That was confusing.
“Why me? Anyone you’ve ever met will tell you I’m nothing special.”
He motioned to his face, and tried to think of the right words.
“You… perceive. Things we can’t. We tried for months and nothing let us. You see things that most others don’t, too. No, other people like us.” He said before I could speak.
“Well that’s news to me, Seamus. I think your friend over there’s been talking shit.”
“Nobody tells you that you make no sense.” It said.
“On the times you converse with others, you discuss the things you’ve seen and people raise not a question. Have their faces never given it away? You are a rare thing, Seeker. One that sees all that there is.”
“That sounds totally idiotic. Believe me, if that was true I would notice." I said, but I started thinking about it. The first time I’d encountered a corpse-thing I told a gentleman who I’d known for a long while about the whole thing. He had raised his eyebrows at my description of it in a way that should have implied to me that he didn’t know that they looked like that. That wasn’t proof of course but I hadn’t got where I was today by not believing things.
That in mind I had got where I was today by fucking up a simple investigation.
Seamus looked at the monster then back to me. He dropped to my level, his face an inch from mine.
“We have to take your eyes. I’m sorry but we have to.”
He kissed my forehead and my lips. I only hated him slightly more.
“I am really sorry.”
My eyes flickered to the kitchen table. My yo-yo lay on it.
“You do seem to be sorry.” I said “But in a moment you’ll be even sorrier.”
“You’re right.” He said and started digging the melon baller into my socket.
I screamed. Pain shot through my skull as the jagged teeth around the cup bit through flesh. I don’t know how he was planning to sever the optic nerve but he’d persist until it was done. Everything went red on my right side. I screamed until I was hoarse.
The yo-yo was still there.
I put up a little struggle as he worked my eye free and waited for the monster to make its move. It was smiling so eagerly. It sniffed at the air and savoured the scent of my blood. And eventually it moved closer to get a better look.
With a wet pop my eye came loose from the socket. Seamus stood back a little and looked at his work. The creature closed in, it’s clawed hands raised.
I spat a word that I shouldn’t have been able to pronounce, and couldn’t without the pain to guide my lips.
The yo-yo on the table burst in a flash of blinding dark.
There was a rending sound and maybe some screams.
My face was very wet.
Once I could see again there wasn’t much left of the creature. Seamus lay on the floor, panting heavily and looking with shock at his arm. Well, where his arm should have been.
I shrugged off the ropes which had been frayed to pieces.
I crouched by Seamus, ignoring the pain from my eye.
“Checkmate my friend.” I said.
I held Seamus by the scruff of the neck and he stared at the door.
It was an unimpressive one. A flat dull piece of wood with an off-grey handle. But he knew that it held importance.
So did I, for that matter.
My eye was gone. I’d had to cut it off myself, pieces of the monster (which I still didn’t recognise) had clung to it and bubbles that shouldn’t have appeared did. If I didn’t lose the eye then I may have lost my brain, or become a slave or another one of the monsters. You never know.
The patch was good enough for now but if I wanted to keep appearances up I would have to get some mirrored glasses.
“Here we go.” I told Seamus after a moment.
Silence, silence for a good few minutes before he replied.
“I didn’t want this.”
“Nobody wants this. I don’t want this.”
“Then let me leave!” He cried, trying to turn to look at me.
“What would you have done to me after it took my eyes, Seamus?”
His shoulders sagged.
“I think I should correct myself in that case. I usually don’t want this.”
He stopped speaking again. I pulled him aside and put my hand on the door.
“May I ask something?” he said.
“You just did.”
He looked at me. I rolled my eye.
“If…” he licked his lips nervously. “If it had just been a ghost. Would you still be doing… this?”
I looked at the door.
“Yes.” I said.
His face fell.
“Hey. You asked.” I pulled the door open.
“I’d say it’s been a pleasure, but…”
I threw him in and closed the door. I held my hands to my ears but the screams were so loud.
After they stopped I opened the door and went in myself.
The Unknowable Thing loomed over me, a half-digested and catatonic Seamus lay below It.
“Here we are. One scumbag supreme. And the monster fucker is gone too.”
It questioned me.
“Blown to bits. Not coming back. As specified.”
It was satisfied.
I looked around, almost looked up at It but remembered what happened the last time I looked at It directly.
“You didn’t tell me why they wanted me.”
The Unknowable Thing asked a question.
“Hell yes it was important! The only reason I survived is because of that bloody toy! What if I hadn’t brought it along, huh? Then where’d you be?”
I raised a finger.
“Bullshit. If I was that dispensable I wouldn’t be standing here. You’d have found someone else.”
The Unknowable Thing conceded.
I’d already had enough. Talking to the Unknowable Thing always drains you.
I turned to leave and It let me. I was at the door before I turned and asked a question.
“Is it true? What the monster said about me?”
I nodded and stepped out the door and up the cellar steps.
God but I needed a drink. As always.
But that’s just how it is in my line of work.