Zeitgeist
rating: +60+x

The old house on the corner of Seventh Portland Street and Too Many Portlands Streets Avenue has been legally declared a natural ghost sanctuary.

It's not much of a sanctuary: the house is a husk, a burned-out shell that used to look like a Victorian manor. There are tombstones in the dirt field that passes for its front yard. Various murders and other unsavory happenings have taken place within its walls, and rumor has it that the ghost of Charlemagne himself lives there. The old house has been a fixture of Three Portlands culture for as long as Three Portlands has existed.

It's also prime real estate. The only problem is that its current residents can't be legally exorcised. This is where the Chicago Spirit comes in: a particularly enterprising (and unsavory) real estate developer has hired them to evict the squatters. The specialist's name is Jack, and his specialty is putting the dead to rest.

It's the middle of the night, and Jack is wearing a charcoal-colored slim-fit three-piece suit with a cross and a pinch of salt in the breast pocket. The cross vibrates as he steps into the threshold of the old house, and on cue, a wraith materializes in the foyer - a skeleton clad in a tattered wedding dress with two vines spiraling from her eye sockets. She shrieks and rushes at him.

In a single smooth motion, Jack draws the Colt M1911 pistol on his belt, disengages the safety, centers the sight, and pulls the trigger, sending a silver-tipped .45 through the center of the wraith's forehead. She melts into vapor mid-charge, leaving only a light breeze that ruffles his collar. He adjusts it and enters the old house.

Two spirits lounge on the central staircase. One of them has no head, so Jack puts two through its chest. The other takes a slug in its remaining eye. When they dissipate, he moves to the door by the foot of the staircase and kicks it open to reveal a dreary, cobweb-covered kitchen from hell.

The oven is on, the kettles are whistling, and utensils fly about the room. Three spirits spin about at the center of it all as they direct the cooking of the damned. The first is a brain with two eyestalks protruding from it, the second is a hag wearing a blouse, and the last is a fat bearded bastard in ornate robes who can only be the King of the Romans. The kitchen stops dead when they see Jack, and then he stops it dead proper by blowing the brain apart with two bullets and putting two more through the hag.

Charlemagne cowers in the corner. The magazine falls out of Jack's gun.

He loads a new one into place and racks the slide.

The old house rattles with the sounds of gunfire and spirits being violently put to rest. As the sun rises over Three Portlands, Jack steps outside the old house and realizes that his three-piece suit is mildly rumpled. In a vexed mood, he readjusts the suit and tries to smooth out the creases as he walks down Seventh Portland Street.

The year is 1929, and this is is what Chicago spirit looks like.


The magician from the library beyond time and space is looking for the greatest trip possible on this Earth. Shrooms are mundane, heroin is passè, and acid is tedious. She wants space bhang, a special edible made by an old man deep in the swamps who's half bhang himself. The bhangman doesn't just sell to anyone, though - he has friends, and you have to buy from those friends. The Spirit used to have such a friend in mind: a specialist, adept in the art of buying, smuggling, and selling various kinds of organic bliss. But the Spirit and the specialist are long gone, and all that's left is a young man called Scoob.

Scoob is two miles out of Tallahassee when the red-and-blue lights illuminate the night in his rearview. The car is an Eldorado, a sleek, white, boxy ride that screams money. The problem, then, is that the pigs expect its driver to be the same color. Even if they don't find the bhang in the back, Scoob'll be on the ground faster than he can say "is there a problem".

There's also the body in the passenger's seat.

Scoob thinks quick and pulls over to the side of the road. The cop car slows to a halt behind him and then its driver steps out. As the officer approaches carefully, one hand gripping a flashlight and the other his holster, Scoob slaps a hand over the corpse in the passenger seat and whispers a few words of power.

The cop stops and peers through the window. "License and registration?"

Scoob hands over his forged credentials, whispering an extra sentence under his breath. The cop inspects it carefully.

"Is there a problem, officer?"

The cop inspects him equally carefully. "Your taillight's out."

"Damn. I thought it was failing - I was hoping to get home before then. Thank you for letting me know, officer."

The officer looks past him at the corpse. "Heavy sleeper."

"Had a bit too much to drink," he replies mildly. "Today's his birthday."

"That so?" The officer looks thoughtful. "Tell you what - I'll let you off with a warning. Get that taillight fixed before another officer sees you."

"I appreciate it, sir. Have a good night."

The cop walks off and Scoob sighs with relief. At the same moment, the glamour evaporates and his skin reverts from a pale pink to a light brown.

He shifts into gear and drives into the city. The bhang is safe - and so is Scoob's skin.

The year is 1962, and this is what Chicago spirit looks like.


Eugene is moving up in the world. His business recently acquired a contract from an auction house to provide janitorial services, and today is their first job for the client. In his halcyon days, Eugene provided those services to the Spirit. That was a long time ago - but the work hasn't changed. He's eager to make a good first impression, so when the first call comes in at 2:30 in the morning, he and his boys are at the client's by 3.

The auction floor is covered in bodies: men in crisp, bloodstained suits and ties locked in death with balaclava-clad operatives in military body armor. Blood and gore are spattered over all the hardwood chairs. Small fires are burning on the auction floor. Shattered glass, bullet casings, jade pieces, tatters of parchment, and other bits and pieces of antiquity litter the room. It looks like a small tornado has hit.

Eugene's cleaned up worse. He ushers his boys into the room and they get to work. The crew starts with the bodies, wrapping them in cling wrap and then wrapping them again to make sure nothing leaks. The glass, bullets, and fragments of antiquity are briskly and efficiently swept into large piles and then shoveled into large plastic trash bins. The fires are extinguished and the floor underneath is given a thorough mopping, shining, and waxing until the natural hardwood gleams. The salvageable chairs are cleaned and shined - the ruined chairs will make kindling to dispose of the bodies.

In no time at all, the room is spotless - but the memories remain. Corpses are floppy; the wrapping helps, but it's still a hassle for Eugene's boys to shove the lumps into the van, squeeze them past each other, and pile them one on top of the other. Eugene himself sits in the back, touching each of the body bags as they're loaded in turn. Their emotions wash over him: fear, pain, and determination curdling into terror.

The people who died in that room had friends and family. People who will ask questions, and Eugene's clients cannot allow that. So he expands his conscious mind, delving into the few synapses still flickering beneath the plastic wrap and following the trail of emotional connections to the people still keeping these men alive.

The first man Eugene enters has no family apart from a sister wasting away in an asylum. She doesn't do much besides stare at the walls and ask about her big brother. Eugene clambers across the strong familial bonds between the two of them and starts poking around in the sister's brain, searching for all the traces of her big brother, scraping them away, and piling them into his own subconscious. By the time Eugene is done, she doesn't do much besides stare at the walls.

The fifth man Eugene enters has a loving family: a wife who loves him, a son who idolizes him, and parents that are proud of him. One by one, Eugene walks the connections between them, searching for the common link and eradicating it, slowly, carefully, and thoroughly. The man goes from supposed accountant to drug addict - from family man to deadbeat dad. By the time Eugene is done, his wife hasn't seen him in years, his son has never known him, and his parents will always wonder where they went wrong.

To Eugene, it takes hours to erase the legacies of those bodies. To his men, it takes seconds. The work drains him both mentally and emotionally, but he basks in the knowledge of a job well done. Eugene is pleased with himself, and he's confident that his client, Marshall, Carter, and Dark, will be too.

The year is 1989, and this is what Chicago spirit looks like.


Rukmini throws herself behind the summoning table and topples it over, scattering the chalk pentagram outline to the wind as bullets whistle overhead. The demon isn't going to be happy but that's the least of her worries - her gun is in the next room and there's a pair of masked assassins between her and the only entrance. All she has on her is the ritual knife.

She listens intently as the shooting winds down and the sound of footsteps becomes audible, barely increasing in volume as their owner approaches, then takes a deep breath and pops up, grabbing the approaching assassin and slamming him face-first into the ritual knife. With her free hand, she grabs his pistol and empties the magazine into his partner. Then she extricates the would-be assailant's head from the knife.

Their bodies hit the floor and the sound of trampling footsteps in the next room becomes audible. Rukmini vaults over the table and stabs the second assassin in the heart to open his veins for summoning, then scoops up his gun and kicks the living room door open hard enough to make it break through the frame and smack into another thug on the other side. Rukmini flings the ritual knife across the living room into the chest of a fourth thug and slides across the floor, kneecapping the fifth with two shots and evacuating the contents of his skull with two more.

She takes a breath and scans the living room. One body on the couch with a knife in their chest. One body on the floor with four bullet holes. And one body -

And one body is still alive. The third thug sweeps Rukmini's legs out from under her and she faceplants, kicking her feet back to put some distance between them. Half-remembered jiu jitsu lessons come back to her as she rolls over and scoots across the floor towards her dropped pistol. Thug Three scrabbles to her feet and sprints towards the pistol - but kicks it away and yanks the ritual knife out of her fallen comrade instead. Her eyes, barely visible through the mask, betray her intention to gut Rukmini like a fish.

Rukmini manages to rise in time to dodge the first swipe and then a stab. She punches Three in the face and makes a grab for the knife, but Three pulls the knife back as she recoils and knees Rukmini in the gut. Rukmini stumbles and barely manages to shove Three's arm away before she can stab her, grabbing Three by the collarbone and tossing her towards the couch. The couch topples over while Three rolls to her feet and comes up swinging, forcing Rukmini back towards the ritual room.

Three swings the knife upwards with enough force to cut Rukmini in half. Instead of dodging, Rukmini steps inwards, bats Three's arm upwards, and smacks the knife from her hand. She headbutts Three, snatches the knife from the air, and stabs her in the neck. Three has time to look surprised before Rukmini yanks the knife out and buries it into her heart.

As Three topples over, Rukmini realizes two things: one, there are more footsteps coming from outside, and two, there's more than enough blood in the room to summon her demon. On cue, two things happen: the door to the apartment bursts open as five more assassins pour in, and the ritual room lights up purple as a rakshasa bursts forth - an ugly grey ogre with fangs and a thirst for blood. The rakshasa immediately sets upon the assassins, tearing through their flesh with its tiger-like claws and razor-sharp teeth while their bullets bounce off its iron-hard skin. Once it's finished them, it looks for Rukmini.

Unfortunately for the creature, Rukmini has found her gun: a silver Colt M1911 pistol with the name John engraved on the barrel. In one smooth motion, she disengages the safety, centers the sight, and pulls the trigger, sending a silver-tipped .45 bullet through the demon's face. The demon collapses forward, disintegrating into a thick, grey ash.

Rukmini examines the ash carefully - most of it is contaminated by being outside the ritual circle, but she's fed it enough blood to ensure that even the contaminated ash is highly potent. While she scrapes the ash into a bottle for cutting later, she calls up her Inside Man, tells him what happened, and asks him to find out who did it. Even from a dozen kilometers away, the Man is able to trace the emotions of the assassins to their boss: Farhan, head of the biggest black-market enhancile ring in Eurtec. The Man has been looking to muscle in on the business, and it would appear that Farhan decided to teach him a lesson.

Rukmini decides that it's time to teach Farhan a lesson. Just before she steps out the door, she realizes that she ought to put some clothes on. Nudity is much better suited to ritual summoning than assassinations.

This is what Chicago spirit looks like.

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